When You See Those Bizarre Behavioral Traits In Your Expat Kids


When you live far from family, genetics and certain familial behaviors, become quite apparent. In particular, there is one behavior that is so odd, so unique, that it cannot be explained—only seen to be believed.

The women on my mother’s side of the family display an uncommon behavior that I have only ever seen them do.

Most people call them “armpits” but I like to call them “hand pockets” because my grandmother and aunts all tuck their hands into their armpits/hand pockets in a most unusual way—a default resting position. It’s almost as if they don’t have anything else to do with their hands, and they naturally find their way into their armpits, I mean, hand pockets. (My mom denies ever doing this herself, but I secretly think she also finds it a comfortable position.)

While others may fold their hands in their lap or place their hands into their pants pockets, you’ll find the women in my family standing around the kitchen, conversing together, with one hand tucked under her armpit like a chicken wing. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

Anyway, my point is that this is a highly unusual and very specific behavior that one could blame on observational acquisition. One could hypothesize that my aunts observed my grandmother standing in this manner when they were growing up (environment) and copied it themselves—finding it comfortable and continuing the chicken-wing-tuck for the next generation to follow.

Imagine my surprise when my son, at the age of two years, quite naturally and easily tucked his hands into his hand pockets/armpits while watching his favorite movie in the living room—in Sweden. Far away from all familial influences.

“Jon, Jon, come here, quick!” I stage whispered to my husband who was cooking in the kitchen. My husband peered around the corner and snuck a peek at our son—careful not to break the spell of whatever was happening. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he retorted. Genetics win again. [Tweet “Genetics win again.”]

There was zero chance that my children learned to tuck their hands into their hand pockets/armpits by observing their family members. They have never seen this behavior before—ever—not even in jest.


Now, at two-and-a-half years old, my daughter is routinely standing or sitting with her hands tucked under—looking quite relaxed. It is profoundly bizarre to see mini manifestations of my grandmother in our house in Sweden when she lives in Vermont, USA.

Because we live outside of the shared environment—the same environment that might have influenced this strange behavioral mutation—the fact that my children display this trait is a testament to the strong character traits that we inherit from our parents (and less directly, our grandparents).

If we lived nearby, we would’ve quickly dismissed this behavior as learned or observed, not genetically passed on. I have no idea how this trait contributes to the survival of our species, but apparently, the chicken-wing-tuck is a dominant gene (or it is attached to a dominant gene) that has manifested itself in both of our children.

When I see these bizarre behavioral traits in my kids, I just laugh. It is funny how we carry our families with us no matter how far we travel in one way or another.

Are there any unusual genetic traits or behaviors that you noticed because you live beyond your family’s shared environment?

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