Now that I have lived in the United States for more than 12 years, I am an expert on all of their funny little ways, or at least most of them. Others of them, still leave me flummoxed, but I am a willing student.
On the whole, Americans are great, because they speak clearly on any given subject. There is little artifice. What you see is what you get, which is so much simpler for simple minded foreigners to interpret. If you, the foreigner, make a faux pas, the handy American will put you right, unlike other countries where errors are noted, recorded, stored away for future reference and the offender shunned thereafter.
Occasionally, I am still brought up short. Maybe it's a Brit thing.
I expect most parents experience a variation on theme. Your youngish child approaches you to ask thusly, "Mater dearest, I would dearly love to visit Charlie Witherspoon's Estate. He has a simply smashing croquet lawn and the polo ponies are first class!" You, the parent, advise your child that he cannot invite himself to someone else's house, he must wait for an invitation. In our household we teach the same lesson. "But i gonna go HER house!" It's a statement of intent, even though the friend is a boy. He bellows at 50 decibels, but the answer is still more or less the same. I thought it was the same everywhere.
I finish a conversation with the school nurse. I try very hard not to laugh, as even I know that this would be inappropriate. There is something about the phrase
"he accidentally ran into a Hoola Hoop,” that tickles my funny bone. No sooner have I replaced the receiver, when it rings again.
“Hi, how was your summer?”
“Great thanks and yours?”
“So how can I help?”
“Well I was talking to Jane and she said she’d love to have a play date.”
“Lovely. When were you thinking of?”
“Wednesday or Thursday would suit me best.”
“So you’ll pick Jane up and take her back to your house after school?”
“Er, right, o.k. that would be just fine. Shall I bring her back home to you afterwards?”
“Yes. Could you bring her back at about 5 as she has soccer practice.” Somehow it sounds more like a statement than a request.
“D’you know our address?”
“Um yes. I’ll check it in the school directory.”
“Great. See ya.”
My daughter and "Ohmygod," that is to say Jane, have enjoyed two or three play dates each year. On each occasion, Jane’s mother telephones me to tell me that her daughter wants a play date with my child, in our house and that I am responsible for the accompanying taxi service. No other mother or parent has ever adopted this approach. I am non-plussed but intrigued each time. I keep examining the details to see if I’ve missed a step or a cue, as my telephone skills are poor?
The following day, Jane’s mother calls again.
“Hi, I’m sorry but I’m gonna have to cancel the play date.”
“Oh dear. I’m sorry. Shall we make it another day that’s more convenient?”
“No, Jane is grounded, no privileges for a month.”
“A month! Well we could make it for a month's time?”
“Thanks no, I’d just like to hold off a while.”
“O.k. Well let me know how things go?”
I replace the receiver. A month? The child is 9. What could a 9 year old possibly have done to have all privileges withdrawn? I know it’s a common enough term but ‘withdrawal of privileges’ echoes from a bygone era, my bygone era. I wanted to ask, but that would be rude. If she wanted me to know she would have told me. It must be serious, not the kind of information to be shared with a casual acquaintance such as myself.
It’s the fact that ‘all’ privileges have been banned. I wonder how many privileges the average 9 year old has? This is such a useful yardstick for me. I know that our family life is not well aligned to the average. We are habituated. It’s only when you get a glimpse into someone else’s life that this prompts a reality check.
I try and think what privileges, if any, we have? Only electronics, and play dates for my daughter. The boys do have play dates but they only consider them to be a privilege in theory. Desirable in theory, often turns into something far more haphazard in reality. I wonder why they don’t have more privileges? But of course with their somewhat narrow field of interest, there could only ever be one privilege for the time being.
I try and think of anything that my daughter might do that would warrant a month’s withdrawal?
This must surely mean that my child is an angel or that I lack an appropriate disciplinary approach? Neither option seems quite right.
I try the same thought with the boys, but that is more difficult, because a month without electronics would bring life as we know it, to and end. It would be impossible to send nake.d boys to school. Without the promise of electronics, we would literally cease to function. This sobering fact brings an end to my thought processes.
Families differ and that’s a fact.
2 hours ago