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In a way, this list has been written with entirely the wrong emphasis. It shouldn’t be remarkable, even in the internet age, that children play games that have mild regional differences. The truly astonishing thing should be that there are any similarities whatsoever, given the distances involved.
So let’s just say if you and your schoolmates did all of the things on this list in what I’m defining as the British way, it just proves that the playground grapevine has a capacity for information exchange that makes the information superhighway look like the pigeon post.
Let’s start with something agreeably gross:
“Milk milk lemonade…”
“…round the corner fudge is made,” right? Well, not always.
In my school it was never fudge and always chocolate, which is somehow a far more graphic, albeit less texturally accurate choice of candy. I don’t know if this reflects a more genteel mindset among the school children of our respective nations, or a desire for grammatical rigor – to make the rhythm work, you have to say “chocolate’s made,” leaving out the more proper “is,” you see. I also have no idea how a rhyme like that could even cross the Atlantic, like a virus, or in which direction it travelled when it did, but there we are.
Tag, or It, or Tig,is known by so many different names that it would be hard to pull together the common terms into teams and call one American and one British. However, the game Freeze Tag is far better known in the U.K. as Stuck In The Mud. You still have to crawl between the stuck or frozen person’s legs to set them free, but the British way is (virtually) more dirty.
In Asia, the same game is called Ice-and-Water, which is a slightly more poetic take on things.
As with a lot of examples in this list, it’s hard to be definitive about what children do and don’t do across two large nations, if only because we all go to school just once and kids are entirely wilful with their own leisure time.
However, you are far more likely to see British kids pair off and start clapping hands together to a song that starts “a sailor went to sea sea sea” than one that starts “three six nine, the goose drank wine.”
This lack of familiarity possibly explains why a version of “The Clapping Song” became a British hit single for the Belle Stars in 1982.
Otherwise it would be like recording a post-punk reswizzling of “The Wheels on the Bus.”*
Relatively unknown in British schools, but the more gruesome “Oranges and Lemons,” which ends with a ritual beheading of one of the participants, has been a schoolyard staple for decades. Of course nowadays it’s all Katy Perry songs and “…singing ay-ay-ippy, my mum’s so hippy” with an accompanying bum-wiggle.
Not all progress is progress.
“Do You Like Butter?”
This one does not appear to have a direct equivalent in America, beyond the enormous variety of games where children ask each other loaded questions, and use items culled from their everyday environment to divine an answer.
The object of the game is to work out whether your friends like butter, using a buttercup as an elementary lie-detector. What you do is put the question to a friend, while holding the flower under their chin. If you can see a yellow glow reflected on their skin, they like butter. If you cannot see the glow, they don’t: a horrifying state of affairs akin to discovering your dad casts no shadow and is therefore a vampire.
What was your equivalent to “Do You Like Butter?” Tell us here:
* Jonathan Richman actually did do this, but his version is even cuter than the original.
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic