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
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.