Wednesday, 8 October 2014


I'm not sure that the root cause is really xenophobia, but we English have for many, many years seen ourselves as reserved and slow to anger.  And definitely rather superior to "foreigners".  We have tended to stereotype other nationalities in a patronising manner.  The Scots, for example, are tight-fisted, the French smarmy, the Germans bombastic, the Spanish greasy, the Italians cowardly, the Greeks duplicitous, the Japanese inscrutable, the Americans boastful, the Australians brash, the New Zealanders . . .  Remind me, just where is New Zealand?

Perhaps there is, or once was, a grain of truth in all that but we all know that there is an immense range of personalities in any nationality.  All the same, Kate Fox, a social anthropologist, has twice published a book about watching the English in which she attempts to define the English character.  Yes, I did write "twice published".  Her book, entitled Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour, was first published in 2005 and a new edition has just - or is just about to - hit the shelves.

Class is just one of the subjects covered by ms Fox.  To quote from one newspaper review: Here’s a good class-test: when talking to an English person, deliberately say something too ­quietly for them to hear you ­properly. A lower-middle or middle-middle person will say, ‘Pardon?’  An upper-middle will say ‘Sorry?’ (or perhaps ‘Sorry - what?’ or ‘What - sorry?’). But an upper-class and a working-class person will both say, ‘What?’ (The working-class person may drop the t - ‘Wha’?’ - but this will be the only difference.)

But to sum up the English in one word, just say "typical".  She claims the word is “quintessentially English”, and can be used in the event of all disasters ranging from “burnt toast to the outbreak of the Third World War”.
“But you have to be able to say it in a way that sounds simultaneously peeved, but also kind of stoically resigned, and at the same time smugly omniscient - almost pleased that your predictions have been fulfilled,” she said.  “Everything may have gone completely pear-shaped, but you weren’t taken unawares.”

So now we know.

By the way, would you qualify to be a British (not just English) citizen?  If you fancy your chances, just try one of the sample tests that applicants have to pass.  Here's the link:  The UK Test.

I'm not going to admit how many questions I got wrong.


Mike @ A Bit About Britain said...

Great post. I must admit I sometimes wonder if the quintessential Englishman or woman ever existed, except in black and white moves starring the likes of Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard etc - and even then it was a fiction which missed out most of the population. See here for a bit about this
We English are also supposed to be slightly eccentric. And in the Middle ages, the English had a well-deserved reputation for violence and aggression. The trouble might be, as Jeremy Paxman once suggested, that unlike the Scots, Welsh and Irish, us English have a bit of an identity crisis... I'm just off to put a hanky on my head, bells on my knees and wave a cudgel about.

Sarah said...

I think the rudest man I ever met was a very upper class 'gent' and a prominent member of the local council who spoke with SO many plums in his mouth it was almost impossible to understand him. It didn't really matter though as any time I spoke to him I always got the same response 'what, what, what!!!' - so clearly he had a hearing problem too!

By the way - I failed the test ...

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

"Typical" could easily replace :I told you so" in the American vernacular.

I easily failed the first test by getting only 14 correct answers.
So I chose not to torture myself any further.

Buck said...

You may... or may not... be surprised:

Total Score: 18/24 (75%)
You have PASSED the Test

Where do I apply for my honorary citizenship? ;-)

Brighton Pensioner said...

I got 100% - on my third attempt!