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WATCHING THE ENGLISH INTRODUCTION The book is about the hidden rules of English behaviour; it was written by Kate Fox, an anthropologist who wanted to provide a 'grammar' of English behaviour. In other words, she studies the unwritten rules of Englishness, which people follow instinctively, without being conscious of doing so. The book is not written for other social scientists, but for the so called 'intelligent layman', for average readers. In this context, when the author talks about rules, she is using a broad interpretation of the concept of rule, which includes norms, ideals, principles and facts about 'normal or usual' English behaviour. These rules do not necessarily have to be universally obeyed by everyone in English society: however, they are usual enough to help us understand and define the national character. The method that the author follows throughout her research is known as 'participant observation', which means participating in the life and culture of the people one is studying, to gain an insider's perspective and, at the same time observing them as a detached, objective scientist. However, Kate Fox points out that it is a rather complicated method since the observer becomes so involved in the native culture that they fail to maintain the necessary scientific detachment (she refers to this issue as 'an ongoing battle between her inner observer and her inner participant'). Some people have been sceptical about Fox's research on the grounds that the spread of American cultural imperialism will cancel the distinctive and original features of each culture. However, the author believes that the principal effect of globalization is an increase in nationalism and in concern about cultural identity: globalization is undoubtedly bringing changes to the cultures it reaches, but change doesn't necessarily mean the abolition of traditional values: on the contrary, new global medias such as the Internet have been an effective means of promoting traditional cultures. Subsequently, the author tackles the topic of class, saying that England is a highly class-conscious culture. As a consequence, class pervades all aspects of English life and culture, and will therefore be present in all the areas covered in the book, since a separate chapter would be inappropriate. As for race, the anthropologist believes that ethnic minorities are included, by definition, in any attempt to define Englishness, and explains that some minorities are “more English” than others in the sense that they have adopted more of the culture's customs, values and behaviour patterns than others. She also adds that Englishness is more a matter of choice for ethnic minorities rather than the rest of the English, since immigrants can choose more freely the most desirable English habits and avoid the more unpleasant ones. The writer closes the introduction chapter explaining why she is researching about Englishness rather than Britishness: she says that England is a nation and is expected to have a coherent and distinctive national culture, whereas Britain is merely a political construction, composed of several nations with their own distinctive cultures.
PART ONE – CONVERSATION CODES THE WEATHER At the beginning of this chapter, the author points out that any English conversation seems to begin with the weather. Most people don't understand this phenomenon and assume that the English talk about the weather because they have a pathological interest (almost an obsession) in the subject. The truth is that weather-speak is a social facilitator, a form of code which helps them overcome their natural reserve and talk to each other. In other words, English weather-speak is a form of “grooming talk”, a means of social bonding. According to the Context Rule, weather-speak can be used in three specific contexts:
• as a simple greeting • as an ice-breaker leading to conversations on other matters; • as a “filler subject”, when there's nothing left to say on a certain matter and there is an awkward or
uncomfortable silence. Therefore, when we consider weather-speak, we must keep into account that its function (social facilitator) is more important than the content itself. However, the choice of weather as a means of social interaction is not entirely arbitrary: the changeable and unpredictable nature of the English weather ensures that there is always something new to comment on, be surprised by, moan about and most importantly agree about. The Reciprocity Rule says that weather-speak greetings or openers such as “Cold, isn't it?” or “Nice day, isn't it?” have to be reciprocated, since they are simply another way of saying hello. For this reason the comments about the weather are phrased as questions: they require a response, which becomes more important than the content. There's another rule, which is strictly linked to the reciprocity rule, and it's the Agreement Rule: weather-speak requires a response, but most importantly, this response must express
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agreement: when someone uses weather as a social facilitator, the other person involved has to agree with what has been said, even if it's obviously wrong. If you break the rule, the atmosphere becomes tense and awkward: there may be an uncomfortable silence, or such comments may be ignored, or, more rarely, be regarded as a matter of personal taste. However, there are some exceptions to the Agreement rule: you may express your personal likes and dislikes in terms of personal tastes, but you always have to start this kind of responses with an expression of agreement. In other words, there cannot be a flat contradiction of a statement, just a modification. There is, however, a context in which English are not required to follow the agreement rule and that is the pub argument, or male-bonding argument, in which constant disagreement is a means of expressing friendship and achieving intimacy. The weather hierarchy rule says that there is an unofficial English weather hierarchy:
• sunny and warm/mild • sunny and cool/cold • cloudy and warm/mild • cloudy and cool/cold • rainy and warm/mild • rainy and cool/cold
So, unless the weather is both rainy and cold, you can always say “At least it's not...”. If it's rainy and cold, the best thing to do is to use moaning for social interaction: moaning rituals about the weather have an important social purpose because they allow you to agree, to display shared opinions and they create a sense of solidarity against a common 'enemy'. When it comes to snow, the only rule that can be applied to it is the distinctively English Moderation Rule: too much of snow, like too much of anything, is to be deplored. We have seen that the English often moan about the weather, but they do not allow foreigners to criticise it. This is known as the Weather-as-family Rule: English weather is treated like a member of their family: they can complain about it, but negative remarks from an outsiders are considered offensive and unacceptable. The worst possible offence, usually committed by Americans, is to belittle English weather. This has contributed to the English contempt for American fixation with size (“With Americans it's always about 'mine's bigger than yours'”. The Shipping Forecast Ritual deals with a typical English habit which involves the shipping forecast, an off- shore weather forecast with additional information about winds strength and visibility. It's referred to as ritual because millions of English people religiously listen to it even if they do not need nor understand that information. However, the English listen to the Shipping Forecast and they feel comforted and reassured. Weather-speak rules and Englishness Rreciprocity and context rules → clear signs of reserve and social inhibition, but also the ingenious use of facilitators to overcome these difficulties. Agreement rule & exceptions → importance of politeness and avoidance of conflict; precedence of etiquette over logic. Moderation rule → disapproval of extremes Weather-as-family → patriotism Shipping forecast ritual → need for a sense of safety, security and continuity.
GROOMING TALK Grooming-talk is defined by the author as the verbal equivalent of picking fleas off each other or mutual back-scratching”. The word grooming, in fact, refers to that activity in which individuals in a group clean one another's body. It is a major social activity, and a means by which animals who live in proximity can bond and reinforce social structures, family links, and build relationships. So the expression is here used to refer to those conversations which have the function of social bonding. Grooming-talk rules can be divided into:
Rules of Introduction Rules of Gossip Bonding talk Rules of Goodbye
1)The Rules of Introduction. Greeting and introductions are awkward business for the English, especially now that the standard greeting 'How do you do?' has become obsolete. The Awkwardness Rule states that English introductions and
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greetings tend to be inelegant and uncomfortable, because nobody is quite sure what to do: the French custom of a kiss on each cheek has become popular among the chattering classes, but it is still considered silly by many other sections of society. Handshakes are now the norm in business introductions, but they start to seem too formal in the following meetings, in which greetings, again, will involve confusion and embarrassment, since cheek-kisses would be too informal. This is excruciatingly English: over-formality is embarrassing, but so is too much informality. Introductions can be even harder in purely social situations, because there are no established rules. According to the No-Name Rule, the English refuse to use the brash American approach, saying directly and immediately their name: they don't want to tell you their name, or know yours, until a greater degree of intimacy has been established. The name exchange has to take place casually, in an unforced way, in the middle of a conversation or, even better, at the end of it. Another problem the English have to deal with is what to say when you are introduced to someone new: this is known as the 'Pleased to Meet You' Problem . The expression “How do you do?” is no longer used (except for the upper and upper-middle classes) and “How are you?” is far too personal and intimate, so the most common solution nowadays is “Pleased/Nice to meet you”. However, in some social circles – upper-middle class and above – it is considered a lower-class thing to say, and also a sort of lie, because one cannot be sure at that point if one is pleased to meet the person or not. In fact, the only rule which can be identified with certainty is the Embarrassment Rule: these rituals involving introductions and greeting have to be performed badly. One must appear stiff, awkward and, above all, embarrassed.
2) Rules of English Gossip. The most common form of grooming-talk among friends is gossip. The English spend a great amount of time gossiping: recent studies have shown that 2/3 of their conversation time is devoted to it. Gossip has some vital functions: social bonding, clarification of position and status, management of reputations. The author suggests that gossip may be particularly important to the English because of their obsession with privacy (Privacy Rules): their enjoyment of gossip is directly linked to the element of 'risk' involved, to the fact that gossip involves a sense of doing sth naughty or forbidden. A very large number of social rules are concerned with the maintenance of privacy; as a result, thanks to the forbidden-fruit effect, the English are fascinated by the private lives of the members of their social setting. The English find it impolite, almost rude, to ask direct questions about one's job, education or family, so they prefer to follow the Guessing-Game Rule: this guessing game involves attempting to guess a person's occupation in a more indirect way, from clues hidden in comments about other matters. (when trying to guess, it is polite to mention the highest-status job).When the person's occupation is finally revealed, you are supposed to express surprise, as though it were both unexpected and fascinating. The Distance Rule says that the more distant the subject of the gossip is from you, the wider the circle of people with whom you may gossip about them is. When gossiping about private matters, English people often use the Reciprocal Disclosure Strategy, according to which if you tell someone something about your private life, they will feel obliged to reply with a comparably personal disclosure. The exception to privacy rules is known as Print Exception: English may discuss in print private matters that they would be embarrassed to talk about. Sex differences in English Gossip Rules. Contrary to popular belief, researchers have found that men gossip just as much as women, even if they do it in a very different way: more precisely, when their way of gossiping doesn't look like gossiping. First of all, as the Tone Rule states, women's tone of voice during gossip is high, quick and animated; men, on the contrary, adopt an unemotional, flat tone of voice, so that you can't even tell it's gossip. Another important difference concerns detail (Detail Rule): women stress the importance of particulars in the telling of gossip, whereas English males find the detail boring, irrelevant an un-manly. Finally, female women differ from men in how they react to gossip. When involved in a gossipy conversation, women follow the Feedback Rule, which requires the listeners to be at least as animated and enthusiastic as speakers, by saying things like “No! Really?” or “Oh my God!”. Rarely do men react in the same way, because it would sound rather girly and effeminate. Actually, English men in general seem to regard animated tones and expressive responses as effeminate. As a consequence, the only emotions English men are allowed to express are three: surprise, anger and triumph, and they all usually involve shouting and swearing.
3)Bonding-talk. English female bonding-talk often starts with an exchange of compliments. This exchange is a sort of ritual, since the compliments are not exchanged randomly, but in a particular pattern, in accordance to the Counter- Compliment Rule. The opening statement can be either a straight compliment or a combination of a compliment and a self-critical remark; the response must contain a self-deprecating remark and a 'counter- compliment'. At this point the other person is supposed to do the same thing, and so the ritual continues. The rule says that compliments mustn't be accepted and self-critical remarks must be challenged. English men have different means of achieving social bonding, and they usually follow a ritual which the author calls the Mine's Better than Yours Game. 'Mine', in this context, can be anything: a make of a car, a
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football team, a political party, a type of beer, a philosophical theory, so pretty much any conversation can be turn into this type of “game”. The game starts when someone makes a statement praising his chosen “Mine”, or challenges someone else's opinion that his “Mine” is the best. At this point the statement will always be challenged, even if the two persons in question secretly share the same opinion. These exchanges may become quite noisy, but there will always be an undercurrent of humour and the mutual understanding that the differences of opinion are not to be taken too seriously. Obviously, nobody actually ever wins the game : the participants simply get bored, or tired, and change the subject. The presence of women during this ritual usually spoils the fun, because they don't understand the rules and the function of this game and often ask the participants if they can't just agree to disagree. Summing up, male bonding-talk tends to be competitive while female bonding-talk involves cooperation. However, they both involve prohibition of boasting, the presence of humour, the triumph of etiquette over logic and a degree of polite hypocrisy.
4) The Long Goodbye Rule We have seen that greetings and introductions involve a great amount of embarrassment and confusion. In the same manner, English leave-takings tend to be as awkward and embarrassed and introductions. The only difference is that while introductions tend to be quick, partings can be very prolonged. English goodbyes usually start with a sudden rush, as if the guest suddenly realised they're “outstaying their welcome”; at this point there is a long exchange of goodbyes. Those leaving are desperate to get away, the ones standing in the doorway want to shut the door, but it would impolite to show such feelings, so everyone must look reluctant to part. When the long goodbye ritual is over, everyone sighs in relief and usually moans about how late it is, how tired they are and so on and so forth. Grooming-talk Rules and Englishness. The rules of introduction → highlight the ingenious use of facilitators (weather speak) to overcome reserve and social inhibition; they help us point out a tendency to awkwardness and embarrassment. No name rule → highlights an English preoccupation with privacy and the irrational Looking-Glass nature of English etiquette. Pleased to meet you Rule → gives evidence of how class-consciousness pervades every aspect of English life Gossip Rules → English obsession with privacy Bonding talk → prohibition of boasting, prescription of humour, polite hypocrisy and triumph of etiquette over reason. Long goodbye rule → embarrassment and ineptitude in social interactions; irrational excesses of English politeness.
HUMOUR RULES (rules about humour/humour governs) Humour is an omnipresent element in English life and culture and permeates every aspect of Englishness. Many people seem to believe that English humour is somehow unique and superior to everyone else’s; the truth is that its real defining characteristic is the VALUE that the English put on humour, its central importance in English culture and social interactions. In other cultures, there is a place and a time for humour, in English conversations, there is always an undercurrent of humour.
The Importance of Not Being Earnest Rule is a rule which prohibits earnestness. The English make a very clear distinction between seriousness and earnestness: seriousness and sincerity are allowed, but solemnity, pomposity and self-importance are prohibited. This means that it’s allowed to talk about serious matters in a serious way, but one must never take oneself too seriously, and everyone should be able to laugh at themselves. A consequence of this rule is the cynical attitude of English people towards the excessively solemn speeches of American politicians or Oscar winners. As a result, as soon as they spot a hint of excessive solemnity or intensity, the English react to this “breach” with their typical expression “Oh, come off it!”. This can happen when listening to speeches held by politicians or public figures, but also in everyday conversations. This cynical exclamation, which gives the name to the “Oh, come off it” Rule, is so used that the author suggests making it England’s national catchphrase. This rule is obviously linked to the proscription of earnestness since the expression itself says not to take oneself too seriously. Irony Rules . Irony is undoubtedly the most important element of English Humour. Despite not being particularly patriotic, the English are quite proud of their sense of humour, and in particular, of their expert use of irony. The author points out that humour is universal, but what is unique about English humour is the pervasiveness of and the importance given to irony. However, foreign people often find this aspect of Englishness rather frustrating, since they never know when an Englishman is joking, or whether he is being serious or not. In fact, sometimes the English use of irony can cause some communication problems between natives and foreigners, especially for those involved in business. The most common form of irony is
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Understatement, a figure of speech used to make something appear smaller or less important than it really is. The English make wide use of understatement, and that is directly linked to their modesty rules, prohibition on earnestness and boasting. Rather than risk showing any hint of solemnity or emotion, they go to the opposite extreme and show plain indifference. According to the Understatement Rule, a horrible experience must be describes as “not exactly what I would have chosen”; a successful performance or achievement is “not bad”, a very cruel action is “not very friendly”, and so on. The problem with understatement is that foreigners rarely get it, and natives are not conscious of obeying it. The Self-Deprecation Rule involves saying the opposite of what we really mean, and, again, its principles follow the modesty rules. The author specifies that the English are not more modest than other nations, but they have strict rules about the appearance of modesty (prohibition on boasting and self importance, prescription of self-deprecation and self-mockery), so often, the modesty that the English display is false or ironic, a simple result of compliance with the rules. The humour of English self-deprecation is almost imperceptible, but, among natives, it works well: everyone understands that the self-deprecations probably means the opposite of what is said. When it comes to foreigners, however, it doesn’t’ work, since they tend to take self-deprecating statements exactly the way they appear, looking, as a result, simply unimpressed. The English, on the contrary, were expecting the prescribed response to self-deprecation: a knowingly smile which reveals that the listener doesn’t believe those statements and is aware of the speaker’s abilities and modesty. Humour and comedy. English comedy is heavily influenced by English everyday humour, but the fact that humour pervades every aspect of English life means that English comic writers have to work quite har4d to make them laugh: the national keen sense of humour makes English people harder to amuse than most other nations. Humour and class. In the chapter about humour there’s no mention of class because, according to the author, English humour is classless; humour rules are universally understood and accepted among the English. However, a great deal of everyday English humour deals with class issues, given the national obsession with class. Humour rules and Englishness. First of all, Humour rules highlight the central role Humour has in English life and culture and also the importance that the English give to it. The importance of not being earnest à intolerance of earnestness, pomposity, solemnity Oh, come off it rule à English tendency to cynicism and ironic detachment, distaste for sentimentality.
EMERGING TALK-RULES: THE MOBILE PHONE Nowadays, almost everyone has a mobile phone, from which a new form of communication has derived. The problem linked to the mobile phone is that there aren’t any set rules governing when, how and in what manners it should be used. For instance, most English people agree that talking loudly about banal or domestic matters on the mobile while, for example, on a train, is rude and impolite. However, when confronting such a situation, they will probably just roll their eyes instead of challenging the offenders directly. So, as we have seen, there are some emerging rules concerning mobile-phone use in public places, but we can’t be certain, especially because of English inhibitions about confronting offenders. Other emerging rules regard the use of mobile phones during business meetings and during lunch. The author, after her initial observations, points out that low-status, insecure people tend to take or make calls in these two types of situations, often apologising or giving reasons (which are disguised boasts); the higher ranking, more secure colleagues usually leave their phones switched off. Other social uses of mobile phones include the use of the mobile as a status signal or as a barrier signal. The former is common among teenagers, the latter among women, who tend to use or show their mobile when they want to signal unavailability when on their own in public places. In this case the mobile phone becomes a protector against unwanted social contact. Another observation that the author makes is that the mobile phone has become the modern equivalent of the garden fence. Most people no longer enjoy a chat over the garden fence: we are constantly on the move, spending a lot of time commuting, among strangers or on our own; mobile phones bring back our sense of community because they give us the possibility of easy and spontaneous conversations. As a result, they are an antidote to the pressures and alienation of modern urban life. The chapter closes with the analysis of what types of conversations mobile text is appropriate for: for example, flirting is accepted but dumping is considered cowardly and unacceptable.
PUB TALK The pub is a central part of English life and culture, and this is confirmed by the fact that over three-quarters of the adult population in England go to pubs. Pubs also provide the representative sample of the English population, as they are frequented by people of all ages, social classes, education-levels and occupations. It would be impossible to understand Englishness without considering the role of the pub. Before talking about
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the peculiarities of English pub-talk, we have to point out some universal features concerning drinking- places:
1) In all cultures the drinking place is a special environment, a separate world with its own customs and values
2) Drinking-places are socially integrative and egalitarian environments, where distinctions are based on different criteria from those of the outside world
3) The primary function of drinking-places is the facilitation of social bonding. Rules of English Pub Talk One of the most striking characteristics of English pubs is that there is no waiter service, so if you want a drink, you have to go up to the bar counter. The bar counter, according to the Sociability Rule, is one of the few places in England where it is socially acceptable to start a conversation with a complete stranger. At the bar counter the rules of privacy are suspended and it is considered appropriate to have friendly conversation with strangers. The no-waiter-service system is another example of social facilitator, as it promotes sociability: waiter service would isolate people at separate tables; this way, instead, it’s easier to ‘accidentally’ start a conversation while waiting at the bar counter. However, there are some parts of the pub where people can sit without risking being interrupted or disturbed. Another uncommon feature of the bar counter is that it is the only place in England where things are sold without the formation of a queue. We have to take into account that queuing has a great importance for English people, and the author says that it could almost be considered a national pastime. For this reason, even if at first pub customers seem to gather randomly and in a confusing way round the pub counter, they are actually forming an invisible queue: according to the Invisible Queue Rule, both the bar staff and the customers are aware of each person’s position in this “queue”, and any obvious attempt to get served out of turn will be treated as queue-jumping. At the bar counter, bar staff do their best to serve everyone in proper turn, but it is still necessary to attract their attention and let them know that you are waiting to be served. However, there are strict rules which say how the attention of bar staff can be attracted: the Pantomime Rule says that this must be done without speaking, making noise or gesticulating. The first thing to do is to make eye contact with the barman (you can’t call out to him/tap coins on the counter/snap fingers); but it is also allowed to hold money or an empty glass in your hand. It is very important to adopt an expectant, hopeful, almost anxious expression. Once eye contact is made, the customer usually lifts their eyebrows or nods, and smiles, to let the bar staff know they’re waiting. There is one important exception to the pantomime rule: the only people who can break it, speaking in a blunt, almost rude manner to the bar staff, are the established ‘regulars’, the regular customers of the pub. The Rules of Ps and Qs. There are also some rules governing the ordering of drinks. First of all, it is customary in England just for one or two members of a group to go up to the bar to order drinks, and for only one to pay. When ordering something, it is fundamental to say please at the end of the request; omitting it would be regarded as a serious offence. The generic rule is that every request (by either staff or customer) must end with ‘please’ and every fulfilment of a request requires a ‘thank you’. These politeness rules suggest that English culture is highly egalitarian and the English don’t like to draw attention to status differences. Another rule says that it is not customary in English pubs to tip the publican or the bar staff who serve you. Instead of leaving a tip, English customers usually buy them a drink, using the typical expression “And one for yourself?”. The reason for that is that giving bar staff a tip would remind them of their ‘service’ role (an inferior one), whereas offering a drink means treating them as equals. This rule reflects both polite egalitarianism and a marked squeamishness about money. The English, in fact, tend to avoid using the word ‘buy’, because, despite knowing that money is involved, they prefer not to highlight the pecuniary aspect of the relationship. This rule provides evidence of how complex English rules of politeness may be and how they try to deny or disguise status differences in an hypocritical way. English politeness is not a reflection of sincere, heartfelt beliefs, but neither are they cynical, calculating attempts to deceive. The author also suggests that the English need their polite egalitarianism to prevent their acute class-consciousness from expressing itself in less acceptable ways. Rules of regular-speak.(greeting rules) When a regular enters the pub, there will often be a chorus of friendly greetings from the other regulars, the publican and the bar staff. In the pub, names are used more often than necessary, to emphasize the familiarity; sometimes the bond among regulars is reinforced by the use of nicknames, which can also be very inventive, humorous and mocking. Rules of Coded Pub-Talk: Pub conversations usually follow a specific pattern and strict rules (even if participants are not aware of it). First of all, regulars literally speak in code, using a private language, which refers to inside jokes or past events of which no-one else is aware. In fact, every pub has its own private code of in-jokes, nicknames, phrases and gestures: this reinforces the social bonds between regulars and the sense of equality among them. One could say that sociability and egalitarianism are universal, cross-cultural
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features of drinking places: what makes them distinctive of English culture is the degree to which they differ from mainstream culture, the contrast with English conventional norms. The most typical conversation in a pub will involve a Pub Argument. Pub arguments are not real arguments, but represent just another form of conversation, used particularly by males, which follow specific etiquette and are based on equality, reciprocity, the pursuit of intimacy and proscription of earnestness and solemnity. Pub arguments can be about almost anything (they resemble the Mine’s better than Yours game), and, of course, no-one ever wins a pub-argument. Arguing is for English males a means to pursuit intimacy, show interest in one another, express emotions and personal beliefs. It allows them to become closer without acknowledging their purpose. We have seen that, in pub-talk, taking oneself too seriously is prohibited; sometimes, even sticking to the same subject for a few minutes could be taken as a sign of excessive seriousness. As a result, pub conversation usually follow the Free-Association Rule, according to which pub conversations don’t have to follow a logical order, and they don’t have to reach a conclusion. So for example a group of friends starts talking about something and then, just a few minutes later, they completely change the subject of their discussion with no apparent logical reason; this second topic is tackled for another couple of minutes, then the conversation switches to another object, and so on. The free association rule is not just a way to avoid seriousness but it also allows you to let your guard down a bit, by taking part in a conversation in which you can say more or less whatever occurs to you. Of course, it is not possible to talk private fears, secret desires, o personal matter, unless they are subjects that can be dealt with in a non-serious manner. Pub talk rules and Englishness. Sociability rule à confirms the ingenious use of facilitators to overcome natural reserve and inhibitions, but also proves that English promote sociability without scarifying privacy. Invisible queue à provides evidence of the importance of queuing and therefore of the importance of fairness. Pantomime rule à we see the precedence of etiquette over logic and the dislike of fuss, noise and drawing attention to oneself Rules of Ps and Qs à importance of courtesy and squeamishness about calling attention to class and status differences; polite egalitarianism Coded pub-talk à highlights the escape from main stream social hierarchies; undercurrent of humour, sharp wit and linguistic inventiveness Free association rule à example of ordered disorder (as in the invisible queue)
PART TWO – BEHAVIOUR CODES
HOME RULES The chapter about home opens with an acute observation that the author makes about privacy rules: they are so obvious, she writes, that they can be seen even from a helicopter. She sums up the aspiration of the English and how they reflect on the outside saying that “the English all want to live in their own private little box with their own private little green bit”. The first thing that foreigners notice about English houses is how difficult it is to find the house you are looking for: every time that a street bends it is given a different name, street names and house numbers are carefully hidden, or follow an illogical order, and to make things worse, many people choose to give their houses names rather than numbers. This lack of indications is due to the English reserve and obsession with privacy, and the tendency not to draw the attention on oneself. The author comes to the conclusion that, given the reserved nature of the English, houses are considered castles, and the practice of hiding house numbers corresponds to building a moat and drawbridge. Fox calls it Moat-and-Drawbridge Rule and says that, just like this medieval structure, hidden numbers give the owners a sense of safety, making the house extremely difficult to find. Another evident feature concerning English houses is the national mania for home improvements or ‘DIY’. According to a recent survey about 90% of the English population is involved in this type of activity, and for this reason the author refers to England as a nation of Nestbuilders. People might think that DIYing is a very common hobby, but the truth is that it is, for the majority of English people, an obligation. Home improvements are regarded as a central element of the moving-in ritual, and often involve the destruction of any evidence of the previous owner’s presence. They are, in a certain sense, a way of marking territory (the Territorial Marking Rule). CLASS RULES. The English obsession with home-improvements is not just about territorial marking. It is also about self expression: you home is your primary expression of your identity. We may think that the way in which an Englishman decorates, arranges and furnishes their home is the expression of their unique
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personal taste. The truth is that home-improvements are determined and influenced by social class. According to the Matching and Newness Rules, the lower-middle and working classes tend to have matching loos and basins, matching sofas and armchairs, matching dining tables and chairs. At the highest and lowest end of the scale, instead, we can find old mismatched furniture. Another helpful class indicator is the siting of the “Brag Wall”, which is the wall where you display awards or photographs of important events. People belonging to the middle class or below will show these items in their sitting room, upper-middles and above will exhibit such things in the downstairs loo. Displaying them in the loo you is a smart trick since, despite actually showing them, you are making a joke out of them and cannot be accused of boasting. A house with a Satellite Dish usually belongs to a low class member, but it must be remembered that the satellite dish is not a reliable class indicator. In fact, there are some exceptions to all these class rules concerning house arrangements. The Eccentricity Clause says that if someone is securely established as a member of a particular class, their house may have a number of exceptions to the previous rules without any danger of reclassification. The eccentricity clause seems to work better at the top and the bottom ends of the social scale, while the middle zones are more vulnerable to re-classification. In fact, it is safest to choose your eccentricity from a class at the opposite end of the scale, to avoid this risk. HOUSE-TALK RULES. When talking about your house-move, you must always describe it as traumatic, an experience involving difficulty and confusion (the Nightmare Rule), even if the process took place with no stress; if you describe it as a normal, or, even worse, enjoyable experience you will be considered arrogant. Of course, this rule derives from the modesty rule: the better your house is, the more you must emphasize the troubles. This ritual moaning is an indirect boast, an excuse to talk about your house, but it is also another manifestation of English ‘polite egalitarianism’: the moaners, by emphasizing the practical, concrete difficulties of home-buying/home-moving, are focusing on problems that they and their listeners have in common, something in which they can all identify, instead of underlining potential disparity in wealth or status. Modesty rules also influence the discussion of house prices, together with the English squeamishness about money-talk. The Money-talk Rule says that it is absolutely forbidden to ask directly what someone paid for their house. If someone did so, the other person would probably react in an awkward, uncomfortable manner, laughing nervously, being vague and changing the subject. The price of your house can only be mentioned in such a way as to make it clear that you’re not boasting about your wealth. The current value of your house, on the other hand, is a different mater and you can easily talk and speculate about it. Improvement-talk Rules. When talking about home improvements, it is customary to criticize the taste of the previous owner, pointing out, eventually, which part of the house have not been improved yet. When it comes to showing visitors the results of your home improvements, you have to follow, as usual, modesty rules. Even if you are quite good at it, you must always minimize your achievements and point out your most embarrassing mistakes. Conversations of this type almost turn into a competitive self-deprecation full of stories of disastrous incompetence. House talk, of course, is subject to class rules. For example, it is considered low-class to give visitors guided tours. If you are the visitor, it is generally advisable to be vague rather than specific in your compliments, to avoid praising the wrong aspects or in the wrong terms. The last rule about house-talk rule is the Awful Estate-agent Rule. It says that estate agents must be constantly mocked, criticized and condemned. English people describe them as stupid and incompetent, but also cunning and deceitful, although they cannot give an explanation for this widespread dislike. The author believes that this is linked to their activity: estate agents inspect your house, and put a value on it; as a consequence they don’t judge a neutral piece of property, but the owners, their lifestyle, their social position, their character, and stick a price tag on it. The English make fun of them because it’s the only way to minimize their power to hurt their feelings. GARDEN RULES. At the beginning of the chapter, the author says that “the English all want to live in their own private little box with their own private little green bit”. It is important to say that the green bit is as important as the box: each house in England usually has a small patch of garden at the front, and a larger green bit at the back. The typical English garden has walls or fences around it. The wall around the front garden will be low, so that everyone can see into the garden, while the one around the back garden will be high, so they can’t. The front garden is likely to be more carefully arranged, designed and tended than the back garden; however, this is not because the English spend more time there: quite the opposite. The English spend NO time at all in their front gardens, except the time necessary to tend, weed and water it. This is one of the most important garden-rules: English people never sit in their front gardens ('Your own Front Garden, You May Not Enjoy'). They might be very pretty and pleasant to relax in, but they are for display only; they are for others to enjoy and admire, not their owners. One of the very few occasions on which neighbours will speak to each other is that small amount of time they spend in their front gardens, while tending them. A person busy in his/her front garden is regarded as socially available (Front-Garden Social availability Rule);
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this rule proves very helpful because it allows you to start a chat with you neighbour or convey them a message, in an acceptable way, without breaking any privacy rule. However, there is a small minority of people who break the rules concerning the front garden and constitute, therefore, an exception that proves the rule (the Counter-Culture Garden-Sofa Exception). These people are usually left-over hippies, new-agers and counter-culture types, and they usually break the rule by putting an old, damp, flaccid sofa in their front garden and sitting on it, actually enjoying their front garden. This is clearly an act of deliberate disobedience, and these people's neighbours will consider it an outrage, but in accordance with the traditional English rules of moaning, they will just talk about it with each other instead of actually confronting the offenders, so these sofa-sitters will generally be tolerated. As for the Back Garden, we can say that it is not as tended as the front one: it's usually rather scruffy, or at least bland; it's not what everyone thinks of as a typical English garden. The back garden is usually a plain rectangle of grass, surrounded by high walls and with a paved bit, a path and a shed, but the most important feature of the back garden is that its owners are allowed to enjoy it and can spend as much time as they want in it. The author believes that their reputation as a 'nation of gardeners' derives from their love and obsession with them rather than the any remarkable artistic element of their gardens. English back gardens may not be particularly beautiful, but they show evidence of interest, attention and effort. Gardening is probably the most popular hobby in the country, and almost all English houses have a garden of some sort, and you rarely see a completely neglected garden. People who refuse to take care of their garden will be the subject of much muttering, complaint and criticism among the neighbours. The author says that there is a sort of unofficial National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Gardens (NSPCG Rule); and this may explain why the English feel obliged to devote so much time to their gardens. Given the English obsession with class and status, it's not surprising that even gardening is strictly linked to social aspirations and class. The aspect and the content of an English garden is determined by the fashions of the class to which the owner belongs or aspires (Class Rules). Gardens don't reflect the owner's personal taste, but they are symbols of social and economic status. However, tastes are influenced also by what people see in the gardens of their friends and neighbours; for example, in England you grow up learning that some flower arrangements are pretty, while others are ugly or vulgar. However, the eccentricity clause applies here as well: once a gardener has acquired a good reputation, he's allowed to express a preference for less acceptable arrangements. In general, high class gardens tend to be casual and natural and to look effortless, with faded and subtle colours, even if this effect may require a lot of time and effort. Low-class gardens tend to be more flashy and colourful. The chapter closes with an anecdote in which the author asked a garden owner why they had put a gnome in their garden. The answer was that that the gnome was ironic, but while the lower classes see gnomes as intrinsically amusing, his gnome was amusing only because in contrast with the rest of the garden. Home rules and Englishness. Home obession → need for privacy, lack of skill in social interaction Moat and Drawbridge rule, Awful Estate Agent Rule, Front Garden & Back Garden Rules → English fixation with privacy, theme of reserve and social inhibition. The English seem to have 3 main ways of dealing with this social dis-ease:
• use of facilitators • becoming aggressive • isolation → “home is what the English have instead of social skills”
Brag Wall Rule → English hypocrisy and English humour Nightmare Rule → manifestation of the modesty rule and of polite egalitarianism; but it's also a way of boasting without appearing to boast. Improvement talk Rules → manifestation of the modesty rule: they involve an exercise in competitive modesty (one-downmanship) Awful Estate Agent Rule à highlights how in England identity is bound up with homes, and points out the importance of humour in English culture: Estate agents are a threat to one's identity, so people neutralize their power by making fun of them. Front Garden Rules à (preoccupation with privacy), social inhibition and politeness: if home is one’s identity, the front garden is the “Public face”. Counter-culture Garden-Sofa Exception à underlines the themes of orderly disorder and of ineffectual but therapeutic moaning, and brings to light a distinctive English capacity for tolerance (even if it tends to be forced and stoical rather than warm and open-hearted). Back Garden Formula à highlights the English dislike of flashy extremes,predilection for moderation and domesticity. NSPCG Rule à sense of duty and obligation
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Class Rules, Eccentricity Clause, Ironic Gnome Rule à remind us of the complex nature of English class distinctions, and the complexities of the rules governing English eccentricity.
RULES OF THE ROAD We have said that home is what the English have instead of social skills; now we'll see how they cope when they venture outside their castles. PUBLIC TRANSPORT RULES. The Denial Rule. The main coping mechanism of the English on public transport is denial: they avoid acknowledging that they are among a scary crowd of strangers by pretending that they don't exist and by believing to be invisible. They avoid talking to strangers, or even make eye contact with them, and at the same time, they avoid drawing attention to themselves. It is common for English commuters to make their train journeys with the same group of people for many years without exchanging a word. According to the majority of English people, even a brief nod would be too intimate between two commuters who see each other every day, because once you start greeting people like that, you could end up actually talking to them, and if you do it once, you are expected to do it everyday. This, according to the people interviewed, would become awkward and embarrassing. There are some exceptions to the denial rule, in which you are allowed to break the rule and acknowledge the existence of other passengers:
1) The Politeness Exception → you are allowed to break the Denial Rule when not speaking would be more rude that invading privacy by speaking (for example, when you bump into someone and have to apologise, or you have to ask if the seat next to them is free). However, it's important to note that these politenesses are not regarded as ice-breakers, so, after making your necessary apology or request, you have to go back to the denial state.
2) The Information Exception → you can break the denial rule to ask for vital information (for example, to ask if it's the right train or platform). The responses to such questions are often humorous (for example, “I hope so!”), so, even if the same principle applies as with the politeness exception, which is returning to the denial state, the more humorous responses may indicate a greater willingness to exchange at least a few words.
3) The Moan Exception → another situation in which you can break the denial rule is when something goes wrong: an announcement that the train will be delayed or cancelled, or the train/tube stopping in the middle of nowhere for no reason, or a long wait for the bus. On these occasions, passengers suddenly become aware of each other's existence: people make eye contact, sigh noisily, roll their eyes and raise their eyebrows, and sometimes make weary comments about the state of the railway system. Such problems seem to have an instant bonding effect on English passengers, clearly based on the “us and them” principle. The English can't resist the opportunity to moan: the moaning is pointless, because they will stoically accept that nothing will be done to fix the situation, but it's also an effective activity since it works as a facilitator of social interaction. Again, this exception is not a true breach of the rule but a temporary suspension: commuters know that they can share a moan without having to talk to those people again the next morning.
4) The Mobile-Phone Ostrich Exception → we have said that if you're English, and you're using public transport, you pretend that other people don't exist, but you also pretend that you don't exist either. In other words, you mustn't draw attention to yourself. However, when it comes to the mobile phone, this rule is not that effective: just as the ostrich with its head in the sand believes that it is invisible, the English passenger on a mobile phone imagines that they are invisible and no-one can hear them. As a result, they will talk about domestic or business affairs in loud tones. The other passengers will usually feel irritated, roll their eyes, sigh and shake their heads, but they won't complain directly to the offender. This is typically English:they channel their anger into clever jokes and ritual moans, but fail to address the real source of the problem.
COURTESY RULES Negative-Politeness Rules. The author says that many foreign visitors often complain about English reserve and praise English courtesy; then she points out that these two features are, in her opinion, two sides of the same coin. In fact, English reserve is a form of courtesy, which can be classified as 'negative politeness': English people judge others by themselves: they assume that everyone share their obsessive need for privacy, so they mind their own business and ignore other people. Therefore, what looks like unfriendliness is really a kind of consideration. The Reflex-Apology Rule . The reflex-apology is a striking example of English courtesy. It means that English people tend to apologize when someone else bumps into them, even if it's clearly not their fault. The author came to this conclusion after a series of experiments in which she spent afternoons in crowded public places bumping into people to see if they would say 'sorry'. After examining the result, she also looked for a reason,
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but she concluded that this kind of apology is just a reflex, an automatic response, not a considered admission of guilt. In fact, she says, the English use the word sorry as a prefix to almost any request or question, so it's an all-purpose word. Rule of Ps and Qs. The word you are most likely to hear on public transport , apart from 'sorry', are 'Please' and 'Thank You'. The majority of English passengers use these words when buying their ticket, and many of them also thank the bus driver again when they get off at their stop. However, there is nothing warm or friendly about English Ps and Qs: they are just another manifestation of the “polite egalitarianism”, reflecting English squeamishness about money and status differences. They like to pretend that those people are doing them a favour, rather than performing a service for financial reward. Taxi Exceptions to the Denial Rule . Taxi drivers are generally courteous towards their customers, and often positively friendly, to the extent of breaking the denial rules of privacy and reserve. For example, many taxi drivers hold endless monologues on everything from the problem of the Government or the England football coach to the latest celebrity gossip scandal. Many passengers feel embarrassed about it, but they prefer to make a national joke out of it rather that confronting them directly. There's another type of chatty driver, who tries to have a friendly conversation with his passengers, for example asking about their destination and the purpose of the journey, and sometimes more personal questions. Again, many English people find this intrusive, but they are all too polite or too embarrassed to say it. QUEUING RULES. The Indirectness Rule. We have already said that queuing is one of England's most popular pastimes. The English expect each other to observe the rules of queuing, feel highly offended when these rules are violated but don't have the confidence to express their annoyance in a straightforward manner. Paradoxically, it is only in England, where queue-jumping is regarded as deeply immoral, that the queue-jumper is likely to get away with the offence. Queuing is so important to English people that they will notice even when someone is considering jumping a queue. They start glancing at you sideways with suspicious eyes and move a bit closer to the person in front of them, sometimes putting a hand on a hip. The author calls this series of gestures the Paranoid Pantomime and says that is usually takes place only when there is some ambiguity in the structure of the queue, for example when it's not certain where the queue starts or ends. Body-Language and Muttering Rules. If you jump a queue in England, the worst things you will be subjected to will be raised eyebrows, contemptuous looks, heavy sighs accompanied by tutting and muttering. In doing so, the queues are hoping that you will feel ashamed and will go to the back of the queue, without having to draw attention to themselves by addressing you directly. As we can see, it is probably easier to get away with queue jumping in England than anywhere else, but only if you are not English. If you're English, you probably won't be able to bear the humiliation of all those eyebrows and sighs, because you are aware of their meaning. These responses to the breach of queue rules could be considered as part of a passive-aggressive behaviour. English people are not very good at saying things as they are, in a direct manner: they tend to be either aggressive or accept things with passive resignation. The Fair Play Rule says that if you 'play fair' and acknowledge the rights of those in front of you in a queue (or give them the benefit of the doubt where there is some ambiguity) they will instantly stop being paranoid and passive-aggressive and will treat you fairly, or even generously in return. The Drama of Queuing. It is important to say that the English obey all these rules about queuing instinctively, without even thinking about it, and that they are proud of being good at queuing. This may look like a quite unexciting thing to be proud of, but when you examine English queues, the author says, you find that each one is a little mini-drama, a real story full of intrigue, moral dilemmas, honour and altruism, alliances, anger and reconciliation. CAR RULES before talking about English rules about cars, we have to say that there is universal feature of cars: cars are part of our personal territory and part of our personal and social identity. The status indifference rule says that the English like to believe that the social status considerations do not influence their choice of car. They prefer to believe that they bought a certain car because it expressed their personality or their image. The truth is that car choice, like almost everything else in England, is mostly about class. You will discover the social class reasons of a person's car choice by mentioning the Ford Mondeo: the Mondeo Test is a good indicator of class anxiety; the more contemptuous one is about Mondeos, the more insecure they are about their own status. A similar test can be carried out with the Mercedes. However, class distinctions don't stop with the make of car: your social status also depends on the condition of your car. Dirty cars are usually associated with both the highest and lowest ends of the social scale, clean cars with the middle ranks. The same principle applies to the state if the interior of the car. (minor variations: sex differences → men are more tidier than women). The Mobile Castle Rule. We have seen that an Englishman's home is his castle, so when an Englishman uses
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his car, a part of his castle goes with him. On public transport people try to pretend that the strangers don't exist: this becomes even easier in cars, because they are enclosed in a real, solid shield of metal. Therefore people can pretend not only that they are alone, but also that they are at home. As a result, like ostriches with their heads in the sand, English people in their cars believe that they are invisible, and do things that they would normally only do in the privacy of their own homes: you will see them pick their noses, sing, have rows, kiss, but also make rude gestures and insulting other drivers. Road-Rage. Many visitors acknowledge that the English are very courteous drivers. However, British newspapers often complain about how England is suffering from an epidemic of road rage. The truth is that humans are aggressively territorial animals and the car is a special kind of territory so people tend to react aggressively when they perceive their territory is being threatened. Courtesy rules. English people have a good reputation as courteous and sensible drivers; the author says that this is just because they have rules and customs that prescribe a certain degree of restraint. When frustrated or angry, English drivers are inclined to shout insults at each other just like anyone else, but they tend to do it from behind closed windows. Fair Play Rules. English driving behaviour can be seen as an extension of the queuing behaviour, in that the same principles of fairness and good manners apply. Of course there are drivers who try to 'cheat', but the reaction of the other drivers (indignation) will be the same as the ones caused by queue-jumping. As with queuing, the punishment that the offenders will receive will consist of sighs, muttered insults and filthy looks perhaps with the addition of some obscene gestures from behind closed windows. However, in the security of their mobile castles, with the ablity to escape quickly from disapproving looks, the English are less vulnerable and thus more inclined to break the fair play rules. Road rules and Englishness. Denial rule → it provides another example of English social inhibition and embarrassment and evidence of their obsession with privacy. (the author suggests that the two tendencies are related: the excessive need for privacy is due to social awkwardness) Denial rule + Mobile castle rule → confirm the inability of the English to deal with social interaction: they can only cope through forms of self-delusion (pretending that other people don't exist/pretending to be still at home). Courtesy rules → importance of politeness (England is a predominantly negative politeness culture); they bring to light the fact that politeness and courtesy have little to do with friendliness or good nature. Queuing Rules → make us notice that the English seem to be incapable of being frank, clear or assertive; they are always playing some complex game, and when they're not doing things backwards they are doing them sideways. The problem is that when they are direct and upfront they tend to become noisy and aggressive, sometimes even rude. English inhibited politeness and loud obnoxiousness are two sides of the same coin: both tendencies reflect a fundamental form of social dis-ease, the inability to engage normally and directly with other human beings. Many of the rules examined in this chapter highlight the importance of the concept of 'fairness' in English culture. The remaining rules of the chapter are concerned with the other English obsession: class. We've come across an apparently consistent pattern in which the top and the bottom ends of the social scale have more in common with each other that with the middle ranks.
WORK TO RULE this chapter deals with the behaviour codes of the English at work, a subject that many social scientist find difficult and unclear. Many foreigners are confused by English attitudes and behaviour at work; more precisely, those from the Mediterranean, Latin American and some African cultures tend to see the English as rigid adherents of the Protestant work ethic; while Indians, Japanese and Northern Europeans see them as lazy and irresponsible. However, even English observers find English attitudes to work confusing. THE MUDDLE RULES. According to the author, continentals are disconcerted by the English attitude to work because they don't consider it as a burden imposed by fate, but they neither accept it as a sacred obligation. Their position is somewhere between the two extremes, according to the typically English compromise and moderation. The main principles concerning work in England are:
• English people are serious about work, but not too serious; • they believe that work is a duty, but not a sacred one: it is imposed by practical necessity; • they constantly moan about work but they act stoical, trying to do their best; • they disapprove those who avoid work, because they believe in fairness; • they often maintain that they would prefer not to work, but their personal identity is in fact very
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much bound up with work; • they find the whole subject of money distasteful; • they are sceptical towards professionalism and tend to prefer amateurism; • they carry into the workplace all the familiar English rules of humour, embarrassment, inhibition,
privacy, modesty, moaning, etc. HUOMUR RULES. One of the most striking features of English working life is the undercurrent of humour, in its most subtle forms: wit, irony, understatement. We'll see that the English sense of humour is one of the most common causes of misunderstanding and confusion in their dealings with foreigners. The Importance of not Being Earnest Rule. For example, the distinction between seriousness and solemnity is not always understood by foreign visitors: in most other cultures, a bit of self-important pomposity is tolerated; in England, on the contrary, you are allowed to take work seriously, but not too seriously: if you are too much of a workaholic, you'll be regarded as sad and pathetic, and perhaps someone will tell you to “get a life”. Even among schoolchildren, there is a rule which forbids excessive enthusiasm for academic work: the ones who really enjoy studying, must hide their passion and pretend to be bored, cynical and detached. For these reasons the English are sometimes accused of being anti-intellectual: the truth is that what looks like anti-intellectualism is a combination of anti-boastfulness and anti-earnestness. They don't mind people being clever, as long as they don't show off and don't take themselves too seriously. The English anti-earnestness influences their way of conducting business: they do it in a dispassionate and detached manner, giving the impression of being unenthusiastic and indifferent. This approach works well with English customers, since the English can't stand over-zealous salesmen, but it can be a problem with foreigners, who can be put off by this detached attitude. Irony and Understatement rules. Because of the anti-earnestness rule, the English fail to show the necessary degree of enthusiasm for their work/their products; things are made worse by the use irony and understatement: for example, when trying to convince someone, they will say something like “It's not bad” or “You could do a lot worse”. The problem with English irony is that sometimes they really mean what they say, but it's impossible to tell when, and in any case, the audience will be sceptical. The reason is that the English, unlike other nations, do irony with a completely straight face, without giving any hints. THE MODESTY RULE. We have already said that the English aren't more modest than other cultures, but they put a high value on this quality and have several unwritten rules which say that one must appear modest. However, these rules forbidding boastfulness can often clash with modern business practices. For example, according to these rules, the English show a distaste for the obstinate and brash approach to advertising and marketing: their approach tends to be more subtle, ironic and understated. According to the author, advertising, involving boastfulness, is essentially un-English, and the English has to be radically re-invent it according to the English rules of modesty and reserve. THE POLITE PROCRASTINATION RULE. The initial workplace encounters are regulated by rules which tell us what to do in formal situations. However, as soon as the initial introductions are completed, there is always an awkward period (5 to ten minutes) in which the individuals involved feel that it would be rude to start talking about business straight away, and everyone tries to pretend that this is just a friendly social gathering, and talks about the weather and their journey, or moans about the traffic, or has a coffee. Th author compares this behaviour to the 'displacement activity' of birds, which peck at the ground or groom themselves when they are in the middle of a confrontation over territory or mating rights. The whole process of doing business makes us uncomfortable and embarrassed, so we distract ourselves and attempt to delay things by performing these irrelevant rituals. THE MONEY-TALK TABOO The English find doing business awkward and embarrassing because of their irrational distaste for money talk. When they have to talk about money, they tend to become uncomfortable, and tend to cover their embarrassment by becoming defensive and aggressive or by acting over-polite and apologetic, or by joking. The English just can't talk about money face to face, so they prefer to do it in writing. The author believes that the English squeamishness about money-talk, which is well established also in everyday social life, can be explained in reference to other basic rules of Englishness concerning modesty, privacy and polite egalitarianism. She suggests, however, that this distaste might derive from an ancient prejudice against trade, left over from the days when the aristocracy lived off the rents from their land and didn't want to be involved in anything so vulgar as trade (Vestigial Trade-Prejudice Rule). Subconscious traces of the same snobberies ares till implicit in English attitudes towards work and behaviour in the workplace. The highest classes have a particularly ingrained distaste for the 'bourgeois businessman' and, in general, for anyone involved in sales. Other parts of the world, selling things is regarded as a legitimate way of earning a living and successful
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businessmen are respected; in England, money will buy you a lot of things, including access to power and influence, but it will not buy you any respect. Fox points out that in no other country is social class so completely independent of material wealth. However, we must keep in mind that all this English squeamishness about money is hypocritical and the English aren't less ambitious , greedy or selfish than other nations: they just have stricter rules which require them to hide these tendencies. THE MODERATION RULE. The author says that the catchphrase 'work hard, play hard', which became popular in England in the eighties does not describe the real English lifestyle. She prefers to say that they work rather diligently and have the right amount of fun in their free time. In other words, they do both things with moderation. Besides, she says that her own research shows that the young generation seems to be more sensible, industrious moderate and cautious than their parents' generations, no matter what class they belong to. In her survey, a large percentage of young people said that in ten years time they wanted to be settled down and successful at work, financially secure. It also turned out that youngsters consider future stability more important than having fun while still being young, and they seem to be more industrious and cautious with money than their parents' generation. The author's concern is that young people are increasingly affected by the culture of fear, and that obsession with safety has become the defining feature of contemporary society, generating a 'climate of pervasive anxiety'. However, the survey has also shown that young people are more conventional and responsible than they are believed to be. THE FAIR-PLAY RULE the English are generally regarded as relatively fair and straight in their conduct of business: there is certainly less tolerance of corruption and cheating than in most other countries, and when the English hear of such things, they are shocked and outraged. If compared to other cultures, English working and business practices stand out for the strong sense of fair play, respect for the law and relative freedom from corruption. MOANING RULES another distinguishing feature of English workplace behaviour is the constant moaning. These rules are connected to the importance of not being earnest rule, in that if you don't take part in the customary convivial moaning, you will be seen too keen and earnest and frowned upon. The Monday Morning Moan. English work-moaning is a predictable, regular ritual, and it can take place in various moments, but there will always be a Monday morning moan. It is universally understood that everyone hates Mondays, so people usually moan about how difficult it is to get out of bed on Monday, how quickly the time passed during the weekend, or complain about the traffic conditions, the tube or the train, or the amount of work they have to do. Most of them start and sometimes end with a bit of a weather speak, then people start to work, until the next moaning opportunity (usually the 1st coffee break). The Time Moan and the Meeting Moan. Everyone moans about time, but junior and low-grade employees complan that it passes too slowly, that they are bored and fed up, while senior people usually complain because time seems to fly and they never have enough of it. Another rule says that one must always moan about mettings. To admit to enjoy meetings would be considered blasphemy: meetings are by definition pointless, boring, tedious and awful. The Mock-Moaning and “Typical!” Rule . The most important rule of moaning is that you must moan in a quite cheerful, humorous and light-hearted manner. Serious moaning may take place in other contexts, such as heart-to-heart conversations with close friends, but it is regarded as inappropriate in collective workplace moaning-rituals. Ritual moaning in the workplace in a form of social boding, an opportunity to establish and reinforce common values by sharing mutual problems. The participants do not expect to find a solutions to their problems: their ritual moaning is purely therapeutic. The appropriate tone of mock-moaning is expressed by the English moan-ritual catchphrase “Typical!”, one of the most useful and versatile words in the English vocabulary. It is an all-purpose term of disapproval, which can be applied to any problem since in convey both indignation and a sense of passive, resigned acceptance. AFTER WORK-DRINK RULES recent studies have shown that employees who go to the pub for after work drinks with their colleagues suffer less stress than those who don't. The reasons which make after work drinks such an effective antidote to stress are many: alcohol is used to facilitate the transition from one social context to another; besides, drinking places have their own social micro-climate, where status distinctions are based on different criteria. So, the English after work drinks ritual functions as an effective de-stressor because in this environment the hierarchies and the pressures of the workplace disappear. Discussion of work-related matters is permitted, but you have to follow anti-earnestness rules and the principles of polite egalitarianism. However, after-work drinks rules say that distinctions of rank can be dealt with in a more irreverent, light-hearted manner. OFFICE PARTY RULES. The same principle applies to office parties. There seems to be an unwritten rule which says that misbehaviour is the main element of office parties, especially the annual Christmas party. By misbehaviour,
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however, the author means just a higher degree of disinhibition than is normally permitted among the English: this involves eating and drinking too much, flirting, telling rude jokes, and, sometimes, photocopying one's bottom. When she talks about misbehaviour she doesn't mean that people can do exactly what they want: she refers to temporary, conventionalized deviations from convention, in which only certain rules can be broken, and only in certain rule-governed ways.
RULES OF PLAY With the term play, the author refers to any leisure activity, anything that people do in their free time. The English have three different approaches to leisure, relating to their three different methods of dealing with their social dis-ease: private and domestic hobbies (DIY, gardening,...) → linked to the method which involves going home and avoid social interaction public, social activities (pubs, clubs, sports and games) → linked to the ingenious use of props and facilitators anti-social pastimes (getting very drunk and fighting) → linked with the method including loudness and aggressiveness. PRIVATE AND DOMESTIC PURSUITS the easiest way for the English to cope with their social dis-ease is to avoid social interaction by choosing either activities that can be performed in one's home, or outdoor activities that do not require significant contact with strangers (going for a walk/to the cinema/shopping...). The most popular domestic pastimes among the English are watching television, listening to the radio, reading DIY and gardening. Homes and Gardens. We have already said that “home is what the English have instead of social skills”. Their obsessive love for their home is directly related to their obsession with privacy, which, in turn, is due to their social dis-ease. However, the indoor activities listed before can considered universal pastimes rather that peculiarly English. The distinctive trait of English hobbies is the extent of their popularity, particularly in the case of gardening and DIY. People like to spend their free time improving their home, fixing things, tending their garden, or going to DIY stores to buy new instruments for their hobby. When the English want a break, they go and visit country houses to look at their magnificent garden, not only to draw their inspiration from them, but also to satisfy their curiosity and nosiness, with the excuse that the whole thing is highly educational. Television Rules. Television-watching appears to be by far the most popular domestic pastime, with 99% of the population recorded as regular viewers. However, according to the author, television cannot be said to be killing the art of conversation. When people say they watch television, they often mean that they have the television on while they chat with family or friends, play with the dog, read the newspaper, gossip on the telephone, cook and eat dinner and so on. Contrary to common belief, television in England seems to promote the art of conversation: tv-programmes are probably the most common topic of conversations among friends and family, and also work as facilitator of social interaction (it can be used, for example, when one has run out of weather-speak topics). In fact, television is second only to the weather as facilitator. The author also says that there's a minority of people who claim that they never watch tv. These people are usually trying to convince you that they are somehow morally and intellectually superior to the masses, (they are usually middle-class males) but she believes that they have no reason to do that since England is known to have the best television in the world. Soap rules: the most popular English soap operas are very unusual and different from those of any other country. They all deal with ordinary working-class people, often middle-aged or old, doing boring jobs and living in unglamorous houses. American soap-operas, despite being aimed at the same low-class audience, are more modern and attractive in terms of settings, lifestyles and characters. The reason for the “realistic” features of English soap-operas may be that the English are obsessed with the factual, the real, the concrete; they praise empiricism, realism and being down-to-earth. However, the real answer lies in their extreme nosiness (direct consequence of privacy obsession): English people are obsessed with privacy, so they tend to know very little about the lives of people outside their circle of close friends and family, they don't know what their neighbours get up to. Watching soaps is like being allowed to spy on the hidden, forbidden private lives of neighbours: the soap-opera families are people like them, but their lives are more messy and screwed up, and therefore, more interesting. Sit-com rules: the same realism is a recurring feature of the English sitcoms as well. Nearly all of them are about unsuccessful people, belonging to the working class, and usually considered failures. Not that in American sitcoms there are no losers: it's just that they tend to be a better class of losers. The humour in most English sitcoms is rather less sophisticated than the American, and usually considered more childish and silly. In general, the English have a more subtle sense of humour, but their sitcoms prefer a more childish form of humour, which involves lots of bad puns and innuendos. The majority of English sitcoms are essentially about the perennial
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English pre-occupation: embarrassment. The English have an unusual acute fear of embarrassment, and almost any social situation is potentially embarrassing, so they have a particularly rich source of comic material. Example of English sitcoms (The Office, Black Books, Peep Show, the Inbetweeners). Reality.tv Rules: the so-called reality-tv provides more evidence of English social inhibitions and privacy issues. Britain and america are the only countries in which none of the Big Brother housemates has been seen having sex; in other countries Big Brother housemates have screaming rows; on the British Big Brother, even a raised voice or a sarcastic comment is a major incident: the contestants rarely express anger at each other directly, and prefer to complain about the person behind their back. Besides, any sign of actual competitiveness is severely criticised: everyone wants to win, but you can't admit it and must say that you're doing it 'for fun'. The author points out that the contestants are usually the most shameless, least inhibited people in the country, and, yet their behaviour is characterized by typically English reserve, inhibition and awkwardness: if even the exhibitionists on Big Brother conform to these rules, they must be very deeply ingrained in the English psyche. Reading Rules. The English love of words is one of most important national characteristics: reading books is even more popular than DIY and gardening, over 80% of the English regularly read a daily newspaper, and dedicate part of their free time to word games and verbal puzzles. Besides, every one of the non-verbal hobbies that they practise has at least one specialist magazine devoted to it, so they often spend more time reading about their favourite pastime than actually practising it. Bogside Reading: the English read compulsively, anytime, anywhere. Of course, they read when they are on the toilet (this is known as bogside reading): in many English homes, you will find piles of books and magazines placed next to the loo, or even arranged in a special bookcase for reading while sitting on the loo. These bogside reading customs indicate a degree of embarrassment about the whole process: they prefer to distract themselves rather than focus too intently. The unwritten rules of bogside reading state that the books and magazines in question should be of an unserious nature (humour, books of quotations, old magazines...). Bogside reading is also a useful class- indicator: working class bogside reading→is humorous, light entertainment (puzzle-book or quiz-book) or sports- related lower-middles and middle-middles → do not like to advertise this habit, so they just take a newspaper into the loo with them upper-middles → often have mini libraries in their loos, but books appear to have been selected to impress rather than to entertain upper-class bogside reading → is similar to thw working class, consisting mainly of sport (hunting, fishing, shooting) and humour. Newspaper Rules: we have already said that over 80% fo the English read a national daily newspaper; however, we must distinguish between 'quality' and 'popular' press. Quality newspapers are also known as broadsheets, because of their large format, and are often used by commuters as a barrier signal, to avoid any form of social interaction with other people. Broadsheets are also signals of political affiliation . Popular newspapers are also known as tabloid, they are smaller and less committed. The English love of word is demonstrated not by the erudite wit of broadsheets journalists but by the ingenious headlines of tabloids. A,most every headline involves some kind of play on words,a pun, a double meaning, a deliberate misspelling, a literary reference, an ironic neologism, an amusing rhyme or alliteration, and so on. Cyberspace rules. In recent times, the English have found a new and perfect excuse to stay at home: the Internet. In cyberspace, English people are in their environment: a world of disembodied words, without awkward pauses or embarrassing false starts or uncomfortable silences; nothing physical. The disinhibiting effect of cyberspace is a universal phenomenon, but it is particularly important to the English, who have a greater need for such social facilitators than other cultures. In cyberspace they can be more open, strike up conversations with complete strangers and reveal personal details. Although many English people find the alternative reality of online communication a liberating experience, it can have negative consequences: for example excessive uninhibited emails may come back to haunt us. Rules of Shopping. Shopping, although it doesn't take place in the home, is included in the domestic activities because it's not, for most people, a social pastime. First of all we must distinguish between shopping as it is discussed in the media – people spending lots of money they don't have on lots of things they don't need – and most people's everyday shopping – provisioning: buying the necessities of life such as food, drink and so on. In other words, people make a distinction between 'fun' shopping and 'routine' shopping. Sex distinctions: men and women live shopping in different ways. In terms of attitueds towards the activity, among males there seems to be an unwritten rule prohibiting any enjoyment of shopping, while the majority of women usually admit to enjoying 'fun' shopping. But the difference also lies in the manner in which they shop: men shop like hunters, women are more flexible, they browse and see what's available, look for bargains, change their minds. In any case, shopping is seen as a female skill and a lot of English
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males choose to prove their masculinity by emphasizing how bad they are at shopping: in other words, being useless at shopping is, for English males, a confirmation of their virility. The “Shopping as saving” Rule: for many English females who still do the routine shopping, shopping is a skill and it is customary to take some pride in doing it well: the best way to do it is taking pride in finding a bargain, while you shouldn't boast about having spent an excessive amount of money. If you can't boast about saving money, you have two options: you can apologize for your embarrassing extravagance or moan about the ridiculous cost of thing. However, both of these options are sometimes used as indirect boasts, but can also be a form of polite egalitarianism. The exception to the Shopping as Saving Rule is the Bling-Bling Exception: young people influenced by the black American hip-hop/gangsta culture have adopted a lifestyle which requires deliberate ostentation of wealth. This involves wearing expensive designer clothes, flashy gold jewellery and driving expensive cars. Class and Shopping Rules: the “shopping as saving” rule is classless and is follow by members of all classes (as well and the bling-bling exception). However, most other aspects of shopping are linked to the English class system: for example, the place where one shops is a class indicator. If you want to know which class an English person belong to, you can ask them about M&S. Marks & Spencer is a department store selling clothes, shoes furniture, linen, soap, make-up, food and drinks – all under its own brand name. People from different social classes buy different things at M&S. Pet Rules. Keeping pets, for the English is not a leisure activity: it's an entire way of life, ad the England is renowned for the inordinate love of animals. The unwritten rules about pets say that domestic animals are allowed to take over the entire house, sleep on sofas and chairs, and take the best places in front of the fire or television: in general, pets get far more attention and appreciation than children, and English people tend to be more open, easy communicative in their relationships with their animals than with each other. For many of them, they represent the only significant experience of open emotional involvement with another being. However, the superior quality of communication and bonding with animals can sometimes have positive side effects on relations with other humans: English people can manage to strike up a conversation with a stranger if one of them is accompanied by the dog, usually by talking to it, and not to the owner. It's not unusual even for people in more established relationships to use pets as mediators or facilitators. An Englishman's animal represents his wild side, his alter-ego: he grants it all the freedoms that he's denied, he can express through it his most un-English tendency and break all the rules. The unwritten rules state that you can criticise your own pet (in affectionate tones), but you mustn't speak ill of someone else's pet; moreover, animals can do no wrong: if a dog bites you, you must have provoked it or, anyway, there must be something wrong with you. Of course, the type and breed of pet you keep is also a useful class indicator. Summing up, the quickest way to an English person's heart is through their pet. When you speak to their animals directly, you're speaking to their inner child. PUBLIC AND SOCIAL ACTIVITIES The second type of English approach to leisure regards social and public pastimes and is therefore related to their second method of dealing with their social dis-ease: the ingenious use of props and facilitators. Rules of the Game. Sports and games are widely recognized as an essential part of English culture, and one cannot talk about Englishness without talking about sports and games. English obsession with games has many reasons: someone thinks that the main reason is that people have to deal with testosterone-fuelled adolescent males and try to channel their potentially destructive aggression and tendencies into harmless sports and games. This problem is universal, but the english male, being socially uneasy, has perhaps a more pressing need for such channelling. The 'props and facilitator' Method. To foreign visitors, many english pubs seem more like children's playgrounds than adult drinking places: they have darts, board games, card games, billiards and pool. The reason is that the English find it hard to have initiate friendly conversations with strangers, or develop closer relationships with fellow pubgoers, so they need excuses to make contact: they need games that help them socialize. Games ritualize their social interactions, giving them a reassuring structure and sense of order. The Self-Delusion Rule states that the English pretend that the game itself is really the point, and the social contact is just an incidental side effect. Games etiquette. Every game has its official rules, but in England it also has a set of unwritten, unofficial rules governing the behaviour and the social interactions of the players. If you are at the pub ad you're looking for company, you are unlikely to approach a stranger who is sitting at a table; you usually approach someone who is playing some kind of game, but you have to follow set rules. You have to approach a player and ask about the local rules; their answer will be both an acceptance of your invitation and an instruction. Having completed the introductions, you may watch the current game and, once you are accepted as a player you're allowed to make appropriate comments on the game. Sex differences: there are some sex differences in how people behave in pub games: male are supposed to adopt a strong, manly approach to te game, swearing at one's mistakes and making sarcastic comments on someone else's mistakes. As we already said, English males are allowed to express 3 emotions: anger, surprise and triumph, all in the same manner: by
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shouting and swearing. The Fair-Play Rule. The english concern with fair play is a recurrent theme in almost all aspects of national life and culture. At international level, sport has become a more a fierce and competitive business, more focused on winning than on the concepts of team spirit and sportsmanship. The English, who consider sporting ethic very important, always react with strong indignation to to episodes of cheating, unfairness and unsporting behaviour. In particular, English people always moan about football hooliganism. The author argues that football violence is nothing new, and the game of football has been associated with violence since its origins in the 13th century; so she says she can't accept modern football hooliganism as evidence of a recent decline in sporting values. Besides, the basic notion of fair play in not necessarily incompatible with the desire to win or even with financial gain. The Underdog Rule. This rule states that the english have an instinctive inclination to support the underdog (this is particularly evident at horse races). Besides, there is an unwritten rule that says that you choose which football team to support at a very young age and you can't change it anymore. Club Rules . There is an apparent contradiction between the strong individualism of the english and their inclination for forming and joining clubs. In fact, English have clubs for almost everything: we could say that just as every English pastime has a magazine, each one also has clubs. In this case, the same principle which is at the base of games and sports applies: the English are not keen on random, unstructured, spontaneous sociability: they prefer to socialize in an organized, ordered manner. Above all, they need to pretend that the activity of the club or society is the real point of the gathering and the social bonding is just a secondary side effect. In other words, English people need facilitators to help them socialize with other humans with the illusion that they are doing something else. Meeting of clubs usually start with the usual awkward greetings and jokes and some preliminary weather speak. Then there is tea, some gossip, some moaning, followed by attempts to get the meeting started without seeming pompous; there is some discussion of important matters punctuated by jokes, and, occasionally, a solution is reached; then more tea, with more joking, more gossiping and moaning finishing with the usual prolonged English goodbyes. Pub Rules. We already said that the pub is the most popular social facilitator in England: it's an institution, a micro-society governed by a stable set of unspoken rules. Drinking rules: the Rules of Round Buying. Round buying is an English practice by which a each person in a group, in turns, buys the drinks for the entire group. There is nothing uniquely English about the reciprocal exchange of drinks (it's a universal practice), but only in England this practice has such an immense, almost religious importance: obeying the rules of round buying is not just good manners, it's a sacred obligation, and if you don't buy your round you commit a heresy. Reciprocal drink giving has various meanings: it's a peace-keeping system: English males have the tendency to become aggressive, especially during pub- talks, which are often argumentative. Buying your opponent a drink is a way of saying that the argument is not taken seriously and ensuring that it doesn't lead to physical aggression. It's a substitute for the expression of emotion: English males are terrified by intimacy, so the reciprocal buying of drinks allows them to express positive feeling without looking unmanly or losing masculine dignity. It's also expression of the English obsession with fair play. The rules of round-buying say that one single person must buy a round of drinks for the whole group, and the person who buys the round must also act as waiter (they have to order the drink and carry them back to the table). Sometimes another member of the group will offer to help, but this is not compulsory. “fairness” in round buying is not a matter of strict justice: it's extremely bad manners to appear concerned about the disparity in the number of rounds one has paid for. In fact, any sign of calculation or reluctance to participate in the ritual is severely frowned upon. Therefore, it's important to try always to say “it's my round”, usually when the majority of glasses are three-quarters empty. It is acceptable to refuse a drink during the round- buying proccess, but you should still buy your round. It would be very rude, however, to refuse a drink offered to make peace. Exceptions to Round-buying: 1)The Numbers Exceptions → in a very large group, traditional round buying can be too expensive. In this case, the large group usually divides into smaller sub-groups and each of them follows the normal round- buying procedure. 2)The couple Exception → sometimes couples are treated as one person for the purposes of round-buying. This variation is rare among younger people, it is observed only in groups where the males are over forty. 3)The Female Exception → for Women, round buying is not such a big issue, so they don't observe the rules of round buying with such reverence and religiosity. This is mainly because English females can achieve intimacy by other means (compliments-gossip-...); besides, argument is not their primary form of communication so they don't need such peacekeeping gestures. You are what you drink. Drinks are, of course, useful class indicators: in all cultures drinks are classified in
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terms of their social meaning. They are indicators of social status, but also gender differentiators. working class and lower middle class females can drink almost everything, but they have to drink halves instead of pints (they are regarded as unfeminine) middle-middle to upper class females have a rather wide choice of drinks, but cream-based liqueurs and cocktails are considered a bit vulgar. Female pint-drinking is more acceptable in this category males can choose only among beer, spirits and soft-drinks. The rules of drunkenness. According to the author, the effects of alcohol on behaviour are determined by social and cultural rules and norms, not by chemical reactions. In some societies (Nordic cultures), drinking is associated with aggression and violence; while in others (Mediterranean cultures) drinking is mostly peaceful and harmonious. The English become aggressive when they drink because they believe that alcohol is a dangerous disinhibitor. According to the author, English courteous reserve and obnoxious aggression are two sides of the same coin: they're both symptoms of the same social dis-ease. Play rules and Englishness. The rules of play have provided further confirmation of the main features of the English identified so far: humour, hypocrisy, class-anxiety, fair play, modesty and so on. Almost all of their leisure activities are a response to their social-disease.
DRESS CODES Dress, in all cultures, is essentially about three things: sex differentiations, status signals and affiliation signals. What modern cultures like to see as ‘style’ or ‘self-expression’ is really just a combination of these three factors. The Rules Rule. The English have a difficult and dysfunctional relationship with clothes, and an international reputation for dressing in general very badly. However, the English are also renowned for their excellence in certain sartorial areas: in other words, the English are at their best when they have strict, formal rules and traditions to follow. Their need for sartorial rules has been highlighted in recent years by the 'Casual Friday' custom, by which companies allow their employees to wear casual clothes to the office on Fridays rather than the usual business suits. However, a few companies have been obliged to abandon this custom, as many workers turned up in inappropriate clothes, or just looked scruffy. The Eccentric Sheep Rule. England is also known for its weird street fashions, among which there are punks, Goths and skinheads. The idea that English street-fashion is characterized by eccentricity and imagination has become universally accepted; however, this eccentricity is, according to the author, a form of conformity, a uniform. There is nothing eccentric about English street-fashions: they are just affiliation signals. Besides, street-fashions don't function for very long as effective sub-cultural affiliation signals, as these styles rapidly become “Mainstream”, and this drives the originators of these street-styles mad. The author believes that the only truly eccentric dresser in the country is the Queen, who pay no attention to fashion, and has no regard for anyone else's opinion. Because she is the Queen, people call her style classic and timeless, rather than weird; in any case, she is the best example of English sartorial eccentricity. To sum up, English youth invents clothing styles that are more wacky and outrageous than any other nations; they may not be individually eccentric, but they appreciate originality and their youth sub-culture groups have a sort of collective eccentricity. The Affected Indifference Rule . The English attitude to dress is governed by the omnipresent Importance of not Being Earnest rule: one mustn't take dress too seriously, and shouldn't be seen too concerned about being fashionable or well dressed. Of course, most people are actually worried about their appearance, but they must pretend that they don't care very much about how they look. The affected indifference rule applies most strictly to English Males, among whom any expression of interest in fashion or appearance is regarded as effeminate. Teenage girls, on the contrary, are allowed to express their interest in clothes. Embarrassment Rules. The English are much more worried about their appearance than they admit (because of the affected-indifference rule). Their main concern is about fitting in, being acceptably dressed and avoiding embarrassment. They want to look good and attractive, but at the same time they don't want to stand out or show off. What the English really need, according to Kate Fox, is more rules: a few decades ago, there were lots of official rules about dress, now lots of rules have disappeared leaving confusion and embarrassment. Dress is essentially a form of communication, so perhaps is not surprising that the socially awkward English are not very good at it. They have difficulties with most other aspects of communication, especially when there are no clear, formal rules to follow. The decline of formal dress codes means that they never know what to wear, and their informal dress has become as embarrassing and awkwars as their greetings. Mainstream rules and tribal uniforms. [According to the author, dress is far more rule-governed than people think and we are more aware of current dress codes than we imagined.] English sub-cultures with different styles of dress from the mainstream majority are nothing new: they've always had sub cultures, and they have always distinguished themselves from the the mainstream and from each other by their dress codes. The
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only significant change in recent times in an increase in the number of different sub-cultural styles, which now are all identified with different types of music (almost all originally derived from American Back music). The minor style distinctions among these groups are not visible to the naked eye of an inexperienced observer. The collective distinctiveness rule. We have seen that young English people get to rebel against the mainstream culture and proclaim their non-conformist individual identity, but with the comforting security of belonging to a structured, rule-governed social group, where there is no risk of sartorial mistakes or embarrassment, because there are clear and precise instructions on what to wear. Indeed, these dress codes are very strict, and deviation from the norm is not tolerated. Of course, you are not deprived of your right for self-expression, but you can choose only from a limited range of themes. Therefore, sub-cultural dress codes are often a matter of collective distinctiveness than individual originality: members of sub-cultures want to be creative and different, but they don't want to stand out and prefer to fit in. by joining a sub-culture they can all be eccentric in the same way, together. Humour rules. The sub-cultural dress codes are, like all English communication, pervaded by humour. Young people, especially self obsessed teenagers, are sometimes inclined to take themselves too seriously. However, the author's observations have revealed that even young people belonging to sub cultures show a high degree of ironic detachment and religiously observe the anti-earnestness rules. Many of their dress- statements, in fact, are self mocking in-jokes, often ridiculing the rigid dress codes of the tribe. For example, some Goths wear bright, girly pink accessories or items and in doing so they mock their own rule which despises that colour and prescribes black clothes. Another example are t-shirts with the word “GOTH” on it, which Goths wear to avoid taking themselves too seriously. This sense of humour might perhaps help to explain the puzzling English mania for fancy-dress parties: the English love to break the rules, provided that they can all do it together, in a context of rule-governed cultural remission such as fancy-dress party, so there's no individual embarrassment. Class Rules. Nowadays it is very hard to tell a person's class by his/her dress. Youth Rules. Class indicators are most difficult to find among the young, as young people of all classes tend to follow either street-fashions or mainstream trends. Usually, the classes at the top and at the bottom of the social scale tend to ignore the unwritten dress codes because they don't care what the neighbours think; the classes in between, on the contrary, suffer from middle-class anxiety and prevent their children from wearing certain clothes because they're afraid of being considered 'common'. In general, middle-class children and teenagers tend to be more natural-looking than working-class ones: they may wear the same style of clothes, but working class ones are usually more shiny and tight. This is not a question of money: working-class youth wear designer clothes as well as the higher classes; however, the former tend to go for the ones with big, obvious logos, whereas the latter find them rather vulgar. Young English people are sometimes as class conscious and their parents, but they seem to be more worried about being seen as 'mainstream', which is the opposite of cool. Adult Class Rules. Among grown-ups, class indicators are somewhat clearer. The general rule states that flashy, over-elaborate dress is a lower-class indicator, while higher classes still manage to dress up without looking overdone. Female class Rules. According to this general rule, too much jewellery, too much make up, shiny tights, very high heels are all low-class indicators, as well as too much laboured matching of clothes and accessories. Strong tan are also regarded as vulgar. Women of the higher classes tend to be more discreet and simple, more natural looking, they usually keep their hair unstyled and don't match their items. Among adult English females, the amount of flesh on display can also be a class indicator: as a rule, the more cleavage a garment reveals, the lower the social class of its wearer is. For the middle-aged and over, the same rule applies to upper arms. In tricky or borderline cases, where the previous elements won't work as effective class indicators, you may focus on other aspect of dress, such as shopping habits of dress-talk: for example, only the higher classes will cheerfully admit to buying clothes in charity shops: women at the bottom of the social scale also shop in charity shops, but they do it because they have to and get no sense of pride from doing so. However, the more class-anxious upper-middles are often reluctant to admit to buying clothes at Marks & Spencer. Male Class Rules. Unlike women, there is less variety in adult male clothing, particularly work-clothes: a suit no longer distinguishes the lower-middle from the working-class male; similarly, a young man going to work in jeans and a t-shirt could be a bricklayer as well as a managing director. Sometimes it's rather easy to tell a man's occupation from his dress, but not his class. Jewellery and accessories are a better guide. Large, ostentatious metal watches, especially gold ones, are a lower-class signal; upper-middles and above tend to wear more discreet watches, usually with a simple leather strap (a similar principle applies to cufflinks). Ties are another helpful class indicator: flashy colours and loud patterns (especially cartoony/jokey ones) are lower class; ties in a single, solid colour are a sign of intermediate classes; the highest classes wear ties in
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soft, dark colours with discreet patterns. Casual clothes are a bit more revealing, as there is more variety. As a rule, adult English men of all classes tend to dress rather badly: a man who is well dressed is suspected of being gay. English men are concerned about being correctly dressed, but they don't want to stand out, they want to fit in. as a result, they all look very much alike, with jeans and a t-shirt or casual trousers and a shirt/ jumper. There is also the same inverse correlation between amounts of visible flesh and position on the social scale: shirts unbuttoned to display come chest are lower class; among older males the higher classes tend to prefer shirts to t-shirts, and the visible-flesh rule also applies to the legs. As a general principle, higher-class males seem to wear more clothes, and take the 'don't stand out' rule to the extremes. Dress codes and Englishness. Dress seems to be yet another thing that the English are not very good at: unless they have strict rules to follow (either official of sub-culture), their approach to dress is awkward and embarrassing. On closer inspection, the English much-vaunted eccentricity turns out to be a rather sheep-like conformity; but still they can appreciate originality and take some pride in the collective eccentricity of their street-fashions. The English are at their best when there are 'in uniform' but refusing to take themselves too seriously: their dress sense may be ridiculous, but at least they have a sense of humour, so the can always laugh at themselves.
FOOD RULES The English are internationally considered as a nation with no interest in food, let alone a love for food. According to many foreigners, they have no proper regional cookery, families no longer eat together, and their diet consists mainly of salty or sweet snack foods. According to recent trend, on the other hand, London is becoming the new gastronomic capital of the world and English food is getting delicious. The author's opinion is that English cooking is neither as bad as foreigners believe, nor as excellent as recent fashions claim: it is somewhere in between. However, what this chapter is really about is the relationship that the English have with food, the Englishness of English food rules. The ambivalence rule. The English relationship with food could be described as a 'loveless marriage', a sort of an uneasy cohabitation: they don't have a deep-seated love of food, and they don't give food the same high priority as people do elsewhere. In England, people who care about food, enjoy cooking and talking about it are considered weird and are ironically called 'foodies'. Among men, such an intense interest in food may be seen as effeminate, unmanly, and sometimes it can even cast doubt on one's sexual orientation. For this reason, English male 'celebrity' chefs who appear on tv (such as Jamie Oliver) try their hardest to demonstrate their masculinity and heterosexuality. Being a foodie is somewhat more acceptable among females, even if the general rule says that no-one wishes to be seen as too keen on food. Anti-earnestness and obscenity rules. The English ambivalence about food may be due in part to the anti- earnestness rule: excessive keenness on any subject, and getting emotional about something trivial, is considered rather silly and laughable. However, English uneasiness about food also involves a general discomfort about sensual pleasures. A passion for good food is not embarrassing just because it's over- earnest, but also because it's a bit obscene. Sensual pleasures are not exactly a taboo subject, but they should only be talked about in a light-hearted, unserious, jokey manner. People who show their love for food in a serious manner will create embarrassment and make people blush. TV-dinner Rules. Interest in food and cooking has certainly increased in recent years: there is usually one food-related programme on every TV-channel, every day. However, it's not clear if what chefs do on TV actually translates into real cooking in English homes, and most people are believed to watch these programmes while they wait for their pre-cooked meals to be ready. Anyway, a minority of people are genuinely inspired by these programmes and have become more enthusiastic and adventurous cooks after watching TV cookery programmes. The novelty Rule. Many foreigners are also often puzzled by the fact that the English are always obsessed by new, foreign ingredients and new ways of preparing food. This novelty-obsession can also be observed in America and in Australia, but they are in a way justified, being younger nations with no traditional cuisine. The English are supposed to be an old European culture with centuries of tradition: yet, when it comes to food, they behave like teenagers fashion victims. At the same time, their attitude to food suggests that they can be very flexible and willing to try new things and absorb different culinary practices. In particular, English food is now an integral part of English culture. Moaning and Complaining Rules. In restaurants, the English may moan to each other about poor service or bad food, but their inhibitions make it difficult for them to complain directly to the staff. They have three different ways of dealing with such situations:
1) The silent complaint → most English people, when they're given bad food, are too embarrassed to complain at all. Complaining would mean drawing attention to oneself and it would involve an uncomfortable confrontation with another human being. Therefore, English customers will moan to their companions, but when the waiter asks if everything is all right they will smile politely and
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mutter 'yes'. 2) The apologetic complaint → the braver ones, instead of saying nothing, will use the apologetic
complaint, which is an hesitant and timid complaint disguised as apology. 3) The loud, aggressive, obnoxious complaint → other people tend to become aggressive and loud
when something's wrong, and they address the waiters in a rude, obnoxious manner. However, this reaction is closely related to the silent or apologetic complaint: English people, when they feel uncomfortable or embarrassed in social situations, become either over-polite and restrained, or loud, aggressive and insufferable.
The 'Typical!' Rule revisited. The English reluctance to complain in restaurants is only partly due to their social dis-ease. The truth is that they do not have very high expectations when they go to restaurants, or even of the food they prepare home. Of course, they are pleased when the food is good, but they don't feel deeply offended when it is mediocre. The author points out that this is not just about food. The English seem to be unable to complain effectively about incompetence or failings in most other products and services. They tend to treat such failings as though things were destined to go wrong; those inconveniences may be frustrating, but they are normal, familiar, to be expected. This attitude is well symbolized by the English exclamation “Typical!”, which combines indignation with a sense of passive, resigned acceptance, but at the same time, also a perverse sense of satisfaction: in some strange way, English people are pleased that their cynical predictions have been proved accurate. Culinary class codes. Food in general is a useful class indicator; to infer one person's social status you must focus on what they eat, when, where an in what manner they eat it and how they call it. For example, food usually associated with lower class include: prawn cocktail, pasta salad, rice salad, eggs and chips, tinned fruit and tinned fish. The health correctness indicator . Health-correctness has become the main gastronomic class-divider: as a general rule, the middle ranks are obsessed with the latest healthy-eating trends while the highest and lowest classes usually stick to their views and food preferences and are immune to the middle-class health-police. Middle-class members often complain about all the seductive advertisement for junk food, which is corrupting the nation's youth. Among them, food taboos have become the primary means of defining one's social identity: they usually point out that they have some particular allergy or intolerance, or just that don't eat stuff because of their ideological positions; when they can't manage to show off for food problems, they will usually say their children have some. The working classes don't do this kind of things: they have real problems and do not need to invent fancy food allergies to make their lives more interesting. At the highest end of the social scale, people are equally sceptical about such matters, and don't feel the need do define themselves through food allergies. Timing and linguistic indicators. The term you use to refer to the evening meal, and the time you eat it, are two reliable class indicators:
• working-class members call it 'tea' and eat it at around half past six • middle-class members call it 'dinner' and eat it at around seven o'clock • upper-middle and upper-class members call it 'supper' and eat it at around half past seven.
The timing of lunch is not a class indicator, as almost everyone eats it at around one o'clock. Everyone calls the middle-of-the-day meal 'lunch', except for working class people, who call it 'dinner'. As a rule, the English do not take lunch too seriously: they usually eat a sandwich or some other quick, easy meal. The long 'business lunch' is nowadays frowned upon, which, according to the author is a great shame since the sharing of food is universally recognised as an effective form of human social bonding. The current disdain for business lunch proves that the English generally do not take food seriously and in particular that they underestimate the social importance of sharing food and eating together. The traditional English breakfast (tea, toast, marmalade, eggs, bacon sausages, tomatoes) is the only aspect of English cooking that foreigners frequently praise. However, only a small minority of people still eat this full English breakfast regularly: the tradition is maintained at the top and at the bottom of the social scale. What everyone drinks in the morning, regardless of social class, is tea. Besides being a class indicator (both taking sugar is your tea and putting the milk into the cup first are lower-class habits), tea is also believed, by people of all classes, to have miraculous properties: a cup of tea can cure all minor physical indispositions and it's also a remedy for all social and psychological ills. Most importantly, tea-making is the perfect displacement activity: whenever the English feel awkward or uncomfortable in social situations, they make tea. Table Manners and 'material culture' indicators. English table manners, across all classes, are still fairly decent. Children are still brought up to say please and thank you when asking for food, and most adults generally follow the basic courtesy rules: asking for things rather than just grabbing them, not serving oneself huge helpings, waiting until everyone has been served before starting to eat, not talking with one's mouth full, and so on. When eating at a restaurant, you should never, ever try to summon a waiter by
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snapping your fingers or yelling across the room: you must lean back in your chair with an expectant look, then make eye contact and perform a quick eyebrow lift. Orders should be phrased as requests, and making any sort of fuss about money is distasteful. On the whole, the basic courtesy rules are fairly classless, and they turn out to be essentially about the constant English preoccupation: fairness. Of course, there are a lot of irrational but detailed rules, which most people are not aware of, and which say how your fingers should be positioned on your knife, or that when the fork is being held in your left hand and used with a knife, the prongs of a fork should always point downwards. Expert says that this kind of rules are all about consideration for others and respect, but the author says that she finds it difficult to see how the positioning of one's fingers on the knife could affect other people's enjoyment of the meal: according to her, these rules are just a class indicator and nothing more. The “small/slow is beautiful” principle . When using both knife and fork, only the lower classes adopt the American system of first cutting up all the food and then putting down the knife and using only the fork. The superior classes cut up and eat meat and other foods one small piece at a time. This method is known a 'small is beautiful' or also 'slow is beautiful' and it's a pattern which extends to most foods. This rule is designed slow people down, to ensure that they eat the smallest possible portions in the most laborious manner. The aim of this principle is not appearing to be greedy and, more specifically, not appearing to give food too high a priority. Greed is a breach of the fair play rule; the correct English approach to food is eating small mouthfuls with plenty of pauses between them. Other class indicators are, for example, napkins (how they are arranged, where you put it when you eat, and what you do with it when you've finished eating ) and fish knives ( they are only used by lower-class people of older generations). The meaning of chips. Apparently, chips are a vital part of English heritage, as 90% of the English population are chip eaters. English people tend to think of chips as English, even if they were invented in Belgium and they are popular everywhere. Besides, 'Fish and chips' is still regarded as the English national dish. Someone also said that the chips are the perfect expression of the English character. According to the author, chips are also an important social facilitator. They are the only English food that lends itself to sharing and allows eaters to behave in a sociable, intimate manner, eating chips off the same plate or out of the same bag. Chips seem to promote sociability, which for many english people is part of their attraction. Food rules and Englishness. The food rules have revealed more symptoms of the English social dis-ease, for example their silent, apologetic or obnoxious approaches to complaining. The 'Typical!' rule is a reflection of their cynically low expectations and their chronic pessimism, but also of their perverse sense of satisfaction, even pleasure of seeing their predictions fulfilled. The class rules in this chapter expose the silliness of the English class system, the 'small7slow' is beautiful' principle reflects important English ideals such as courtesy and fair play, and highlights their appreciation of restraint and distaste for greedy selfishness.
RULES OF SEX The knee-jerk humour rule. Even within the nation, the belief that the English don't have much sex or have a low sex-drive, is largely accepted as a fact. According to the popular international stereotype, the English are seen as passionless, reserved, sexually naïve: however, this 'sexless' image is inaccurate. In fact, the English have the highest rate of teenage sexual activity in the industrialized world; besides, plenty of other nations are far more prudish and repressive about sex than the English, and where the English are regarded as dangerously permissive. But this stereotype which labels the English as un-sexy must have some basis in reality: sex is also a social activity, involving emotional engagement with other humans, contact and intimacy, which are not their strong points. The point is that sex automatically turn to humour when they have to deal with something that makes them feel uncomfortable and embarrassed: as a result, the simple mention of the word 'sex' triggers witty and humorous remarks and self deprecating jokes. This use of humour is, for the English, an automatic reflex. Flirting rules. The belief that the English are sexually inhibited, despite being quite accurate, doesn't mean that they are not interested in sex. It probably derives by the fact that the English are a bit awkward in the processes which come before the actual sexual act, that is, flirting, courting and so on. In fact, English people, especially males, are quite bad at flirting, but not because they don't practice. Quite the opposite: the English admit to flirting quite frequently, and their approach can be of two types: 'flirting with intent' and 'recreational flirting'. The SAS Test. The author has invented a test to locate the best 'flirting zones' – the social settings most favourable to successful flirtation. It's called SAS test because it's based on three factors: Sociability, Alcohol and Shared interest.
• Parties and pubs → parties and celebrations are obvious flirting zones, although people don't always have shared interests. In English pubs and bars you are allowed to strike up a conversation with an attractive stranger, but the lack of obvious common interest means that you will have to struggle to
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find something to talk about. It is more likely to flirt with someone after being introduced by friends rather than approaching a complete stranger.
• Night clubs → night clubs are a good place to flirt, as clubbers usually have a common interest in music; however, loud music restricts verbal communication and sometimes it's impossible to start a conversation with strangers because of the noise or the confusion. A rather new, unwritten rule among young English clubbers states that dancing and clubbing should be asexual activities, and the focus should be on group bonding. This belief is particularly popular among those who consider themselves non-mainstream and don't want to admit to going clubbing to meet possible partners because it would sound uncool.
• Workplaces → flirting is very common in most English offices, and it is said to be good for relieving workplace aniety and stress. At the moment, workplaces are still among the better flirting zones in England. They have a quite high degree of sociability and people ther obviously have common interest; alcohol is usually not available in offices but work colleagues tend to find opportunities to drink together. The coffee machine and the balcony used by smokers are the best places to flirt, but also conferences and other work-related excursions.
• Learning places → almost all educational places are good environments for flirting, mainly because they're full of young single people and also have all three elements of the SAS test.
• Sports, clubs and hobbies → these environments score highly on the Sociability and Shared interest factors. The level of flirtatious behaviour among members of sports teams or hobby-clubs tends to be inversely related to the standards achieved by participants and their enthusiasm for the activity.
• Spectator events → most sporting events and other spectator pastimes such as theatre and cinema are not particularly favourable to flirting because social interaction is limited or it require missing the action (with the exception of horseracing).
• Dating agencies and singles' events → these kind of situations pass the SAS test, but people who use these methods usually don't have much shared interest. Of course they have common interest in finding a mate, but this is too embarrassing to acknowledge, therefore it cannot be used as a conversation subject. The point is that the English need to pretend that they are gathering for some other reason than just gathering, and this need is even greater when the real reason in something as personal as mate-seeking. Many people are ashamed to admit to turning to dating agencies or organized singles' parties: they consider it an admission of failure.
• Cyberspace → cyberspace lacks the element of alcohol but on the other hand it allows people to strike up conversations with strangers without feeling embarrassed, and it also ensures shared interest in that users can join suitable sites and chat-rooms and choose possible partners with similar interests.
The courtesy-flirting rule. This unwritten rule prescribes a special form of 'safe' 'recreational' flirting that the author calls 'courtesy flirting'. It is mainly practised by men, who engage in mild flirtation with women as a form of politeness. Courtesy flirting Is common throughout Europe, but there are some differences: English men tend to use a playful teasing, continental Europeans gallant compliments. The uncertainty principle. When English males are genuinely interested in a female, they usually refuse to convey their interest in a straightforward manner. We have already said that the English male is not good at flirting and uncomfortable with the concept of dating. He normally prefers to show his interest with subtle hints and oblique manoeuvres, without exhibiting any emotion or saying anything sugary; most importantly, he never makes direct, unequivocal requests: that way he avoids direct rejection. This principle has its advantages for English females as well: they are easily embarrassed, and prefer to avoid precipitate declarations; this rule allows them to take some time before expressing any interest in someone and they can reject them without telling them out loud that they're not interested. In other words, English courtship is essentially an elaborate face-saving game, in which the primary object is to avoid offence and embarrassment: it's another example of 'negative politeness'. The rules of Banter. In most other cultures, flirtation and courtship involve exchanges of compliments: among the English, you are more likely to hear exchanges of mock-insults. This type of verbal interaction is called banter and it's the main flirting method of the English. It involves humour, irony, wordplay, argument, cynicism, teasing and indirectness. This approach allows people to communicate their feelings for each other without saying what they really mean, which would be embarrassing; in fact, it usually requires to say the opposite of what one means. Among older adults, flirtatious banter is less abusive that the teenager one, but the same basic rules of irony, teasing and mock-insults apply. English women are aware of it: they know that arguing is the English male's primary means of bonding with other males,and therefore banter is a form of intimacy with which he is comfortable. As a result, they know that when a man persistently teases them, it usually means he likes them.
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Male bonding: the girl-watching ritual. The girl-watching ritual is a pastime in which men exchange comments on the physical attributes of passing females. He English variant is conducted in code. This code, however, is not difficult to decipher: most of the phrases fall into one of two simple categories: approval and disapproval. Class rules. Like every other aspect of their lives, sex among the English is subject to class rules. In general, intermarriage between the social classes tends to be discouraged and doesn't occur very often. Having said that, the two main factors which affect social mobility in England are still education and marriage. These two factors are often connected, as universities are places where young people from different social classes are likely to meet as 'equals'. When marriages between different classes occur, the 'marrying up' rule requires that the partner who is elevating their status to adopt the tastes and and manners of the class they are marrying into. When working-class males marry up, there is a conflict between snobbery and sexism, between the marrying-up rule and traditional male dominance according to which women are expected to do more adapting and adjusting. On the other hand, women who 'marry up' usually make a bigger effort to fit in. The working class potency myth is a widely held belief that working class men are better lovers than middle- or upper-class men. This is just a myth, mainly based on the mistaken assumption that the rough approach to flirtation is somehow linked to greater sexual energy than the awkward manner, typical of the middle- and upper-class male. The truth is that both these approaches are symptoms of social dis-ease and sexual inhibition, and neither is a reliable indicator of virility or sexual competence. And so to bed...The author tackles now the subject of actual sex, but she points out that this was a problematic part of her research, as she couldn't use the participant-observation method in this context (she would have had to observe directly people's sex lives and have sex with a representative sample of natives). Therefore, her research has involved mainly discussion of the subject. Sex-talk rules. Discussing sexual matters with the English is not easy, because, although they're not particularly prudish, they find the subject embarrassing, so they either turn everything into a joke, or try to gain time with displacement speak and tea-making; the point is that in any case they won't give straight, serious, non-ironic answers. Another obstacle that the author came across during her research was the unwritten rule according to which English males assume that a female who talks about sex is somehow signalling her sexual availability. The Rule-free zone. Bed seems to be the only only place where the English lose almost all of their inhibitions, where they are temporarily cured of their social dis-ease. Most importantly, sex involves a genuine disinhibition, not a rule-governed disinhibition. Of course, everyone behaves differently between the sheets, but this depends on one's personality, age, experience and so on, not on rules. The factors which influence the sexual styles of the English are personal, and have nothing to do with the rules of Englishness. Summing up, bed is a rule-free zone. The textbook-sex imbalance. English males are less likely than foreigners, especially Americans, to read self- help books and manuals about sexual techniques. English females, on the other hand, get a lot of information from women's magazines. More recently, some men's magazine contain illustrated articles about sexual techniques, and many channels broadcast late-night educational sex programmes, so men are rapidly catching up. Page three and the Un-erotic Bosoms Rule. “Page three” is a tabloid newspaper feature consisting of a topless photograph of a female glamour model, usually printed on the paper's third page. According to statistics most people consider page three 'innocent', something they're used to and cannot take seriously; they're a bit of a joke, with the silly caption full of awful puns. The puns, word-plays and innuendos in page- three captions are a part of this tradition as much as the naked breasts, reminding the English that sex is a bit of a joke, not to be taken too seriously. Page three is just too daft, too cartoonish and ridiculous to be sexy. Sex Rules and Englishness. The characteristics revealed in this chapter are mostly the 'usual suspects': humour, social dis-ease, hypocrisy, fair play, class-consciousness, courtesy, modesty. This is not just a list of qualities: these features must be understood as a system of some sort. Most of the rules of this chapter are products of the combination of at least two 'defining characteristics'. The knee-jerk humour rule is an example of the use of humour to alleviate the symptoms of the social dis-ease; the choice of flirting zones involves a combination of social dis-ease, hypocrisy and anti-earnestness. The courtesy flirting rule combines hypocrisy with courtesy; the uncertainty principle is a result of social dis-ease + courtesy + fair play. The rules of banter are a product of social dis-ease + humour; the marrying up rule combines class consciousness and hypocrisy. Sex talk rules: social dis-ease + humour. The 'pun-ography' of page three is an example of the English use of humour to neutralize potential embarrassment or offence.
RITES OF PASSAGE The default-religion rule. According to the author, the English are the least religious people on Earth. Most of them are not christened nowadays, only half get married in church, but almost all of them have a Christian
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