‘Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour’ by Kate Fox

Watching the EnglishstarstarstarstarstarIf you ever find yourself  in England for awhile, this is a must read. I’m glad I waited until I had been living in the country for several years and could recognize the quirks, habits, and foibles the author describes. It’s not a travelogue though, it’s an anthropological study. So unless you are a very thorough traveller, I’d stick with Frommer’s. I think it would be an entertaining book for any local English person as well. I did check with a few English friends to make sure: they loved it too and found it accurate and articulate, at least, I think they weren’t just being polite! It’s positively brilliant.

Kate Fox, a social anthropologist tackles many, many topics like weather, home rules, work rules, pub rounds etiquette, queuing, privacy, gardening, tv shows, food, and dress codes, to only mention a few. Especially useful is a subtle roadmap to English class indicators. In addition to being informative, she uses her own marvellous sense of humour to full advantage as she kindly pokes fun at her own culture while cleverly bringing beautifully observed insights to the reader.

The English hate talking about money. They use joking as a coping mechanism for anything embarrassing, uncomfortable, or frightening. They have a great sense of fair play, are painfully private, love to gossip, and are always playing down achievements with self-deprecating humour. They moan about everything from work to weather, but only just enough to keep it a ‘lighthearted moan’.  They are painfully polite, apologizing even when someone else bumps into them! Fox captures the nuance in these things so well. Her curiosity helps her uncover the seeming contradictions and puzzling behaviours of English society.

The book has clear headings so it is easy to dip in anywhere and there is no need to read the chapters in order or even all at once. It’s impressive to find a comprehensive scientific study so well researched and yet so highly readable!

2 responses to “‘Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour’ by Kate Fox

  1. Nancy Wickham

    A British friend gave me this when we were living in Windsor- it was both hilarious and cringe-worthy when I thought of all the inadvertent faux pas we made, like when Jeff told his co-workers he could just ‘ski in his pants’ rather than ski overalls. I used to shrug and confess to my English neighbors: ‘Sorry I’m not a native speaker.’ It actually helped unravel several mysteries, like the fine art of eating peas without revealing your socio-economic bracket.

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