September 7, 2005

last evening at the library…

all is quiet, as it should be.
i am browsing through some watercolour-painting books next to a huge steel rack of, well, books. to my left is another rack, behind which there is a man. i cannot see his face. to the right of this rack is a readers’ square – four chairs around a coffee table with newspapers and magazines strewn all over. two of the chairs are occupied by two strangers, english, sitting opposite each other. suddenly…


the silence in the library is startled but for a second or two. i can feel people look up from what they are reading, like i did. i keep the all-about-watercolours-book back, pick up step-by-step-lessons-in-watercolour and open the book. when…


and then…


i want to burst out in giggles, laughter bubbling inside my stomach. i press my lips hard yet a smile escapes the corner of my mouth. i hold the book higher up against my face, and look at the two seated strangers to find them fighting with the same impulse. each catches the other’s eye and, awkward and embarrassed, bury their heads back into their papers.

had this been india, i thought, or if i had been with a friend, i would not have been able to suppress my laughter, nor would perhaps half the library. i was both amused and amazed at the way the english could resist any emotion for such a situation.

and what coincidence. i happen to be leafing through this book at home by kate fox, called ‘watching the english’ (my review here). it is my turn now to observe the two englishmen in the library; i’m curious to see how they will react, throwing all rules of polite behaviour and ‘weather-based’ introductions to, excuse the pun… the wind.

the book also has an entire chapter on english humour, and how it is their “default mode” and a constant undercurrent during conversations. sure enough, i do not have to wait for long for proof…

stranger 1 (leaning a little forward on his seat to talk to the man sitting opposite him):
“you don’t suppose we are on candid camera, do you?”

the question has its effect, and leaves both the men laughing, albeit uncomfortably, before they ‘ahem’ and go back to their papers again.

not rude, not impolite, quick-witted and yet, gets to the point.
how very english indeed!


  • Chakra said:

    infact, i burst out in laughter on reading your post.. wonder how u managed to contain yours. 🙂

  • anumita said:

    Good to know the English fart too 🙂 that too in public!

  • Sree said:

    In my office here in unites states , some doesn’t even bother , when ever they feel like, do Prrrrrrrrrr…and just walk away, no one seems to bother. I laugh anyway.

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