At the park the other day, I was telling Vera’s mother that Carla’s mom had just seen two teenagers sleeping in the tunnel to the toddlers’ play-gym, when I paused to help Ton-ton and Bertie locate their own mothers. “You’re new here?” Vera’s mom asked me, incredulously. “You’ve only been in Britain a few months, and you’re about to leave, and yet you know so many people at this playground.”
Well, I explained, it’s my local park. And it was Tuesday, the day that St Matthew’s Church playgroup meets at the playground. And I know only kids’ names, not moms’ names.
Still, she had a good point: I am finally making friends in Britain. I am finally starting to feel comfortable here, now, when I’m about to leave. I think it has something to do with beginning to master British styles of self-deprecatory conversation — as the preceding paragraph may show. I’m going to miss this place when we leave.
Maybe it just has to do with the British penchant for inviting us over for tea or a meal as soon as we tell them we’re leaving.
Sophie, on the other hand, isn’t so sure that she wants to make friends here. “Carla hits,” she tells me, clutching her left eye, even though it’s been five days since Carla slapped her in that particular eye. “Siwan pinches,” she declares, clutching her back, “that’s not good.” Siwan’s own mother has arms covered in bruises and bite-marks from her violent child. If we were staying, I would have to figure out how to teach Sophie to deal with the aggression of British children. Sophie’s current cry-baby response only exacerbates the bullying, I’m afraid. But I don’t know what to teach her how to do, other than use her words and walk away. Maybe it is a good time to leave after all.
So there you have it, two British stereotypes confirmed: British reticence and British hooliganism. They are so true — at least in my case — that it took more than 2 months to talk about anything much in the park other than the weather, and so true that the children, even at age 2, are already exhibiting this bizarre hooliganism.
There’s also an amusing hauteur to the British kids. Yesterday at the wading pool, I asked Sophie, “Can I play with your toy fish, please?” I wanted to show her how to make the fish squirt water, and to demonstrate sharing, and to alleviate my own boredom.
“You’re a MOM,” a four-year-old told me, with exasperation. “Moms aren’t allowed to play.”
At this same wading pool, last week, some five-year-olds firmly informed me, “You’re a bad mom because you let your baby play with ladybirds.” They wanted me to force Sophie to drop the ladybug, so that they themselves could play with it.
“You have to leave now,” a three-year-old announced. “It’s tea-time.”
No, I don’t have to leave now, I told her, I’m American. I don’t do tea-time.
But it is, perhaps, time to leave.