English Rules: Part 1

I've spent the week reading Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox and thoroughly enjoying it. As Ms. Fox, an clever and witty English anthropologist, illuminates rule after rule I realize just how often I've broken them. This would explain the many awkward silences and frosty vibes that I often encounter when conversing with the English. Now, although they are so keen to obey their many intricate communication rules, no one ever bothers to tell me directly that I've committed a social sin, as that in itself would be breaking the “don’t make a scene” rule. No, they’re much more subtle. I can think of several occasions when my husband has given me the wide-eyed, glaring “I can’t believe you just said/asked that!” look across the dinner table when no one’s watching, then expertly changes the subject. I spend the rest of the conversation wondering what I’ve done wrong and treading on eggshells to avoid yet another faux pas! If this is unfamiliar to you, reader, here’s an excerpt from Ms. Fox’s book to further explain:

From Part One: Conversation Codes: The Weather
The Weather-as-family Rule
“The worst possible weather-speak offence is one mainly committed by foreigners, particularly Americans, and that is to belittle the English weather. When the summer temperature reaches the high twenties, and we moan, ‘Phew isn’t it hot?, we do not take kindly to visiting Americans or Australians laughing and scoffing and saying ‘Call this hot? This is nothing. You should come to Texas [Brisbane] if you wanna see hot!’

Not only is this kind of comment a serious breach of the agreement rule [you must agree with factual statements about the weather], and the weather-as-family rule [only the English can criticize their weather, no one else], but it also represents a grossly quantitative approach to the weather, which we find coarse and distasteful.”

I think cultural behavior is fascinating and so far every rule Ms. Fox has revealed has rung true. Finally a black and white breakdown of English rules that a simple American like me can follow! (Already I've become more self-deprecating since living here) If anyone else has read the book, I welcome your comments.


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