“So I’m curious — which cafe experience would you say is your favorite: the Coffee Company… or Bagels & Beans… or Panera?”
My children and I have developed a tradition of going out together on a Saturday morning to relax and enjoy each other’s company. While we were living in Amsterdam, the default destination was a place called the Coffee Company, on the Middenweg. During the winter months, however, Elliot’s Saturday mornings would be filled with involvement in a sort of basketball club; and on those occasions Olivia, Cor, and I would more typically head to a place close to the gym, called Bagels & Beans, on the Wibautstraat. Since moving to Kent, our Saturday morning spot has become the Panera on Route 59 in Stow. A year-and-a-half after the big move, I thought the kids’ feelings towards these various coffee-and-pastry establishments might be an interesting measuring stick to gauge their overall level of transition.
So on this particular question, Elliot cast his vote for the Coffee Company (he had especially fond memories towards their hot chocolate). Olivia and Cor favored Bagels & Beans (they particularly liked the way that they heated up the muffins before serving them). And I abstained from the vote, so as not to sway the conversation in a particular direction.
“So… How about this one? Which way of getting around is your favorite: riding in the bakfiets, or riding in the mini-van?”
Again, the kids deliberated through a series of “pro”s and “con”s. They really liked how the bakfiets afforded them the opportunity to see everything that was happening around them as they rode through the streets of Amsterdam. But they also really liked the way they could listen to music while traveling around in the mini-van. The bakfiets left them a bit more exposed to the elements, so they’d get cold and wet at times. But the mini-van had drawbacks of its own, including some stuffiness, family members being more spread out from one another, and occasional car-sickness. In the final analysis, though, all three of the kids decided that the bakfiets was their preferred mode of transportation.
By this point, the kids were getting pretty excited about our little trip down memory lane. “Ask us some more questions, Dad!”
So as we sat in the booth at Panera, I invented several such point-of-comparison questions about churches… grocery stores… neighborhood playgrounds… schools… homes… the primary play-spaces the kids use(d) within our homes… sporting events… holiday celebrations… and a number of other such experiences. The kids considered the questions, told stories about their memories, debated the finer points of distinction, occasionally disagreed with each other, and ultimately declared their preferences for one cultural experience or another.
In the end, I was somewhat surprised to notice that the kids generally “sided” with the Netherlands about 85 percent of the time.
Thankfully, my children have done very well with the last year-and-a-half of transition from Amsterdam to Ohio. To all appearances, they are perfectly-adjusted American kids. They speak with American accents. They dress in typical American clothes and follow American sports. They’re generally happy and healthy and satisfied with their life in the United States. Still, under the surface, my kids maintain an unusually-strong affection for Amsterdam. Prick them and they bleed oranje. They still bridge two continents in their everyday experience. A useful concept our family has discovered for explaining our kids’ worldview is to talk about them as being “hidden immigrants.” In any event, they’re a delightfully-strange mix of European and American. And nowhere is this dynamic more evident than in the kids’ answers to these sorts of Panera questions.
Or perhaps I should call them “Bagels & Beans Questions.”