20 September 2004

Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox

Non-fiction. Hardcover from Hodder & Stoughton. Published 2004. Purchased at Methven's books, Windsor, UK.

Readers of my other blog may think the title of this book sounds familiar. They may even recall how proud I was of myself for having found a copy of this book at the library rather than having forked out the money for it. What can I say? I now own a copy of this very intriguing book. I think I even understand a bit more about English behaviour than I did previously. Well, at least I know more about what compels them to act the way they do. To sum it up would be hard in this limited format, but, according to Kate Fox, most of the way the English behave has to do with social dis-ease and class consciousness. I was quite struck with how often class was mentioned. Did you know that you can tell what social class someone belongs to here by how they plant their garden, what drink they order at the pub, how they pile peas on their fork and whether they call the couch a sofa or a settee?

Publisher's summary:
In Watching the English anthropologist Kate Fox takes a revealing look at the quirks, habits and foibles of the English people. She puts the English national character under her anthropological microscope, and finds a strange and fascinating culture, governed by complex sets of unspoken rules and byzantine codes of behaviour. Her minute observation of the way we talk, dress, eat, drink, work, play, shop, drive, flirt, fight, queue - and moan about it all - exposes the hidden rules that we all unconsciously obey.

The rules of weather-speak. The Importance of Not Being Earnest rule. The ironic-gnome rule. The reflex apology rule. The paranoid-pantomime rule. Class indicators and class anxiety tests. The money-talk taboo. Humour rules. Pub etiquette. Table manners. The rules of bogside reading. The dangers of excessive moderation. The eccentric-sheep rule. The English 'social dis-ease'.

Through a mixture of anthropological analysis and her own unorthodox experiments (using herself as a reluctant guinea-pig), Kate Fox discovers what these unwritten behaviour codes tell us about Englishness.

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