Reversepilgrims Blog

a northwest family moves to the UK

Mama bear pokes her head out February 13, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 10:39 pm

Most of my posts are about the lighthearted side of being an uninvited guest in this country, but today I am sad, and a little mad. Just to be clear–I am not trying to start a debate, I’m just sharing with my friends and family back home the whole kit and kaboodle.

When I picked my seven year old up from school last week he told me something that broke my heart.  A teacher at his school was speaking to a group of children at an assembly and, in response to an apparently overly exuberant child, said quite forcefully “We aren’t American children, we don’t hoot and make wild noises when we clap”.

My son said several kids turned around and looked right at him, and one lad (who is definitely going on the nice list this year) actually leaned over to say, “don’t worry, I know that not all Americans are like that.” Clearly my son was not the only one who heard the comment and got the underlying negative message.

To the school’s credit, the head teacher took the matter seriously. When I talked with her about the incident, she apologized and explained that she saw it as a clear case of racism and would deal with it accordingly. She talked with my son right after I met with her the next day and she had the teacher apologize to him, too. It’s all been sorted, as they say here.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy to move to a foreign country. I expected some of the other kids to be a bit mean sometimes, to make fun of their accents and give them a hard time, but I didn’t think I’d have to worry about the teachers. With my experience here so far, however, it did not surprise me. It is not as if the wave of political correctness failed to wash ashore here–it is definitely considered a faux pas to ridicule minority, ethnic and social groups just like it is back home. However, it is as if Americans are somehow considered fair game. Even with the French, people still seem to look around with that “I know I shouldn’t say this, but…” before they toss out a zinger, but not so with Americans.

I’ve heard the little barbs on the radio, standing in lines, on TV, and in conversation. It’s usually a witty comment about how an attitude or action (like wasting energy or cutting corners or hooting and yelling wildly) is “so American”. Yes, I know we are far from perfect, but all three hundred million of us don’t drive hummers and idolize Homer Simpson.

The fact is that my son will probably never forget the way he felt that day. It is an awful experience to feel like you are on the outside looking in, but I also know that it is part of life. We all get through these experiences and learn something from them. After all, that is part of why we packed up and moved to a foreign country, to get a little perspective. It’s just that getting perspective isn’t always fun.

I can’t run around plugging his ears, but I can tell him how much I love him and treasure him for exactly who he is, an amazing, creative, kind, polite and also American boy. I can encourage him to have patience and tolerance–other people are not perfect and neither are we. Everyone makes mistakes and the nice ones even apologize, just like that teacher did. And who knows, we might all grow and learn a little bit.

Now, on with our adventure!


6 Responses to “Mama bear pokes her head out”

  1. Kathy Reddick Says:

    Good for you!!!!!! Go American.

  2. Lynn Says:

    It’s funny the tortuous way people in general have to go thru the phases of artificially “being PC”, not saying particular things about particular groups but others being fair game, to someday grasping the essential principle that it is actually possible to express oneself with no need to make nasty comments about any group.
    Well, life is tough and not necessarily fair; I’m happy for your son that you are there for him to help him understand these comments are less about him and very much about the commenter. Even though it’s not much fun, good for you for following through with the school. Remember kids are resilient, and experiences like this are what help develop even more resilience.

  3. victoria Says:

    Awful. Poor Charlie. Please reassure him, not all brits are as small minded.

  4. Auntie Joyce Says:

    Once again, Erin, you’ve written a story that I can SEE AND FEEL. You are quite remarkable…and so was the way in which you handled this situation. I see all sides of this and can remember back in the day when my boys were in school and similar circumstances went on…doesn’t seem to matter what the subject matter is or what country we are in, ‘stuff’ happens. So WooHoo (MY American shoutout!) to you and all moms in this world for standing up for our kiddo’s. Way to go! Pip Pip and all that! 🙂 Love you all!

  5. Alison Glinsboeckel Says:

    We moved to Germany almost 8 years ago..
    No job and no real plan….
    The best thing we ever did….
    would love to chat with you sometime…we have free long distance to the UK and am great at bouncing ides for people that leave America and move to Europe…there are not too many of us…. 8)


  6. Jan Says:

    Class- He and the boy sitting next to him showed class. I hope your son remembers that being humiliated by someone who is ignorant and biased brings out the best in some people! He doesn’t need that teacher- She needs him and his young friend! Hope she has the humility to admit this!

    Hope you and all your men are having a great day!! Love and miss you, my American friends!

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