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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Learning when to keep things clean

My son, who is 17 years old and adopted, told me over dinner tonight that the most important thing he learned in his relationship with me is that "nothing stays under the covers" and "all the dishes are clean". Interestingly, the language he used that was similar to that of my 23 year old daughter who told me two years ago that whatever happened in her life, she could be herself and that everything between us was "clean".

I think I know what they mean.

The idea that nothing is out of bounds, that everything is just there to be done and said comes from my White African history in Kenya, I'm sure. Those of my generation who didn't suffer or die from a road, drug or alchohol related accident - and who stepped out of a parochial ex-patriot or ex-settler environment - share a characteristic of doing and saying as if there were no social limits. I think it is related to an unspoken assumption that nothing that can be done or talked about is out of bounds for doing or talking about.

However, I live in a culture where so much is left unspoken and out of bounds. And I haven't yet learned the art of calculating what and when to say to whom in which way and for what purpose. At its best people accept and like me for being a weirdo foreigner and at its worst I too often open my mouth and put my foot into places where they shouldn't be going.

It is another language that I am still struggling to learn.


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