21 October 2006

When I..and lots of children's songs

(Warning: this is a bit disjointed and I'm leaving it. As my friend Suzanne says when talking to me--segues are for children.)

When I was at drama school in England, my anthropologically-inclined brain was constantly seeking to catalogue similarities and differences between the culture I grew up in and the British culture. Truth be told, I didn't think there would be THAT much of a difference. I tend to think of the US as The Great American Melting Pot (which of you Schoolhouse Rock Fans sang that?)--but with much of the early melting done by the UK.

So, I was surprised to find many differences. But, I still couldn't articulate what the big, underlying difference was. I think many of the differences have to do with geography. The UK is a small island (read Bryson's book) that used to be the centre of a big empire. And, there's not a lot of Elbow Room (still singing?) so personal space has to be protected in non-physical ways. But, there seemed to be something that I was missing in the attitude of my British friends.

Then, one day in movement class, our teacher was encouraging us to connect voice and body by singing a "familiar" children's song that everyone would know. Here are the lyrics:

"Right," said Fred, "Let's do it together. One each end. Steady as she goes."
Couldn't lift it, couldn't even shift it
We we getting nowhere and so we had a cuppa tea.

Lightbulb!! THIS was the way they inculcated their children? Whatever happened to the little engine that could? You know--I think I can, I think I can! What is this message of quit and drink tea when you encounter difficulty?

Today I was watching "Snoopy-The Musical" (It's the beginning of Fall Break. I have no other excuse...except Top Gear is on for FOUR hours every Saturday on BBC Prime!) and was hit by how AMERICAN the message was. I was singing along with the first song, even though I didn't remember ever seeing this before. The first song went like this:

Don't be leaf if you can be the tree
Don't be a raindrop, if you can be the sea
For the leaf may fall but the tree remains
It may never rain at all but the sea remains
Better to be the tree and the sea--see?
Don't be a cloud if you can be the sky
Don't be a feather, be the bird and fly
The clouds roll by but the sky rolls on
And a bird can fly with a feather gone
Be a bird and the sky and the tree and the deep blue sea
Don't be anything less than everything you can be

And the last song (sung to our insecure friend Charlie Brown), which I also somehow knew, went:
Wouldn't it be wonderful if everybody believed in everybody?

If just one person believes in you
Deep enough and strong enough believes in you
Hard enough and long enough before you knew it
someone else would think, if he can do it, I can do it
Making it two--two whole people who believe in you

It goes on to say if two people, there's bound to be three, if three why not four and if four why not more and more and more...

And when all those people believe in you
Deep enough and strong enough believe in you
Hard enough and long enough, it stands to reason
you yourself would see what everyone else sees in you
And maybe even you can believe in you, too

There's a great book called "Two Worlds of Childhood" (well, I find it fascinating) that talks about how the US and the USSR (it's old) differ in their childrearing practices. Whether consciously or not, parents and society are raising their children to value the things that will make them a successful member of the society they belong to. US children are encouraged to explore. The USSR children were encouraged to conform.

I was so frustrated in England by the lack of initiative of my students. But, in a socialist society, initiative is not as needed and not as valued as it is in a capitalist society. I found out when I lived in England the last time that I am very much a product of the culture in which I was raised. I'm very glad that I am an American. I think our society and our government and our culture--riddled with problems though they may be--are by FAR the best options on the global menu. The Catch 22 here is whether I'd feel this way if I wasn't such a product of my culture. I guess it doesn't really matter...I'm just glad I'm glad.

I think being out of my home-culture for so long I notice more and more differences. And, I miss the familiar; the "universality" of assumptions and values and beliefs that I find daily are decidedly NOT universal.

The desire to share all this mish-mash of cultural mumbo-jumbo (ooo...I'd love some of David's gumbo right now...) came about from a Peanuts video. I think I need this break even more than I thought I did.


*ks* said...

Kate! First of all, I miss you & apologize for my lapse in correspondence! Secondly, even though I was raised in America and have really only lived in America...I TOO have been taught many life lessons via the Peanuts. After all, "Happiness IS anyone and anything at all that's loved by you!" And I do so love your culture commentaries, especially since I still have (a perhaps deepening) desire to be an ex-pat myself. Is london calling? hum? Anyway - You're in my prayers and thoughts, and hope to catch up with you soon. Keep those observations coming!!

Anonymous said...

Eric loves the reference to Schoolhouse Rock.

Anonymous said...

What a thoughful and intriguing post. Thank you.