Dear Meghan: Congratulations!

Dear Meghan,

Congratulations on the arrival of little Seven! I’m sure you, Harry, and the entire Royal Family must be overjoyed. I certainly hope you’re all doing well and gearing up for one of life’s greatest adventures: navigating parenthood in a different country than the one you grew up in.

Parenthood itself may be a universal experience, but as an American expat you’ll be exposed to a variety of differences. To start with, there’s the terminology. You’ll likely be mummy or mum to your sprog instead of mom, with Mothering Sunday celebrated in March instead of Mother’s Day in May (sorry, you just missed it for this year). Nappies go on the rear, dummies in the mouth. Prams are used instead of a baby carriage or buggy, at least until the little tyke is old enough to sit up, then he can graduate to a pushchair rather than a stroller.

A little later, perhaps at Three, Four, or Five’s birthday parties, you’ll learn how to put your right foot in, put your right foot out, put your right foot in, and shake it all about. No, this isn’t the hokey-pokey but the hokey-cokey. The idea and tune are more or less the same though, so I’m sure you’ll pick up on it quickly.

You’ll also be introduced to the thrilling game of Poohsticks. I know that Winnie the Pooh is one of the UK’s most beloved exports*, but I can’t recall this little exercise making the jump across the pond. The rules are simple: pick up sticks and have each person throw them off one side of a bridge in the direction of flowing water then run to the other side. The person whose stick floats out from under the bridge first is the winner. It’s whole minutes of family fun.

That’s not the only game that you’ll likely find yourself playing as Seven grows up, although this next one has caused family feuds since time immemorial. It’s banned among MrElaineous’ relatives for just this reason, but I’m sure a family who emerged from the Boer War with their power still intact will be happy to give it a go. The game? Monopoly.

But wait, I can hear you say, Monopoly is American! It’s designed around that famous seaside resort of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Which is true if you’re playing on an American board, but Brits grew up using London as the model for an unfair society, so every property coordinates to a different location. The key things to remember? Boardwalk is now Mayfair. The railway lines of B&O, Pennsylvania, Reading, and Short are now London train stations. And it still takes hours to play.

You probably won’t be able to escape the morass of children’s television either. I don’t know about you, but there were only a few shows available for small children when I was growing up. Indeed, Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood are the only ones that immediately spring to mind. But while the Cookie Monster and Elmo seem to be international celebrities, the rest of the gang are less well known over here; I was always a fan of Oscar, which may explain my litter-picking tendencies. The Muppets, however, are popular, although “moppet” as a term of endearment and “muppet” as an insult should not be mixed up when referring to your child. 

Here you’ll have classic British children’s fare like Postman Pat, Balamory, Jackanory, and Mr. Tumble, with In the Night Garden and Peppa Pig as a more modern supplement. Although the latter has crossed the Atlantic, Blue Peter and its sought-after badges remain a distinctly British phenomenon. And no, I do not know who Peter is or why he is blue.

Once Seven is old enough to read, he might be interested in comics like The Dandy and The Beano, which have been around for decades. One character from The Beano might sound familiar: Dennis the Menace. However, this is not the cherubic blonde who unwittingly terrorised his neighbour Mr. Wilson. Instead, this Dennis is a black-haired hooligan accompanied by his dog Gnasher. Both characters entered the world in March 1951 and have managed to confuse intellectual property rights ever since.

Looking slightly further afield, you might also stumble across the adventures of the Gauls Asterix and Obelix, who star in a series of French comics that are beloved by Brits of a certain age (in translation of course; like in the US, second languages are for other people). Despite the current political climate, the Belgian Tintin and his dog Snowy also have a place firmly in popular culture if you’re looking for something with pan-European appeal.

From these, Seven may wish to graduate to Enid Blyton, whose idealised view of the UK has variously charmed and/or bored generations of Brits. Don’t worry, the racist, xenophobic, and sexist references have mostly been removed. In fact, her characters are so well known and rehabilitated that the Famous Five are hawking the Great Western Railway at the moment.

You’ll also have a big decision ahead of you when it comes to education: to send him to public or private school. Wait, those mean the same thing in the UK. If you’re looking for taxpayer-funded education, it’s referred to as a state school, and the usual age breakdown is not elementary, middle, and high school, but primary, secondary, and sixth form. From there he can venture on to college or university, which are not synonyms but rather two distinct forms of education: college is sort of high school plus, and university is where you go to earn a degree.

Oh, I forgot to mention GCSEs and A-level exams as well … but maybe you’ll want to focus on getting him to sleep through the night first?

Best wishes,

Besides Pooh, Paddington Bear also has cross-cultural appeal, but for some reason Rupert Bear hasn’t followed his brethren across the Atlantic.

Every so often I publish a tongue-in-cheek letter to a slightly more famous American expat about what to expect from life in the UK; check out the others at:

Off the Beaten Track Wiltshire

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