There was the time I embarrassed myself when my car broke down outside a country pub and racing inside in heels and a flirty skirt, I breezily asked the old boys at the bar if ‘anyone would like to jump me’. (What? I had the jumper cables in my car!)
Then there was the time when I tried to convince my mother in law to be that a BBQ wedding reception dinner could be elegant.. I was thinking carved ham beautifully glazed on the bone and a rainbow collection of beautiful salads, she was thinking meat patties in a hamburger bun…
But perhaps the worst faux pas I’ve ever made was answering a question about lifestyle and income back home in Auckland. She asked the question, I answered it, honestly. Unashamed. Apparently that’s not the English way! My English husband didn’t speak to me for two days afterwards!
It took me three years to figure out that when somebody said they’d get back to me, that they would only when hell froze over. Or when asking how I was the questioner actually only wanted to hear the words ‘fine thank you’ – even if my dog had just died or I’d been diagnosed with a heinous disease. Fine thank you was the correct response, and it is the correct response that is required and expected in England. I only really understand that after reading Kate Fox’s book – Watching the English.
I wish I’d read it earlier. In fact I think they should give it out for free with the landing cards at Heathrow.
In it, anthropologist Kate Fox, discusses the English people’s foibles, and the hidden rules of behaviour. The sort of thing you do know, somewhat nebulously from a life time of watching English movies and TV shows, but thought perhaps had changed over time. Here’s a hint – the English haven’t changed.
The obvious behavioural ‘traps’ – such as talking about the weather, or not talking to strangers in public transport still hold true and are not so much a surprise when you move to live here. But other ones are really interesting – such as the English acceptance of poor service and broken items, which are largely brushed aside with a ‘mustn’t complain’. Personally, I’d prefer to buy a new toaster than just put up with one that only toasts in stripes!
Then there’s the exceptions made for class, which I found really interesting. Who knew that it was ok to have a filthy car and to swear like a sailor, but only as long as you’re upper class?
This is an important book for anyone seeking to make a life in England as much as it is for anyone hoping to ‘do business’ in England. I wish I’d read it before I took at face value various business associates assurances that they would do as they said they would, before never hearing from them ever again. Obviously it is important to be polite at all times, far more so than being honest and forthright.
Thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. Kate Fox’s approach is light and amusing but not so light that it’s trivial. Some really helpful observations in here. Just wish I’d read it earlier, it might have helped me integrate into English society a little more easily.
And for those who have read Kate Fox and want to read more do pick up a copy of my blogging friend Toni Summers Hargis’ book – Rules Britannia – The Insiders Guide to Life in the United Kingdom. Another hilarious and vital book for the expat’s survival kit! You can buy both books here quickly and securely through my Amazon Affiliates link.