Watching The English by Kate Fox

Watching The English: The hidden rules of English behaviour

C bought this book a while ago, I know he enjoyed it a lot. I finally got around to reading it, and while I technically haven’t finished it yet (I have 2 pages left) I’ve been wanting to write a review on it from about half way through the book.

The author Kate Fox, is a social anthropologist. Those people who like to go out to small remote villages in the middle of nowhere and study the behaviour of people. Except in Kate’s own words she much prefers to do her work somewhere where there are flushing toilets, and so one of her topics of study has been the English.

I know C enjoyed the book a lot, and for him as a Kiwi I’m guessing it was quite an insight into the oddities of English behaviour (Although as NZ was one of our Colonies, they probably aren’t too different in some ways). As an English person reading it, my gosh it felt weird reading something that picked apart things that I did without thinking about it and show that it is actually a VERY English thing to do.

Kate covers topics such as Humour, Work, Play, Travel and Dress code (she also explains our queuing phenomena).  She goes into depth on each of these, breaking them down into rules, showing that in some situations this is how we act, and in others then then a different type of behaviour is more apt.  I must confess that it took a while to get to grips with these ‘rules’, I come from a hard science backgrounds (Physics, Astrophysics) and I found some of these rules felt very hand wavy and made up to me, even if what the rule was about was of our may typical English mannerisms.  I had to take a step back and tell myself that it wasn’t that we are consciously following a set of pre-defined rules of English Behaviour, it’s just that Kate is creating a rule to define English behaviour.

It’s all very interesting though, she shows that the core thing with being English is a Social Dis-Ease, that we use humour a lot to cope with anything and everything, we have a very Eeoyreish outlook on life, and fair play and moderation are very important. She also shows how the English need rules in order to cope socially, which is why we are for example very bad with greetings, we have no real rules for the situation.

This book is written for anyone to read, and what really helps draw you in is the humour that is prevalent throughout the book. I can appreciate a humorous bit in a book, but it takes a lot for me to almost laugh out loud, and I did that several times reading this book. The writing style is witty and refreshing, which I think is what got me through the end bit of the book. By the end, there did start to feel like there was a bit of a repeat of things she’s already said. I can forgive her for this though, because I know that when you have to write things like science papers/thesis etc, its all about repetition. You say what your going to say in the intro, you say it in the main part, and then you say it again in the conclusion.

All in all this is a great book, a real insight to English behaviour, and I’m currently finding myself looking out for things and noting whether the behaviour is English or not.  I wonder how long it will last!



Filed under Books, Review

2 responses to “Watching The English by Kate Fox

  1. Sounds great! I’ll check my library 🙂

  2. Motodraconis

    I have a copy of that book – I’ve lent it out a few times as I find it hilarious and very apt.
    I particularly appreciated it having a French mum, as I’ve seen her struggling because she wasn’t brought up with “the rules.” I haven’t managed to persuade her to read it though!

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