Nuances and Respect

As we watched our boys playing in the mud beside the park yesterday morning (their choice not ours), a friend and I were talking about the differences between here and there – between America and England.

The contrast between the two places – culturally, socially, politically and many other words ending in ‘ly’. A contrast that I’ve been pondering on and off for over a year now, and that’s thrown into relief again as we begin to make our home on this ‘other’ side of the pond.

I hesitate to draw any big conclusions, knowing that assumption and judgement often shape such sweeping statements. But as we’re enjoying getting to know this enormous country, in all its diversity and complexity, little differences crop up all over the place. Whether it’s the awkward silence as a joke falls flat, the puzzle of herb names in the supermarket or the realisation that a ‘jumper’ – that word we use to describe any warming pullover in our house – is a girl’s item of clothing over here.

A bumpy terrain for me at the moment is the way children are supposed to address adults. It’s the etiquette of respect, and it seems to be played out differently over here. Same values, same desires for children to respect adults, same emphases on pleasing, thanking, sorry-ing…but then there’s the terms of address.

The nature of our lives has meant that Rufus and Billy are always encountering different adults, whether it’s through Jonathan’s work, church family, or my compulsive desire to meet up with people. And throughout the free flow of people through our house at whatever time of day, we’ve always introduced people by their first names (whatever their age). The boys are quick to pick up on names, and often use them to get attention, or to wave hello, or even when the actual person isn’t there because they’ve become a part of Rufus’ imaginary game.

In America, as far as I can tell so far, there’s an exception for adults to be addressed more formally. Mrs. Carswell or Mrs. Felicity is how I’ve been introduced by others, and naturally there’s the expectation that my children will reciprocate with the adults in the room.

It’s a shift, and I’m still working out how much to run with it or not. I like the notion of respect, but I also love the way the boys relate to our friends so easily and with endearing informality.

No sweeping conclusions to draw, cultural nuances rather than stark contrasts. Intriguing, and interesting to see how hints of difference begin to answer my friend’s question over the course of time.


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