I had no idea just what a massive debt of gratitude I have towards my parents until I went to university. Having read blogs about other people’s negative experiences inspired me to write about mine.
My parents both had working class upbringings and were very well educated and well read. They both went to university and then worked in the public sector. They were both well traveled and multi-lingual. They had friends all over the world that would regularly visit us. When they came they taught us a bit of their language and culture. I regularly got to stay abroad with these friends to experience their cultures and learn a bit of their language. This took the place of family holidays which we couldn’t really afford.
I did some sort of sport most days. Cricket, tennis, football, basketball, athletics were my main sports. I also got dragged round a lot of galleries and museums. I went to the opera and the ballet a fair bit. My parents insisted that I read as many of the classics as possible so I had read 69 of the books on the 100 books everyone is supposed to read list by the time I went to university (although I have to admit I didn’t enjoy or fully understand all of them. I also hate reading Thomas Hardy with the fire of 1000 suns). He also got me hooked on Greek, Roman, Norse and Babylonian mythology. My dad was obsessed with correct grammar, punctuation, good writing and speaking “correctly”.
The end result of this was that I turned up at university able to speak 3 languages well, with a decent knowledge of Greek, Latin (not brilliant but good enough to blag it). I was very well read and very well traveled for my age. I had a lot of cultural capital (although I didn’t know it at first and had no idea what cultural capital was).
I had the good fortune to make some wonderful friends that I am still good friends with now, over 20 years later. Some of them told me about difficulties they were having with feeling excluded (particularly the ones from the midlands and up north on reflection) but I didn’t really understand where they were coming from because I had not noticed anything of the sort. Once it was pointed out to me and I started paying attention I noticed things that I had not previously paid attention to because they did not upset or affect me and didn’t make me feel excluded.
When people talked about their holidays somewhere exclusive I would simply say things like “That sounds lovely. It’s a shame it’s so touristy. If you want to see the real “insert country” you have to go to “place where my friends live which is not touristy at all”. Have you ever been there?” and then hold forth at great length about how wonderful, down to earth and real everyone there is.
When someone chucked a bit of random latin into the conversation I would talk exclusively in latin until someone asked me to stop. I’d say things like “I do apologise. Perhaps we should all stick to speaking languages everyone here understands.”
For me there were few conversations or environments from which I felt excluded. I would have breezed through university without really considering that other people might be finding it difficult for a variety of reasons (had I been less drunk I may have been more observant I suppose) had some of my friends not pointed things out to me.
While I didn’t always enjoy the reading, ballet, galleries or opera I’m glad my parents exposed me to them and made me pay attention.
I fully intend to annoy my kids in a similar fashion and I’ve already started.
My daughter is a prolific reader and has already started on some of the more appropriate classics. She’s read The Iliad and The Odyssey but she prefers David Walliams and Roald Dahl.
She’s had a good go at football but got fed up with being excluded for being a girl. She’s now into her martial arts, tennis and cricket. She also likes walking and climbing.
She’s been to loads of galleries, museums and plays.
I’ve not done so well on languages so she only has a smattering of Italian, French and Spanish but not as much as me at the same age. That’s because we don’t have the procession of foreign visitors coming through our house.
I hope I send her to university with as much cultural capital as I had when I went.