Thursday, November 27, 2008

English or American?

A while ago, Dom and I were asking Max if he was English or American. His answer usually just repeated the last word in the question so we could predict his response:
'Are you American or English?' Answer, 'English'.
'Are you English or American?' Answer, 'American'.
But then he got the gist of our responses: 'English', 'Yeaaaaah!' 'American', 'Noooooo'. Clearly our negative response held more appeal for him because he is now always American. In fact, he and Oli hold dual citizenship but here are a few of the facts;
Max got his social security number well before his parents.
Both Max and Oliver held US passports before British ones.
Fy engines go 'whhiiiir' not 'Neee Naaah'.
'Table cars' go 'ding ding'.
Halloween isn't scary.
Fireworks go off in the summer (4th July not Bonfire Night).
We get mail not post.
Grammar is dodgy.
Prepositions are scarce.
In fact, Max's American-ness is increasingly evident in his vocabulary. His first word was 'Hayo' (Hello) and even though his second utterance gave away his English parentage ('cup-o-tea') it is now the Rs that give him away as the yank in the family - CaR, DooR, MoRe (Or could it be the Cornishman in him?). Certainly the Rs are now creeping in all over the place - even where they don't exist. Thomas the tank engine, you may remember, has a big presence in this household and the other day Max pitched in with his ever present refrain of 'Where's Thomas? Where's Thomas?' But I noticed that 'Thomas' had actually become 'TaRmas'.
'Say 'o'' I said (as in 'clock'). 'o' Max replied.
'Say 'Tho'' I said. 'Tho' he replied.
'Say 'Thomas''. 'TaRmas'.
So there you have it, we are raising an American. Having said that, there is much confusion over tomatoes which started off as British, then became American ('tomaytoes') and are now inexplicably 'bonartoes'. The last frontier will be the loss of the T in butter and water, he isn't yet saying budder or warder although ask him where he lives and you'll get the sing-song answer 'San Fransisco Cidy'. But this country is, after all, the land of the immigrant and many a proper Cornish miner came here to try his luck during the gold rush 150 years ago. It is said that if there's a hole in the ground, you'll find a Cornishman at the bottom of it. So we are following well-trodden footprints (without the hole). Amid the cast of many extraordinary characters I heard about growing up in Cornwall's Penwith peninsula, there was one called 'Yanky Will'. I believe he was so-called because he 'went to there once'. So if that is the criteria upon which my family is to be judged, then it is clear none of us can escape our lengthy sojourn on this side of the Atlantic. Today is, in fact, our third Thanksgiving in America. It's a 'holiday' I like more and more. It lacks the commercialism that so often identifies American culture and that has become so blatant at Christmas. It is very simply about families getting together to eat. But I like it not so much for the turkey but also that it staves off the Christmas sprawl (Here, it's pumpkins til Thanksgiving, then fairy lights ONLY once the turkey has been devoured). Last year it was a proper family affair for us and like millions of truly American families we celebrated with a big bird, stuffing and the works. But this year, Dom is heading to London for his sister's wedding and I am parenting alone. Max and Oli, the true Americans in this family, may well feel cheated - I opted for lunch at a 50's style diner this year rather than a vigil over the oven punctuated by intermittent turkey basting. It is certainly evident that Max was very much ready to get into the Thanksgiving swing of things. I was told that although his friends had swiftly discarded the 'Turkey' hats they made at preschool, Max was the only child determined to wear his the entire day - 'I just want to wear my TuRkey hat, OK?'

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