When I was in Thailand, it was normal for us to have as many as 20 guests over for lunch every day.  It was part of my parents’ job description to welcome incoming missionaries and help them settle into Thailand.  My parents were more than happy to have guests over for meals, and so it became a regular part of our day to eat lunch with the entire white and Korean demographic in Lopburi, Thailand. How did we fit them all?  Well, we had a pretty big front porch with two round tables and a long picnic table.  There was room to spare.  How did my mom manage preparing so much food everyday?  Well, we had housekeepers, but I’ll tell you more about them another day.
Every day, I would stand in a line to spoon out my rice and veggies.  It’s weird to think about that every happening.
I didn’t love it or hate it… it was just normal! I was raised to see every adult as an auntie or an uncle, including complete strangers  (One of my professors recently told me that this is referred to as “fictive kin”.), so having guests over for lunch really meant having family over.

When I first came back to the States, my first indication that adults were not seen as fictive kin was when I called a friend’s dad “Uncle Sam”.  They laughed at my very clever “joke” and moved on.  From then on, adults were seen through different eyes.  In America, kids don’t really interact with adults that much.  Adults are to be seen with caution. As a new kid in America, this is what I learned…

Stranger Danger....retrieved from
Stranger Danger….retrieved from
  • Kids are not to greet strangers.
  • Hugs from teachers are forbidden because it might be a sign of molestation.
  • Kids are not to go unattended in public areas in case they get kidnapped.
  • When greeting an adult who is not a good friend of the parent, a kid must refer to them as Mr. or Mrs… they are not family.  Though they live in the area, they will not be interested in coming over for lunch everyday. That would be weird.
  • Strangers in the street have no interest in waving hello.
  • When going out in public, adults will not approach you to pinch your cheeks, feel your hair, or buy you ice cream at their shop on the corner while your mother shops in the market.  This last action (and sometimes the first actions) is expected to be seen as a sign of perversion.
  • Trust in American relationships between adults can only occur after several months to a year of “how’s the weather” conversation, and the relationship can only progress if the weather-talk fits proper weather-talk norms (Talking about weather in Thailand while you are in America is not one of these norms… unless there’s a weather catastrophe).
  • Asian strangers in America don’t know who you are, are not all from Thailand, and show no indication that they will buy you a bowl of rice noodles because you’re so cute and exotic.

It didn’t take me long to get used to these changes.  But it was a bit of a culture shock at first.  I definitely had a more trusting view of adults in Thailand.  It seemed normal to see everyone as family.  I was more open to talking with adults when I first moved back, but that lack of “family” relationship led me to see adults with more caution and keep conversation short and limited.

I need some feedback….Are most TCKs raised with the idea of adults being aunties and uncles?  or is it just missionary kids?  What about business kids? military kids?    How does this change your view of adults?

By the way, I am about to conduct personal interviews with TCKs in the next few weeks.  I’ll keep you updated as to what I learn.

4 thoughts on “Grown-Ups”

  1. I have never been to Asia (not yet any way:) but most of your assertions I would agree with having lived in West Africa. I suspect this has alot to do with some societies/cultures being far more community oriented/focused than others. For example, it was highly common for people to be noted as unofficial relatives and referred to as “Aunt” or “Uncle” as a sign of respect where I grew up. This wasn’t necessarily limited to the missionary families (my family wasn’t) either.

    1. Thanks for the feedback BateConsult! Were your parents a part of a larger business? or was it more private? I was just wondering because I would be interested to hear if these unofficial relatives extended to your parents co-workers in your passport country. I mean, when you were in your passport country, were there friends of your parents that would expect you to call them “aunt” or “uncle”?
      It’s good to hear from you!

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