I often find myself pondering the cultural differences between Britain and the United States, and how to negotiate these with my kids. While I fully embrace my American citizenship, I also want my children to know and appreciate their heritage. While it may seem like there are many similarities, it’s the little things that require consideration.
Most people are aware of the language differences. Early on in my parenting journey, I decided to stick with American-purchased books, avoiding spelling confusion. That was an easy decision. But as for pronunciation…I find it hard to ensure that a zee-bra is never a zeb-ra, to the amusement of my family and co-workers.
For a while, I held out against Barbie (like my sister successfully did with her daughter), and sought out traditional, European toys that I remembered from childhood. But my little ones hankered after shiny objects with robotic American accents — and I’ve found myself drawn to the innovative, modern creations too. The verdict? If they provide some level of education or creative play, they’re considered for purchase.
Mealtimes, however, are more problematic. Starting with a fork in the right hand was a no-brainer, but introducing a knife caused confusion. For me, the fork should (almost always) be in the left hand, so the knife naturally goes into the right hand. No thinking required. And where does the napkin sit? There is a level of complexity I did not anticipate, so for now, we’re learning together at our weekly “etiquette” lessons — a sight to behold!
Food is also the subject of discussion in our house. Kid-friendly meals in England consisted of bangers and-mash, bubble and squeak, and Welsh rarebit, which all sound alien to kids born and raised in Chicago. While my eldest loves to try new foods (“these snails are delicious!”), my middle child is very suspicious of “yukky” food with unfamiliar names. By making her my sous chef I’m hoping she’ll embrace new recipes and flavors.
For the most part, we layer British holidays on top of the American ones observed at school. Boxing Day (December 26th) is a bonus day. Likewise, my youngsters get to double dip with British Mother’s Day (observed in March), while St. George’s Day (the English St. Patrick), St. David’s Day (their cousins are Welsh), and Hogmanay (Scottish word for "New Year") all add another dimension to our yearly calendar.
When it comes to bedtime, I struggle to align with some of my local counterparts. We start our routine at an “absurdly early” hour. Although like many, I veto electronic toys in the bedroom, opting for books and soft toys that provide comfort and encourage sleep. After the long nights with our first newborn, I am unashamed of my relentless quest for "grown-ups only" evenings. And while we sometimes break our early-to-bed rule for special occasions, we try to keep a schedule even during the summer months.
Sharing my traditions, and showing respect for differing customs, is something I can offer to my children. This is as important to me as building new traditions that embrace our changing world. In tandem, I hope these approaches will allow them to become the empathetic and respectful citizens I aspire for them to be.
Photo: King's Church International on Unsplash