Mad Scientess Jane Expat (nanila) wrote,
Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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Madeira, my dear?

I'm in Norfolk, having a terribly English Christmas with the bloke's terribly English family. Last night involved a large roast turkey dinner, a glass of sherry, a bowl of trifle, and ritual viewings of the Dr Who and Wallace & Gromit Christmas specials. In honour of my impending experience, imyril loaned me her copy of the amusing social anthropological study entitled Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox. I am but a quarter of the way through it because I have to keep stopping to marvel at the number of rules I've picked up and unconsciously respect. Also, because the bloke's sister gave me a gorgeous graphic novel version of Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita so I got distracted.

Revelations have included:

  • Forming an orderly queue of one. If I am alone at a bus stop, I stand directly under the sign and face the direction that the bus will arrive. Even if I have a book in my hands, it is clear that I expect to catch the bus and to be the head of the queue which may or may not eventually materialize. I knew about the queueing rule before arriving in England. I didn't realize, however, that it had become so ingrained in me that I now queue alone.

  • Scrupulously avoiding indication of the use of money in pubs. It's been years, if ever, since I've said to anyone in England, "Can I buy you a drink?" Neither has such a phrase been uttered in my presence. The following phrases are acceptable.

    "It's my round." (Succeeded by expectant nods at each person in the party in turn.)
    "What are you having?"
    "You ready for another one?"
    "Would you like a drink?"

    It's not just the verbal dance around the money issue though. I've rarely seen anyone wave money or a card at a bartender in England. The acceptable level of visibility for a banknote or a card is discreetly just above the level of the bar, if you're going to show it at all. And if you're skilled enough at attracting the bartenders' attention with your attitude of thirsty expectancy, you won't need to.

  • Introducing myself awkwardly. To be frank, this comes to me naturally anyway. I had no idea I was doing something "right" in terms of English culture until I read this book. I dislike greeting rituals intensely. I never know if I'm supposed to shake hands or kiss cheeks or say my name or let the bloke do it or what. If I can avoid the greeting ritual and dive straight into a conversation with a remark about weather, public transport or the presence/absence of another person whose name I know, I do. And then I note the relief on people's faces as they deliver the ritual answers, relieved of the responsibility of having to figure out my name, who I am in relation to everyone else, finding out what I do, or having to recall any of that information at a later time.

  • The people I work with are middle-middle to upper-middle class. Again, this book made me recognize that the painstaking adaptation of my vocabulary from American to English has taken on a particular class flavour. Amusingly, the conversations I've had with those who've influenced my vocabulary have only served to reinforce this perception, as they've all strenuously asserted that class distinctions aren't much of an issue in England these days. (The book also points out that discomfort with/denial of the established class system is distinctly middle-middle to upper-middle class.)
Tags: reading
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