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Things Immigrant Parents Say

Photograph by Twenty20

Growing up as the daughter of parents who came to the United States from Taiwan, there were certain things I heard over and over again (Take off your shoes! You're so lucky to eat meat at every meal!), and some things I thought were just my family's weird quirks. So I asked around and found a few major themes came up time and time again, out of good intentions and sometimes just plain survival.

1. Save, save, save

Whether they're Latino or Scandinavian, one thing immigrant parents have in common is a penchant for saving napkins from fast food restaurants. It's so central to Korean American Phyllis Myung's experience that she even named her blog Napkin Hoarder.

But my friend Kristina Kanemoto's grandmother took this habit to an extreme. "My grandmother always stashed some McDonald's napkins under her bra strap," says Kristina. "Every time we'd get a nose bleed, she'd whip one out and save us."

For Alexandra Rosas of Good Day Regular People, it wasn't just napkins but also wrapping paper: "We watched every penny and Christmas and birthday gifts were never opened without my abuela's high pitched voice in the background, 'Guarden el papel!' 'Save the paper!'"

RELATED: Is Raising Multilingual Kids a Huge Mistake?

2. Eat this, not that

Don't eat the rice—especially when at all-you-can-eat sushi.

Who needs the latest diet trend when you have immigrant parents to dispense their wisdom? They might tell us to eat up because we are lucky we are to have so much food or they may give us some traditional post-childbirth advice, like Phyllis' mother: "Don't drink cold water after giving birth because you will get arthritis."

Ken Lu told me that nearly every Chinese parent he knows tells their kids, "Just eat the meat."

And blogger and speaker Kathy Khang says her Korean parents' mantra is "don't eat the rice"—especially when at all-you-can-eat sushi.

So Asian immigrant parents invented the paleo diet?

3. Lost in translation

If your parents were not native English speakers you've probably heard some idioms come out … not quite right. Angela Lim Aviles says her Chinese American father once told her, "You are the tops of the cream." Um, dad, I think you meant to say "cream of the crop"?

Jeanette Kaplun of Hispana Global says her parents often said, "The check is on the mail." Native Spanish speakers seem to have a hard time distinguishing between "in" and "on," says Jeanette.

Photographer Benji Tittle Ortiz's Puerto Rican abuelita's canine training techniques give new meaning to the term "dog whistle." While trying to train the pup to speak she called out, "Duke, SPIC!"

Oriana Lot MacGregor's Italian father was raised on a milk farm and learned English by reading the newspaper. This is her pappy's advice on boys and sex ed and dating:

"The bull and the cow make together and have the calf. Don't be the cow."

My friend Larissa says her parents' often told her "I wish you have a nice time" meaning, "I hope you ... " I think it is the same word in Taiwanese. But somehow, we always know what they mean and appreciate it anyway.

You are lucky to grow up in America.

4. Do as I say

Even though it's especially challenging to pick up a new language as an adult, some immigrant parents are adamant about learning English. This is especially common among the older generation, who arrived in America at a time when speaking a foreign language—or even speaking English with an accent—was considered suspect. So they did their best to learn English and insisted that their peers did, too. Samantha Fein shares this anecdote:

"My grandmother, Estella Vela De la Garza used to tell the workers at McDonald's when she'd go for her senior breakfast, 'DON'T SPEAK TO ME IN SPANISH!!!! I AM AN AMERICAN AND WE SPEAK ENGLISH. If you want to do more than make my breakfast with the rest of your life, you'll speak to me in English. Also, I like my coffee HOT.'"

No matter where they come from, immigrant parents often prepare their children to face discrimination and to persevere in the face of prejudice.

"I remember my mom telling me before school that I had to work harder than the other kids in my kindergarten class because I would already be at a disadvantage," says Filipino American Erwin Ordonez.

RELATED: Did You Just Compare My Mixed-Race Kids to a Mutt?

5. I don't think we're in (fill in the blank) anymore

Sometimes life in a new country is just so different, there's not much else to say!

Blogger Kristel Acevedo (whose family is from Nicaragua) shares this phrase she often heard in her Miami neighborhood: "Esto no pasa en Cuba!" Translation: This doesn't happen in Cuba.

And like Stephanie Huang Porter of A Family Lives Here, one thing all children of immigrants have heard is how lucky they are.

"You are lucky to grow up in America. So many freedoms, and you don't get punished by your teacher in school."

Can you relate to any of these anecdotes? Share your stories in the comments.

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