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The Sorminis: Who We Are

The Sorminis: Who We Are

Bianca Sorminis (February 15, 2012)

I’m from Italy, Paul is from Australia (but born from Italian parents) and we live in China. My daughters are growing up in China but are never going to be Chinese, no matter how many years we’ll be here, or how well they can speak, read and write the language, we live in Shanghai as “Expats”: like oil and water …we don’t really mix . So, what does all this make of us? Who are we?


 When people ask us what appears to be a very simple question like: ”Where are you from?” we always hesitate a little…Paul and I look at each other thinking…”Do we give them the short answer? Or do we take the time to explain it all…?” The girls look at us probably thinking…”Ok, which Country do we pick this time?”


The answer is  Italy, Australia and China, which is absolutely true but not so absolutely  clear and  self-explanatory.
I’m from Italy, Paul is from Australia (but born from Italian parents) , Greta and Raquel were born in Sydney but lived most of their life in Shanghai (Raquel’s first word ever was 你好  “Nihao”, “Hello” in mandarin) and to add to the mix there is Liam, the Chinese little boy who has been living with us for the last year and who is becoming our son.
Italy, Australia and China …I guess this is the short answer, first layer of our identity, but quite a superficial answer if left just to that. Because when I stop and reflect about each one of us , the categories aren’t so distinct anymore, the boundaries blur and the real question is harder to answer.
It’s not only a matter of what passports you hold, what your name sounds like and how Italian,  Australian or Chinese you look…
Your identity is your background, your education, the food you eat and the language you speak…and to a deeper level is to instinctively know what is right or wrong, acceptable or not, funny or offensive in your culture.
It’s where you belong, and sometimes this is not a place so easy to find on a map.
Let’s take my daughters for example. When we go to Italy they call them “the Australians”, they speak Italian with a funny accent, making amusing mistakes. Reverse the situation in Australia..., people wonder why they speak  English with an American accent (courtesy of the international schools in Shanghai) and why they need translation for  Australian slang words they “should” be able to understand. And here in China… as a Chinese friend once told me: “If I close my eyes and listen to them speaking mandarin, they could be any Chinese child talking, then I open my eyes and what I see doesn’t match what I hear”.
The other question we so often get asked is: “ What language do you speak at home?”  What we speak at home is like a Greek salad: mainly English and Italian, all together and well mixed up, dressed with some mandarin here and there and tossed thoroughly. I remember the first time I went to Australia and met my husband’s family. They were Italians migrated to Australia in the Fifties…everybody was speaking ‘Italianish’, some words in Italian, some in English, some English words with Italian endings and vice versa, and I remember thinking to myself…why can’t they JUST speak English or JUST speak Italian??? Many years later I find myself doing exactly the same … English when we talk about work and school (it all happens in English, it doesn’t make sense to translate), Italian for most of the home and family related topics…and Mandarin here and there. But then more often than not , even these rules disappear …we start a sentence in one language and end it in another….
My daughters are growing up in China but are never going to be Chinese, no matter how many years we’ll be here, or how well they can speak, read and write the language, we live in Shanghai as “Expats”:  like oil and water …we don’t really mix .
Liam, on the other hand, has Chinese DNA but grows up in China as a 外国人 ‘Waiguoren’ (foreigner)…he will have to ‘learn’ about China and its culture the same way my girls are doing.
So my question is: how Italian or Australian are my children right now or are they ever going to be? As for Paul and I, we try to hold on to our backgrounds, but not living in our home Countries we miss out on how they change and evolve day by day, we don’t have the finger on the pulse anymore…
So, what does all this make of us? Who are we and where are we from? Are we raising our children to be global citizens at the expense of their personal identity?
What happens when the container (your passport, your name, your appearance) doesn’t necessarily match the content anymore or as expected?
I’m not sure…I’m still working through it and I think this is only the beginning of the journey…for now let’s start by saying:  “ We are “THE SORMINS” and we live in China”.


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Hi Bianca, Paul and

Hi Bianca, Paul and kids, you describe to the point how you are and have become what you are ... a great family and the great friends you have become when we were neighbours in Shanghai.