I thought I could make a flow chart to illustrate every conversation I’ve ever had at the playground here. Then I remembered that my spare time is precious and decided to bag it. Here’s a summary.
There’s a battery of questions regarding the children we’re with, covering age and mobility and preschool enrollment. Once American vs. non-American identity is discerned from the other parent’s accent, the conversation will follow a predictable path.
We’re The Americans to the Brits, and “another one of us” to the other Americans. As such, we’re unmistakably with “the forces” and assumptions are immediately made.
Regardless of the nationality of the other parent (assuming they speak English), which base we’re attached to and where we’re originally from will always come up.
I’m up to date on how long we’ve been here (2 years and 9 months!) and how long until we leave (90 days!). There are some things we like about living in England and some things we really miss. Yes my oldest IS in British preschool and he loves it. And it really is too bad the sun didn’t stay out.
When you reach this point in a conversation with an American, you ask about travel plans. You ask for Important Things to Know about YOUR travel plans. You complain about what a pain in the ass it is to fly out of Heathrow. You agree that it’s so nice to be close to Europe, but there just isn’t time to see everything, and that even though the kids won’t remember any of it, it’s still worth muscling through. You ask if she used the Play Pass.
If you get there with a local, you ask if they’re originally from the area and if they have family nearby. You agree that it’s so nice to have family nearby, and that yes it is hard to be so far from yours.
Then it’s nap/snack/dinner time for one or both of you and you go home.
It’s a strange feeling to be so easily pegged. Saying “Hi, how are you?” (at least in the 1-hour radius around the bases) is the same as saying “Hi, I’m a foreigner and my husband is in the military.” It’s such a shift from our time in midtown Omaha, when I was just another Midwestern young professional who was involved in the community and whose husband happened to be in the Air Force. Not that it’s all bad; some people really enjoy talking about the history of the area (i.e. there’s a closed-down WWII bomber airfield across the street from our house) and are eager to share their stories (i.e. the barber who got to hold some of the Mildenhall Treasure) when they discover we’re here with the Air Force.
I suspect our neighborhood in Montgomery will be fairly accustomed to military families coming and going, too. I also suspect that most conversations will be just as superficial, since we all know we’re moving on in a year. I’m curious to see where the conversations end up, though, since it’s probably pretty unlikely that any of us will be planning trips to Paris or Rome or getting ready for Baltic cruises. Or maybe I’ll just go back to work and avoid it altogether.