Last week my daughter’s school held the annual pre-school intramurals. I must admit, I did not know what an intramural is, we did not have them at any school I attended, but I figured it out. I was already in the family gathering mood, since the week prior to the intramurals, the school hosted a Dia de Los Abuelos (grandparents day). Grandparents day was full of interactive activities and projects and was held in a local nature park. I loved the idea!!
Most (all) of the expat kids had no grandparents on hand, so parents attended in their stead, to provide the children with their needed partner for the crafts and games. This brought up a whole new dynamic for me, which was not necessarily bad, but definitely unfamiliar.
In many cases, it was the nanny who attended both events. There is nothing inherently strange or inappropriate about this. For all the differences between American culture and Salvadoran culture I have seen, what I have learned so far is that very few things are either better or worse. But some things are so different that I must describe them.
The word Nanny, for me conjures up a specific image. I see a rather strong figure with high standards and who tolerates minimal mischief in her charges. I think I see a very British version. Of course I have never really met a nanny who was willing to speak with me, so it is all in my head.
What struck me, at both school events, was the relationship of not only the individual child with her nanny, but the interaction between other children and any given nanny as well. I was also struck, and semi uncomfortable with the unspoken rules of conversation, and where to stand, and posture.
First of all, the Nannies like to take my favorite spots. I’m kind of shy, and at group events I try to position myself toward the back, off to the side where I can see everyone, but not have to mingle. (Don’t get me wrong, I love conversation, but mingling sort of freaks me out).
Second, they all seemed very uncomfortable with anything other than a very formal greeting, and though they each treated their assigned child with restrained affection, it seemed not that they were caretakers, but servants of the children. They seemed to behave as though they were of lower rank than the child which for me seemed like an awkward relationship, possibly for both the child and the adult. In many cases I have seen nannies warn children to stop certain negative behaviors, but refrain from enforcing the demand when the child fails to comply, which to me, seems awkward, uncomfortable and counterproductive. I proper nanny should be able to tag the little turkey on the backside.
Third, I saw how comfortable my daughter is with the arrangements in which some of her better friends live. She asked (in Spanish), “are you the “muchacha” of (name edited)?” and then handed her something the girl had dropped. The term “muchacha” (girl) is not regarded as offensive here, and by watching children, parents, and nannies, I gathered there was nothing awkward about a stranger’s child calling you a “girl”. I also gathered that though every child would prefer to have their parents attend, half the kids ran to their nannies for a hug when they performed well in their sports, complete with high fives and kisses.
In reality I am pointing out more than one cultural difference. Of note is that it is very normal to have one or more women work in your home, whether they live with you or not. Second, that the role of a domestic childcare worker is very different than in the USA. Third, I must point out that my grasp of social class dynamics here is poor, probably because I look at it through the lens of my own expectations. Kids who found themselves making crafts with their nanny rather than their grandparents didn’t look that bent out of shape.
OH and lastly, I have found that nannies do NOT like “non-domestic workers” taking up their spot behind the tree. Parents are better off scooting up toward the front tables and leaving them alone in what is apparently not my spot, but theirs. When you come to El Salvador and wonder about the buttoned down ladies caring for the children take a minute to accept the differences, and give a respectful nod. What a difficult job. (I also am aware that many of these women have large families of their own, but that is another post entirely).