Friday, 3 January 2014

The Reading Nook: Watching the English by Kate Fox

Only 1 book this month.  To be fair it was 400 pages long, and I am currently learning a script as well, plus Christmas in the mix.  

Oh alright, I just haven't read as much as I wanted to and will try and do better next month!

There is something almost perverse about looking at yourself culturally through an anthropologist eyes, seeing that your little quirks and foibles aren't actually as unique to yourself as you had originally thought, or hoped, but are rather more symptomatic of your cultural upbringing and identity and yet this is exactly what I love about Kate Fox's humorous and insouciant examination of the hidden rules of English behaviour.
Fox's book looks at the English (and yes it is the English, she explains very early on that to examine the Welsh, Irish, Northern Irish and Scottish would simply be too big an undertaking) in terms of the unsaid laws that govern our behaviour and looks at what actually forms our national character, from the laws of weather-speak and the reflex-apology to class indicators and class anxiety and that most mysterious of rules in the strangest of environments, the law of queuing at a pub bar.  She tests what happens if she bumps into someone in a busy train station and doesn't apologise or cuts the queue at a bakery.   I laughed out loud (oh god I do that) and I cringed inside (oh god I do that) at every chapter which is conveniently broken down into specific sections (tea, clothing, boasting, weather and so on).  It is particularly entertaining reading about how the poor foreigners cope who attempt to understand some of our most baffling customs and mannerisms and our very own social dis-ease.  It is an insider joke - the way we behave makes perfect sense to us but perplexes anyone not raised in England. 

There were sections I got fed up with - she hammers some points home and the constant revisiting of some rules of behaviour became trying after a while, as were the chapter summaries which had all the grace of an A-Level English essay in places.  There is also some academic terminology that I just skipped over as, for me, it added little to the book.  I must admit as well that I did not agree with some of her observations and I do wonder if they are regional rather than national.

I would imagine that this book has a marmite effect on people.  Read it with a pinch of salt and a willingness to laugh at yourself, your friends, your family and everyone you have every met who is English or aspires to Englishness and you will enjoy it.  If you also want to understand the English a little better then this book will help you realise what is going on the next time an English person shakes your hand and discusses the weather with you rather than tell you their name or suddenly mid-game switches their allegiance to the underdog.

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