It took me a few pages to twig to the author’s tone, but once I did, I found the book Watching the English, The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour to be a hoot.
Anyone with a whiff of a British background will relate.
Author Kate Fox begins by dissecting the English love of discussing The Weather. This, she says, is never actually about the weather.
“English weather-speak is a form of code, evolved to help us overcome of natural reserve and actually talk to each other.”
It’s mandatory to agree with the other person’s opening gambit she points out – not doing so is a serious breech of etiquette. And on she goes for 12 more pages.
Then there are introductions. English people wince at those who approach with a broad smile, hand outstretched and announce their name. Two America tourists told her how much this confused them and she wrote:
“I ended up explaining, as kindly as I could, that the English do not want to know your name, or tell you theirs, until a much greater degree of intimacy has been established – like maybe when you marry their daughter.”
Oh and best not say pleased to meet you when being introduced. Whatever its origins or dubious logic, the prejudice against ‘pleased to meet you’ is still quite widespread meaning that if it is uttered at all it’s likely mumbled and becomes ‘Plstmtye’.
Summing up the business of introductions Kate tells us that being too formal is embarrassing, But then, informality is equally embarrassing. Everything is embarrassing.
“Perform all these rituals badly. Appear self-conscious, ill-at-ease, stiff, awkward and, above all, embarrassed. Smoothness, glibness and confidence are inapprropriate and un-English. Hesitation, dithering and ineptness are, surprising as it may seem, correct behaviour”. (Maybe it’s not fair, but Prince Charles comes to mind.)
Rushed messy introductions are made up for in protracted, meaningless, insincere good-byes (note the plural). Hmmm – more on that later!