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An amusing and acute book about the English
am 21. Februar 2007
I started this book 3 days after returning from my first trip to America. Whilst in America I became aware of the huge cultural difference between the friendly people of the USA and traditional Brits amongst whom I've lived almost my whole life - I found much of American behaviour inexplicable and rather rude and personal towards someone they didn't know. I breathed a sigh of relief when returning to England, back amongst normal people who aren't continually nosy and telling you what they think about politics, religion and anything else the whole time.
I wish I'd read this book before I went. Not that I wouldn't have found a lot of American behaviour strange after reading it (I would still have done) but I would have been more aware of my cultural disabilities and how weird I must seem to them.
That's the power of this book - you can dip into almost any page, read a paragraph and say "that's me!" Kate Fox has studied the English for 10 years with remarkable acuity and she is able to identify behaviours that, to us, are entirely normal but are actually just part of our collective odd English behaviour patterns. When a man I had just been introduced to in America said "So, tell me all about yourself" I was left gaping at him in horror; `Watching The English' describes how people in the UK never share personal information unless they know someone particularly well - and in fact most people don't even introduce themselves to start with - my horror was expected and justified as I had never before been called upon to `blow my own trumpet' and it is completely counter to British reserve and our self-effacing nature. Her comments on ignoring other passengers on train journeys, on our national obsession with pets, on queuing, mobile phone use, class distinctions, dislike of fuss and bother and so many other areas rang completely true.
What I particularly liked about the book (and that I am English would of course confirm this) was that she wrote with a lot of humour and throw-away one-liners, she wasn't hugely pro-English or anti-English, she wasn't anti-American (despite them being so ODD!) and was able to illustrate her comments through the vast amount of research that she has done, including interviewing English people and foreigners and carrying out experiments herself (such as bumping into people in the street and seeing if they say `sorry' - the English generally do).
It's a surprisingly long book and not something you'd sit and read in one go. In fact I think it works best as something you dip into and that's how I've read it over a few days - opening it at random, reading a few pages, then flicking on. It's all subdivided into different headings and subheadings and doesn't really need to be read linearly to be understood. I found myself reading out vast tranches of it to anyone in earshot as it was so amusing and accurate. I read the introduction last of all, having read many comments by Amazon reviews that it was rather hard going - I found the introduction fine, but perhaps that was because by then I had enjoyed the book and found that I very much appreciated the author, her self-deprecating humour and her willingness to share her foibles and those of her family.
This book would make an ideal present for any English people out there who want to laugh at themselves (that's all of us), for anyone about to travel to a different culture (to avoid misunderstandings through others' behaviour) and particularly for those living in other countries who want to visit us without putting their foot in it at every conceivable opportunity.