J Simens.com

Parenting: Planting trees, celebrations and more

Tree of life Thailand 1

Children are like trees.

Having your adult child around is the same principle behind planting a tree. Twenty years later, we come upon it and delight that we had a part in its growing.

Today, I attended a baby shower for a co-worker. It was a wonderful event. Soon they will be planting their own “tree” in the world and watching him or her grow. I hope they get the same pleasure that I get out of seeing my “seedlings” reach adulthood.

I enjoyed talking to the host country teachers about “baby showers” since it is not a common custom in Thailand. Some had already been to one shower when another colleague had a baby last year, but it was still a new event for them.

Sometimes when you are asked to “stage” and experience something with all the trappings from your own American culture, it becomes hard to do in your new “home” country. This was not the case. Today was over the top beautiful and oh-so baby perfect. Sometimes American customs that are largely defined by exaggerations in media seldom live up to the hype. But today was a picture perfect event. A large gathering of friends. Wonderful food. Beautiful packages. A few fun games. Three other pregnant ladies. (it is contagious …if you believe that perhaps you should attend the NLCS upcoming workshop on talking to your kids about sex.)

Some cultures do not open gifts at the event. They feel that if you open gifts in public, it puts the emphasis on the material object, upstaging the person who was giving the gift.  American baby showers are characterized by mandatory “opening presents” where there is a lot of squealing over tiny little outfits. I didn’t get to stick around to see if that was part of this baby shower since I needed to go home to capture photos of my youngest “tree” going off to one of the last high school dances he will every go to since he is a senior.  I can’t really say this was an American baby shower since it was hosted by several different nationalities and attended by over 40 women from many different countries.

There are three common things in all baby showers I have experienced overseas:

1. The lack of family members is noticeable. Today we watched the proud-to-be-grandma and proud-to-be-aunt do video calls into the event so they were part of the event but just not in person. Expats miss having their own family attend such special events in their lives. The family members back home miss it even more.

2. The differences between Americans and other cultures in the consumptions of sweets. Watch how some cultures eat the cake and leave the sticky sugary icing on the plate and how some American’s eat the icing first and then the cake, if there is any room left in their stomachs. Maybe that is just me. I might be strange American who tries to get the cake and icing ration just perfect on each slice of cake.

3. These are commonly “women-only” social events even though it does take both males and females to create the only reason we are in a celebration.

baby simens 1
Will it be a girl?

As a newly moved expat to Australia, I was invited to the baby shower held in honor of my husband’s boss upcoming child. His wife thought it would be a good way  for me to meet most of the wives who live in the area. Her best friend send me the invitation and she had written in the margin, Please wear a jumper.

I had been in Australia for only two weeks and couldn’t even find a suitable dress or pants outfit in my suitcase that deemed a ladies social event. Now I had to also wear a jumper. Being from Kansas, a jumper is a dress that has a bib like front or small straps that you wear a blouse under it. They are common in young kids. Cute for them. Awful for an adult woman. But I thought it was a cultural exchange, where women were told to wear a jumper to appear childlike and cute. Lordy, lordy…I didn’t want to go to this event. But it was the boss’ wife!


Being a self-conscious wife, I called my husband and asked him is this seemed “right”. Do I have to wear a costume to the baby shower? Do I have to dress up in a childlike jumper?

He said, “I have no idea what you mean, ask someone.” I had no friends yet let alone any Australian friends. I asked him to ask his secretary. He did not want to ask this on top of the 100 of other things he had already asked her about in regards to the office. Later over dinner, I expressed my need to know and he still declined to help me.

The next day, I was having a lovely chat with the fresh fruit and vegetable man at my local produce store. We were in the store alone and it seemed like this kind old gentleman might be more helpful than my husband. Remind me to blog about expats and affairs at a later date.

I explained far more than I should have and yet he politely stood there, expressed an interest and said, “Some people call a sweater or a light jacket a jumper in Perth.” Then he quickly found something to do in the back room and sent out a young girl to ring up my purchases.

I called my husband at work excited that I might have broken the Australian to American English code. He was not thrilled that I once again caught him in a meeting. But later that night he said he had asked his secretary if a jumper is a sweater and she had replied yes. I guess it is ok to ask questions if you are 99% sure of the answer because NO one would like to appear stupid in their new job.

Now 25 years later, I still remember this and the timeline explains why I didn’t just goggle the Australian word for “jumper” or search for an image.  It also explains how this cultural foolish mistake might have ruined my life.

We all know people judge each other in the first 10 seconds of a conversation. Image me meeting a whole group of new ladies who would be my lifeline for the next five years wearing something that was ill fitting, out of character, making me look or attempt to look like I wanted to relive my youth and being socially awkward since everyone in the room was new. I would not have made the friend that was there through not one but two births of my babies while my own mom was far away. Or the ladies that would eventually hold those baby showers for me since they were my best friends in Perth. Thank goodness for old men who sell fruit and vegetables.

Cultural notes on Baby Showers around the world:

  • Islam perform agigah of the newly born child. When a family sacrifices an animal in this honor, it is divided into three equal parts; one for the needy, one for relatives and friends for the feast at their home and the last part is used by the child’s household itself.
  • Hindu traditions have many different names depending on the community the family belongs to: godbharaai, saadhi or seemanta to name a few. These celebrations are held when the woman is in her 5th, 7th or 9th months of pregnancy. This is a religious ceremony to pray for the well-being of the baby. Gifts are brought for the mother-to-be not the baby. The baby is showered with gifts only after the birth.
  • Chinese a baby shower if called, miyue’ it is held one month after the baby is born.
  • Brazil might have a party called a baby tea.
  • In South Africa, the baby shower is called the stork party and usually happens when the mother is 6 months pregnant.
  • Japan usually give gifts of money for the baby.

After our babies were born in Australia, Kevin got to take the men out after work a drink. It was called, wetting the baby’s head. In Germany, fathers celebrate the baby’s birth with a drinking party. This all male event it is called the babypinkel (baby pee) party.

Now as a real American, can I confuse you more?

Did you know that a Diaper Shower is usually a small-scale baby shower. It is used for the term of a second or third baby shower when the family does not need as many baby supplies. If you are invited to a Sprinkles party, it means the new baby is a different gender than the previous children in the family.


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