Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Some Cultural Observations...
*Isaac working the obstacle course*
*Ewan in the running race*
*Ewan is skipping rope and being encouraged by a Year 6 student. It was a little chilly so he had on his sweatshirt over his house shirt.*
*Isaac is in the red hat in the middle being helped by a student in Year 6*
About a month ago Ewan and Isaac's school had a sports day (It is the equivalant of Field Day in the US). The kids had been practicing all sort of activities like skipping (jumping rope), running obstacles, racing etc. They were very excited about it because it also meant that they could wear shorts and their house colored shirt. Each kid in school is assigned a house (think Harry Potter and the different houses all the wizards and witches are in) that works together throughout the year to accumulate points. Ewan is in the green house and Isaac is in the red house.
All the parents were to meet at the school grounds to watch sports day and their children do some healthy competing. The children were sitting in groups according to their grades and the parents were facing them across the field.
When it came time for the events and the children set off for their races, all the kids were cheering for their houses. And here is the cultural difference....
The parents were silent.
No cheering, hooting, hollering, clapping--nothing. Everyone just watched the events. There were a few exceptions--if any particular child who was young or disabled was struggling then parents would cheer them on. But no one was cheering for their own child and encouraging them in the races.
Except me. I couldn't help myself. I cheered for Ewan when he ran and Isaac when he did his obstacle course. I wasn't a complete jerk about it but I did feel conspicuous.
In the US all the parents would be rooting for their kids and all their kids friends. It's just how we do things.
And language differences....
Remember that episode of FRIENDS when Jennifer Coolidge appears as Monica and Phoebe's old friend who is visiting from England? The one from Yonkers who went to live in England? They make fun of her fake British accent saying, "and she was like--Call me on my MOH-BILE...". Remember that one? Here is a link from youtube from that episode.
Well, when we were at Legoland I thought I left my cell phone in the cafe where we ate our lunch. I went to the nearest guest services and asked the lady behind the counter if anyone had turned in a silver cell phone because I thought I had left it laying on a table. She looked at me as though she didn't understand what I was saying. I repeated myself and then remembered that I needed to use the proper wording. So I said, "I think I left my MOH-BILE on the table in the cafe next door. Did anyone turn one in?" She said, "Oh right. What color did you say it was? Sorry love, no one's turned in a moh-bile."
It turned out that Jon had it the whole time and didn't realize he'd put it in the stroller (or should I say pushchair?). I had a nice chuckle to myself as I walked to meet the rest of the family since I promised I would never say moh-bile phone after seeing that episode!
Words I find are now in my vocabulary:
Mochas are pronounced Mokkas so when I order one I say Mokka
Pushchair is used interchangeably with stroller
Trousers for pants
Toilet for bathroom
Loo on occasion but toilet is much more common
Wonky for broken or messed up
Cheers for thanks (only when addressing other Brits though--not with my American friends)
Jumper for sweatshirt/sweater
The kids (additionally) now say:
Wee for pee (Mom, I need to go wee).
Football for soccer
Ladybird for ladybug
Tell or Told Off for getting in trouble with a teacher (i.e. So and So got told off today at lunch my Mrs. Teacher because he hit me)
And on meeting people:
I can't remember if I've written about this before or not but I have found it very difficult to connect with other Brits while we are out and about. Especially at the kids school. People here are nice--but not friendly like we are in the southern part of the US. People don't just start a conversation with you or really smile at you seeming like they are open for conversation. I gave up trying to friend the other moms at the kids school because everyone just seemed closed off. Jon said I should try to mention something about the weather when trying to meet someone because Brits love to talk about the weather. I've tried it a few times but have never gotten anywhere.
If however, you are introduced to someone by a mutual acquaintance, then you can have pleasant conversation and begin to get to know someone. I've decided this stems from the old custom from hundreds of years ago that it was socially taboo to talk to anyone whom you have not been formally introduced. Think Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Collins tries to speak to Mr. Darcy and makes a complete fool of himself. Even though this custom is not formally a part of the culture--it still has an impact on how people interact. I have found it much easier to talk with other international students from other cultures than with Brits.
Jon took Ewan to a birthday party several months back and stood next to two other dads for a good 30 minutes before either of them finally started talking to him. Since then, he has a comfortable relationship with one of the dads and they would chat when they ran into each other at school drop off. Two weeks ago Jon came with me to pick up the boys and he started chatting with his friend (Jason). Even though Jon and I were standing next to each other Jason would not address me in conversation until Jon said, "Jason, I'd like to introduce you to my wife, Amelia." And even though Jason and I have seen each other everyday for months at pick up time and our 2 and 3 year olds have talked he only now will smile and wave hi since the formal introduction.
Of course there are exceptions in all cultural behaviors but that has been my experience. I'm glad that I have a better understanding of how things work because it helps me in my day to day perspective.
At Ewan's soccer (or should I say football?) class there were two other moms (who were friends) in the gallery above the gym watching their kids in the class. I had Graham and Isaac with me and they were playing and/or doing homework while Ewan's class was going on. I finally decided that the American in my was going to come out and I asked them a question about some of the t-shirts the other kids were wearing in the class. I had another question about football leagues in the area and lo and behold we engaged in conversation for the whole time. And yes, we did talk about the weather. I was so excited that I got to talk with other moms and feel more connected to the community my kids are in. Time easily could have passed where they only talked to each other. I was glad I took the risk to engage in conversation.