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Socialising with the Elusive English II

Every culture comes with its own habits and differences and the English have a lot of ‘hidden’ social etiquette. As you might have already read in my first bog on Socialising with the English politeness and trying not to offend drives a lot of the English behaviour. In this blog you will read more about social etiquette which might be handy when socialising with the Elusive English.

The English, as mentioned in the previous blog are not always open; they often find it difficult to confront people who have offended them. If you think that you have, you can usually see it in their face and a simple I’m sorry, have I offended you will defuse the situation. The English are also good at giving hints if you listen carefully or watch the body language. Being a foreigner, you will be given allowance to ask things and you can always pretend that you did not understand the situation.

Despite the changes in English society, they are still very status conscious. This manifests itself most obviously in cars and houses as well as education and jobs. Being a foreigner gives great advantage in that you are difficult to pigeon-hole. But beware; in a job interview not being able to place someone may lead to a disadvantage. It is always worth adding clarity such as the best engineering university in Germany or stating that a qualification is the equivalent of a Masters in the UK for example.

Darling and love
Women should not be shocked when being called ‘love’ or ‘darling’ when they are at the checkout in a shop or supermarket. You won’t be asked for a date but it just an expression of friendliness for either a man or a woman.

I am sorry
The English are well known for their apologetic attitude. If someone else walks into them the English tend to say sorry; almost like an automatic response. The English themselves even make fun about it by joking that ‘they would even say sorry to the wall they walk into!’

As already noted, this is a national pastime. However, attitudes have changed about drunkenness at work or lunchtime. Nowadays it is not acceptable to be drunk at lunchtime and most social drinking goes on after work. The attitudes of the US in respect of being drunk at work have become the norm in the UK driven by safety issues.

Family events
The English do not hold such store over birthdays with their family as a general rule; they are far more likely to go out for drinks or dinner with friends and provide cakes at work. The one time when the extended family meeting is important is Christmas lunch. Other events such as Easter, New Year and general holidays are either spent with friends or with partner and children.

Presents and thank you cards
When you attend a birthday party always make sure you leave your present well wrapped with a card on it. The English don’t open birthday presents in front of you; they find that impolite and rude. You will receive a thank you card afterwards. Be prepared when you celebrate your birthday and make sure you have your drawer stacked with thank you cards in advance.

Generally the English are very friendly and will always help a foreigner with directions or advice. However, they tend to keep themselves to themselves so you often have to ask for advice. Stating where you come from or that you are new to the city will also elicit a more helpful response.

Queuing is a national sport
The English take their queuing very seriously; there is hardly any crime worse than not taking your correct place in the queue. If you do barge to the front or ignore the queue you are likely to be stared at or even reprimanded. If in doubt, ask who is at the back of the queue. Even if you are at the front of the queue in the pub, getting the barman’s attention is another English skill. This requires eye contact with the barman and often the flourishing of a bank note. Do not be afraid to tell the barman that it is your turn as in busy bars they sometimes lose track of who is next.

Make sure when you are travelling on a bus, tube or train you have a mobile, book or newspaper with you to keep you entertained. Even in the rush hour when we are travelling as sardines we still make sure we find a tiny little space to glimpse through a newspaper or text a message. The English do anything to avoid looking up; they might catch someone’s eye!

If you would like to read in more detail about the hidden rules of English behaviour I strongly recommend reading ‘Watching the English’ by Kate Fox.

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