There is so much hatred and bad blood being spilt in the press these days. As human beings, it used to be that we had an inmate desire to be with others. That doesn’t seem to be the case any more.
Brexit, Trump, extreme nationalism. It all comes back to one thing: we only want to care for ourselves. There is no togetherness any more. We don’t trust anyone. A lot of this is due to the perpetuation in the media of horror stories that vilify certain groups of people. They incite fear, and in doing that, they incite hatred. And it scares me. It really scares me.
So, for today, I decided to write a story about how wonderful it can be to work together, even when you are from different cultures. You see, I’m British, and my husband is American. Okay, so they aren’t the most diverse cultures in the world. But,trust me, you would be surprised at how different they are. We work, though. We are best friends and we love each other to bits. It’s our differences that make our relationship extra special. So I wrote this story. It’s not a true story, but it is based heavily on my own relationship. I hope you enjoy it.
“Nana, Nana,” said Poppy as she bounced into her grandmother’s front room. “I’ve got a project from school.”
“Sorry, Mum. She’s been excited about this project for the last few days,” Anna said, placing her hands around her young daughter’s shoulders and squeezing.
“Oh, that’s alright, darling,” said Kathleen. Smiling, she turned to her granddaughter and said, “ So, you’ve got an exciting project have you, pumpkin?”
“Yes, Nana. America. I must do America.” The rosy-cheeked little girl clambered onto her grandmother’s lap. She swiped away the rogue strands of dark hair that didn’t quite reach her ponytail.
Once she was comfortable, she grabbed her favourite treasure; the gold locket with which Kathleen never parted. Poppy opened the locket and studied the pictures inside. “Grampy?” she said; her honest, blue eyes searching her grandmother’s face for confirmation.
“Yes, Poppy. Grampy Bill.”
“He’s in Heaven now? But he used to be in America, didn’t he, Nana?” Poppy fiddled with the gold chain while she waited for her answer.
“Yes. That’s right, pumpkin,” Kathleen’s voice faltered. Clearing her throat, she said, “So, what is your project? What do you have to write about America?”
“Lots. I’ve got to do a project.” She scrunched up her face and looked to her mother. “That’s right, Mummy, isn’t it? A project?”
Anna nodded, then turned to her mother. “She has to create a folder about another country and she’s chosen the U.S. You know how she’s been obsessed with it, ever since she found out Dad was from there.”
Kathleen chuckled and, when she smiled, the lines around her eyes highlighted the clear blue, passed down from generation to generation. “She does talk about it a lot. What kind of things does she need to know?”
“I think it’s pretty much anything goes. Things like geography we can do at home from the internet, but it would be really good if you have any photos to spare. Anecdotes as well; anything about the cultural differences between the U.S. and the U.K.”
“Nana, I’ll record you,” said Poppy, “Mummy has a recorder.”
“It’s just a phone, Mum, that’s all. I can record your voice on there.”
Kathleen sat back in her chair, sucking air in through her teeth. “Oh, I don’t know, darling. I don’t want everyone listening to my voice.”
“No, it’s okay, Mum. They won’t. It’s just so we can remember what you say.” Anna set the phone on the worn out arm of her mother’s chair and said, “I’ll make some tea. I’ll just set this recording and you can go. Thanks, Mum.”
Eyes wide with uncertainty, Kathleen pressed herself against the back of her chair. “So, you want me to talk about America, Poppy?”
“Yes! America,” her little granddaughter replied.
“Hmm. Okay, let me think.” The sitting room faded away as memories of her late husband and their home in Arizona came to the forefront. Her nose twitched as she smelt the dust that had a habit of stopping by.
“America is sunshine,” Kathleen eventually said. “Blue skies, freedom, and happiness. Long, open roads and lazy days stretching in front of you. Laughter, love. People who are welcoming and friendly. But, I guess that can be true wherever you are.”
Kathleen hugged her granddaughter. “You would love it there, pumpkin. You are very much like Grampy Bill.”
“You always say that, Nana.” Poppy was eager for new information. “Mummy said it’s different to here. She said you speak different.”
“It’s differently, Poppy. And yes, we do.” Memories of discussions over the pronunciations of so many words flashed through Kathleen’s mind. Her face animated as she reminisce. “Americans pronounce their vowels differently, that’s the main change. Like the word pen. It’s spelt pen, isn’t it? Spelt with an e, but your Grampy always pronounced it pin, with an i. It was a running joke between us, we always argued about who was right.”
Anna walked in and agreed that she remembered her parents constantly arguing over words. “You always thought you were right, Mum, and Dad would wind you up so tightly.”
“Yes, but in the end we laughed, Anna. Hover, that’s another word, Poppy. Hover, he pronounced huvver, like it was spelt with a u in the middle. I never understood that. Compost was compowst, elongating the o. Really rather strange. Your Grampy used to call it the ‘New Improved English’. But he was just wrong.”
“I’d forgotten how much you argued about language, Mum. I miss that.”
“Me too, darling. But it wasn’t just the language that was different. As long as I live, I will never understand American sandwiches which are described as ‘chicken salad’ or ‘tuna salad’. Poppy, what that means is they are chicken and mayonnaise, or tuna and mayonnaise. There is not one item of salad involved. It would be like me saying I am a twenty year old man. Just for the sake of it.”
Poppy giggled and said, “Don’t be silly, Nana. You’re not a man.”
“That’s right, Poppy. And for that reason, I don’t call myself one. There are different words for lots of things in the U.S. as well. You know jelly, Poppy? Like you have with ice cream?”
Poppy nodded her head.
“Well, Americans call it Jell-o. But jam, like you spread on your toast, that is jelly. It’s all very confusing.”
Anna noted the way her mother’s eyes sparkled and her face lit up as she spoke about her dear, late husband. New life seemed to flow from her fill her body. Tired, arthritic arms gestured wildly, and her words tripped over one another in her rush to relay every single memory.
“Come on, Mum. You shouldn’t get so worked up. Drink your tea and calm down a little.”
Kathleen took a sip, then continued. “Television is different in the States. There seem to be adverts every five minutes or so. And they advertise things like prescription drugs. That was a big shock, the first time I saw an advert for anti depressants. It reminded me that it’s all a big business.”
Kathleen paused to take a deep breath. “That aspect, I didn’t like so much. But I got used to it. There were lots of good shows, but the sense of humour is different to ours. They don’t really understand sarcasm, as a general rule. Things are a lot more literal. Humour tends to be more visual in the U.S., whereas over here, we used words more. They also have shows called roasts where they take a celebrity and have people who know them belittle them and make fun of them in front of an audience. I just don’t understand how that’s funny.”
Anna watched her mother’s face smile, then fall, and she wondered what was really going on behind her eyes. “All right, Poppy. I think that’s enough for now. Your Nana is getting tired.”
“They were such happy times, Anna.” Kathleen grabbed her daughter’s hand. “I’d go back to them, if I could. You know, all these differences made our time together more interesting and exciting. We laughed so much of the time. Do you remember that, Anna?”
“Yes, Mum, I do. You and Dad were always happy. It was lovely to grow up with.”
“Yes,” said Kathleen, feeling far away.
“Come on, Poppy, we have to pick Daddy up from football practice soon.”
“Football, that’s another one, you know? In America, football is called soccer. The game they call football is one where feet rarely go anywhere near the ball, let alone touch it. Very, very strange.”
Laughing, Anna said, “We really should go, Mum. Will you be all right?”
“Yes, darling. I’ll be just fine. I’ve got my memories.”