September 7, 2005

watching the english

laugh about it, ridicule it, tear your hair in frustration or just listen and learn from it, you just cannot ignore english behaviour. let me add, especially if you are an outsider in the uk. their fixation with the weather, an awkward formality towards everything, their incorrigible humour at the worst of situations… are just few of the attributes that leave me amazed everytime.

so as soon as i saw this book on the stands one evening, i bought it. not only was it a genuine desire to learn about why the english are how they are, i thought of it as an interesting historical, social, research, documentary all-rolled-into-one promising book by anthropologist kate fox. not that i’d heard the name before, but experience tells me if there’s one thing exclusively ‘made in britain’ that they should be proud about, it is the way they make documentaries. i also bought the book as an investment into my masters’ course beginning next month, where one of the main subjects is “writing london.”

46 pages through the book (aptly subtitled ‘the hidden rules of english behaviour’), i think kate fox is not only brilliant with her witty, informal style, but also mature and intelligent to laugh at her own people, without causing them the least offence. one by one she tackles ‘conversation codes’ beginning, of course, with the weather, rules of introduction, awkwardness, and rules of gossip, humour and so on. here are some extracts:

on embarrassment, and the ‘pleased to meet you’ problem:

“…They just have a vague sense that there is something not quite right about it. But even among those having no class prejudice ‘Pleased to meet you’, who believe it the correct and polite thing to say, this greeting is rarely delivered with ringing confidence: it is usually mumbled rather awkwardly, and as quickly as possible – ‘Plstmtye’. This awkwardness may, perversely, occur precisely because people believe they are saying the ‘correct’ thing. Formality is embarrassing. But then, informality is embarrassing. Everything is embarrassing.”

on the rules of privacy and gossip:

“…as a result of the inevitable forbidden-fruit effect, we are a nation of curtain-twitchers, endlessly fascinated by the tabooed private lives of the ‘members of our social setting.’ The English may not gossip much more than any other culture, but our privacy rules significantly enhance the value of gossip. The laws of supply and demand ensure that gossip is a precious social commodity among the English.”…This is one of the reasons why foreigners often complain that the English are cold, reserved, unfriendly and stand-offish. In most other cultures, revealing personal data – your name, what you do for a living, whether you are married or have children, where you live – is no big deal: in England, extracting such apparently trivial information from a new acquaintance can be like pulling teeth – every question makes us wince and recoil.”

well now you know…


  • premalatha said:

    I must read this.

  • Anand said:

    They are inclined to express their indignation as ‘we are not amused’.

  • Vaitheesh said:

    Very well put across.. Completely Agree with ur comments on the English…

  • radhika said:


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