The Edamame Problem

England, RudermannschaftA few months back I was chatting with a friend, a fellow expat who is moving home come June. She and her family are relocating from a fairly swank zip code here in Denmark (Copenhagen 90210) to a rural village in the north of Scotland. Narrow, windy roads and fertile fields. Small Beatrix Potter-esque woodland animals popping out from behind the hedgerows sort of stuff. She is excited, but a little worried about how her son will deal with settling back into what repatriating expats might call ‘real life’. While their new village lifestyle might be more along the lines of how she grew up, her son has grown up very differently.

The only real school her son knows is the private, international school my own boys attend. She’s worried that he’ll be lagging behind in a few subjects, sure. She’s concerned he’ll have to adjust to a more traditional, test based system. But the real core of her worries is that he’ll have trouble fitting in with kids who’ve gone to the local school with each other for the whole of their lives. That he’ll stand out as different. That he will, to paraphrase her concerns, get the shit kicked out of him for being soft.

“The other day he asked if he could have edamame for a snack!” She told me, slightly aghast.

In that one sentence, in that flummoxed, perplexed, ‘how on earth did a child that I raised grow up asking for edamame as a snack?’ look on her face, she summed up everything that many of us worry about when we enter into this cushy bubble of expat life. Because let’s face it: many of us wouldn’t be living the lives we live now if we were back home. Many of us won’t be living the lives we live now if and when we repatriate. And unless you had some sort of Asian connection growing up, most of us probably didn’t even know what edamame was until we were grown-ups.

I’ve been thinking about ‘the edamame problem’ since my friend and I spoke. I’ve teased her that I was going to write about it. Then it came up again, in relation to an article from earlier this year about ‘elite volunteerism’ at schools, which prompted a lively conversation on another friend’s FB page and the ‘edamame issue’ came up again.

I grew up in a blue-collar, working class house in Massachusetts. The most exotic we got in the way of food was the Ah-So sauce my mother used to smother the pork chops in every now and again. My first experiences with ‘ethnic’ food were not until long after I moved away from home. My friend’s son wants edamame for snack. My own son has, on more than one occasion, asked for sushi for lunch. These are kids who go out for sushi the same way we had take-out pizza when I was growing up. Sure, it’s healthier and yes, it’s great that they’re exposed to a variety of foods from across cultures, and admittedly it’s kind of cute to brag (just a little) about how much your toddler likes a good tuna roll…

So what’s the problem?wealth

As the article hints at, there’s something just a little elitist about sushi. And if I’m being  honest, expat life for my family is a little like sushi. Or edamame. Sure, it’s healthy to expose ourselves and yes, it’s great that we are living in another culture and admittedly it’s kind of cute to brag (just a little) about the fantastic opportunities my children have….

The edamame problem.

My own family is living a life that, while not exactly false, is not exactly real either. Had we been back in NYC, our boys would likely be going to a zoned NYC public school. There would certainly be some kids eating sushi and edamame, but there would likely be many more who qualify for free hot lunch. Regardless of the income bracket fluctuations, there probably aren’t middle school ski trips to Germany or “away” sports matches in The Netherlands at P.S. 321.

Like my friend, I feel I often walk the fine line between gratefulness that my children get to experience this privilege (let’s call it what it is) and horror that their upbringing is so far removed from my own and that of my husband. There are times we have been left scratching our heads wondering how the hell we ended up here, immersed in this (admittedly lovely) lifestyle that is not very…us. My children are able to have this amazing experience of living abroad, but it’s not exactly like they’re immersed in the society we live in. Sure, the required language lessons give them just enough Danish to order a Danish and they ride their bikes everywhere, but they’re not exactly marinating in the special seasoning of Danish culture that churns out more Danes. Essentially, they’re privileged kids who are leading a privileged life due to the fact that their father was offered a position overseas.

And metaphorically, nothing screams privilege more than edamame and sushi.

So when my friend was fretting about how her son’s new classmates would react if he bandied about words like edamame, I understood exactly where she was coming from. Maybe your kids like sushi. Maybe they like to sit down and listen to This American Life with a bowl of steamed edamame. But while it might be de rigueur in the expat world, outside of it, there’s a fairly narrow demographic band that is going to say “Oh, my kid too!” If you know you’re going back to a place where it’s more Ah-So than sashimi, these niggling thoughts can keep you up at night.

1937-002-pho-haves-and-have-nots-600xIt’s a champagne problem, of course, this act of fitting into a lifestyle you weren’t expecting. This life, beyond anything I could have imagined, is as foreign to me as the land I’m living in. There are some who approach this life of privilege from a more familiar place. Perhaps they grew up with edamame too. Others, like me, find this alternate reality of Friday night sushi slightly jarring.

When I was growing up, if someone had a heated pool, it was a good sign they were rich. There was one family in my neighborhood who not only had a heated pool, but above the mantelpiece in their living room, there was an oil portrait of the family matriarch. At ten, I thought it was the classiest thing ever. A sign of true wealth. Who else but the very rich would have an oil portrait hanging over their fireplace? Sometimes now, walking through this life that feels as if it doesn’t really belong to me, I feel the same way I did when I was ten. Looking at the things around me and thinking: who else but the truly privileged would have these things? Things like sushi for lunch.

Things like edamame.







21 thoughts on “The Edamame Problem

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    1. Thanks. I am pretty sure I was in my 40s before I had edamame. I knew about it before that but only because I hung with a very knowledgeable, health conscious mom crowd in NYC (there’s that demographic band again). There is obviously nothing wrong with enjoying a bowl of steamed edamame and listening to This American Life…as long as one understands that a whole lot of people would rather eat a bag of cheese doodles and watch American Idol and that there needs to be room for both.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I think kids are more accepting than stressed-out moms realize. If raised with curiosity, they can be interested in trying edamame, fruit leathers, or Cheezies, whatever the snack is that they don’t get at home. Kids get that people are different. In truth, I live in a North American city where Asian culture is the norm at all income levels, so it’s difficult to fathom that so many people have not been exposed to it.
    I am rather appalled that a product was called “Ah-So” sauce. Or were you kidding?


    1. Nope, not kidding. It was rather appalling in all aspects. It was bright red and gooey. Not sure if it still exists or not (but I would bet it does). I think kids are accepting of a lot of things, but I also think they can spot weakness with an eagle eye, and if the new kid seems ‘soft’, as much as I would like to think it would all be taken with a grain of salt, there are always going to be those that exploit it. I think the point I was really trying to make (and perhaps unsuccessfully?) was that the lifestyle that my kids are living is not the lifestyle they would be experiencing if we were ‘home’. And the one that are getting here is far more privileged. And yes, I worry about that.


  2. I think it depends on a lot of things — where “home” is, for one thing. What contact you kept with it, etc. I worried that my son would have missed out on popular humor cues — like “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” Or its counterpart.

    But we returned to a cosmopolitan area. It took my son, Jacob, two hours at a summer day camp to make his new best friend, who, twelve and a half years later, was over last night.

    It works out.


    1. I think that easy ability to make friends is something that international kids thrive at, and something which I’m grateful for. I have watched my own boys walk confidently into situations I would have cringed at and I know that is due to the life they lead right now. What worries me is the privilege that seems to come from the lifestyle we lead. Perhaps that is because where we are (in Europe) and the fact that they attend an international school as opposed to a local one, but to put it bluntly, they’re surrounded by a lot of expat wealth. Like most kids, they just assume that we ‘have’ the same capabilities and can afford the same things as everyone else. Not necessarily true, and also, it’s not the way my husband and I were raised and not the way we want to raise the boys. So there is a balance, which at times is hard, because at the end of the day, they’re my kids and I want them to fit in and be happy, but I don’t want them to be overly expecting. Does that make sense? Judging by the responses I’ve had to this one, I’m guessing that my intentions with the post were muddled and unclear–the fault is mine!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. How is Queens?? I’m intrigued why you moved back after so many years in Manhattan. Your kids are grounded, they’ll be fine. They have a great mom. (And they had a fantastic babysitter when they were young ;-). )


  3. Loved this. I know exactly where you’re coming from; I do think it’s a generational thing, though. I’ve actually talked about sushi with my daughter as an example of how my childhood is different to hers. Something she considers totally ordinary was this rare treasure that I didn’t even try until I was in my 20s.

    Trying to maintain a common thread of values / perspective through the generations is hard but, I think, one of the most crucial jobs we have as parents. Good luck!

    PS If you like laughing at privileged nonsense, you could do a lot worse than follow @Highgatemums on Twitter. It’s the overheard / self-confessed witterings from the parents and children of London’s chi chi-est borough.

    For example: “Xmas meltdown from our 4 year old because the honey wasn’t ‘Manuka’.”


    1. I think you are right, it is a generational thing. My own kids in addition to sushi and edamame are just as likely to eat Thai or Mexican or Indian food as they are spaghetti and meatballs–simply because they’ve been exposed to it while we hadn’t growing up. The values/perspective thing is hard! Right up there with loving the children you’ve got as opposed to the ones you wish you had. And I am off to check out the twitter feed now..with some trepidation…that it will be too familiar ;-). Happy New Year to you!


  4. Amazing post! We’ve been abroad for almost two years now. My kids are still little (and picky eaters), and I honestly never thought of the “edamame problem” until we came home for the holidays. With all the kids speaking two languages my eldest doesn’t understand, he had trouble mingling with the other 5 and 6 year olds, sociable as he is. And the fact that all the other kids have spent their whole lives together made even harder. One kids told my husband in French that he was much too busy playing with his own friends that he didn’t have time to play with our little boy. Luckily he didn’t understand. As we sat outside after that incident, eating the Japanese rice crackers he loves so much, I started to genuinely worry about the possibility that we may one day come back and have to deal with all this.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, it does seem to be spreading like weeds…or herpes ;-). I have been thinking a lot about ‘going home’ lately–not that we have any immediate plans to do so, but it will happen sooner or later and there are things that worry me about it (I even have a post for the new year planned about it). But it was amazing to me the different reactions to this one, ranging from ‘yes, I know where you’re coming from!” to ‘everyone eats sushi now’. So I guess a lot of it depends on where you are and what you’re used to and what you may be going home to. I do think that expat kids have a unique view on making (and losing) friends which can only help them in life. (I hope. That’s what I keep telling myself!) Happy New Year to you and yours!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well, I suppose globalization has helped us in that sense. I never thought I’d see an edamame commercial on TV in Lebanon. And I know more kids here who have sushi than I know in Singapore. But it’s not just about all that obviously. It’s so much more than that. I’ll be thinking about what “that” is for a while now that I’ve read your post 🙂

        But I can tell you, as a person who went to eleven different schools in five countries before hitting college, as hard as it can be, it’s not all bad 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Great read. My wife and I hate that we haven’t gotten our children overseas. New cultures. New ideas. And new foods. Your problem and rationale for the piece caught me off guard. But I get it. My wife spent a year in Hungary as a young adult and talks all the time about her transition back into life in the US of A. Like her, I suspect your kids will figure it out. And, like her, they will be more interesting people because they had to.


    1. Thanks, Charles. It will be a transition, and it is one that I am alternately looking forward to (family, familiarity, cheap consumer goods…) and one that I dread (no need to go into it here). But I suspect you are 100% right. The kids will be just fine. Perhaps it’s me that I worry about the most! Happy new year to you and yours!


  6. My kids for sure will not have much understanding of the culture I come from (post-soviet country – in fact, I rather have my daughter experiencing the edamame problem than stand in a line for 3h to buy a few oranges problem ), but I do think it is possible to give them “real life” when living abroad. E.g. my daughter goes to an all-danish kindergarten even though I thought about taking her to an international one. We also deliberately did not move directly to Hellerup (did check it out though), but to central Copenhagen to get more of the real city experience. Finally, both of us (my husband and I) have jobs here, so we both communicate with many danes on a daily basis and also learn a lot about the culture, things that are happening outside the expat community and so on. We are in fact not sure when we will move back and even if we EVER move back. That’s how real our life here has become. So yes, it is possible. It requires work, but it is a deliberate choice.


    1. I think you are absolutely right in your assertion that it is dependent upon the culture you are coming from. I think, from the way you describe your life in Denmark, that you are far more immersed in day to day daily life in Denmark than the majority of expats here. Also, it sounds to me like you are viewing your life here not as a stopgap or a piece of the journey but as a destination. All of those things make a difference as you’ve pointed out. And in the end, edamame is not a bad thing ;-).


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