I love reading books about England and the English and this one is a particular favourite of mine.
English anthropologist Kate Fox has studied the unwritten codes and rules her fellow countrymen (and -women) live by. In 14 chapters, divided into two parts (“Conversation Codes” and “Behaviour Codes”) Kate Fox talks about speech patterns, people’s behaviour at home, at work or with friends, and includes a section about specific class characteristics in each chapter.
Kate Fox chronicles her findings in a very witty and amusing manner. I loved the parts where the author tells of her endeavours to act against her own English nature, e.g. by trying to commit queue-jumping, deliberately bumping into other people waiting on platforms or very bluntly asking homeowners what they paid for their house.
The author’s way of telling her readers about her findings seems more like a friendly chat among friends rather than a scientific lecture. She doesn’t take herself and her countrymen too seriously and uses self-deprecating humour in those situations where she talks about things she herself doesn’t feel comfortable with (“How very English of me…”). I found this way of handling the subject very refreshing and entertaining, especially compared to the book ‘The English’ by Jeremy Paxman, which I’d started to read shortly after finishing Fox’s book but couldn’t bring myself to finish on account of it being so terribly dry and boring.
I highly recommend ‘Watching the English’ to everyone interested in English society and its rules and codes. The mixture of background info, facts and personal experiences is a gem for everyone wanting to increase their understanding of how English people, English minds ‘work’. Judging by my own experiences with English people I can certainly say that Kate Fox has painted a very realistic picture of her country’s society, even though, as with all things, her findings shouldn’t be over-generalised. We are all individuals, after all. Even the English. 😉
If you’re interested in buying a copy of the book, just click on the cover image up there to go to The Book Depository.