Thursday, 15 November 2012

Guiding the way 3

The third book that has helped our family, particularly me, with the transition from four years in China to England came to us unexpectedly. We arrived home from an outing at the same time a parcel was being delivered. My family asked what I had ordered and wouldn't believe me when I said I wasn't expecting anything. I unwrapped my parcel and discovered a note from my English friend "Hope this keeps you amused and gives you an idea of what makes us Poms so special xx" with the book, 'Watching the English, the Hidden Rules of English Behaviour' by Kate Fox.

The English culture is quite different to the Australian culture and despite my own English heritage I was finding it hard to integrate. You can take the girl out of Australia but you can't take Australia out of the girl. On reading my new 'bible' I realised I just didn't know the rules of behaviour here. Kate Fox, Social Anthropologist, explains and enlightens 'The Rules' in a witty, funny and enjoyable read. As I devoured each chapter, light bulbs went off in my mind, behaviours which appeared odd at the time suddenly made sense. All aspects of 'Englishness' are covered, from the weather, queuing, class rules, rules of the road and rules of the home.

The Weather

I often had new neighbours 'happen' to walk by or come out when I was getting in or out of our car. On one occasion, my lovely neighbour stopped and asked how we were settling in. I told her that we were very happy that the girls had secured a place each in our preferred school. She told me that another neighbour has children about the same age who go to the same school, so I said I may knock on her door, introduce myself and ask for any advise on the school uniforms and transport. I was politely told that it was not appropriate to just knock on someone's door. How relieved was I to later read that "a person in his or her front garden is socially available and neighbours who would never dream of knocking on your front door may stop for a chat. Some people will wait patiently for days or weeks, waiting to spot their neighbour, and discuss an issue, rather than commit the intrusion of actually ringing the doorbell" Phew, glad I avoided that Faux pas... and it explained why I was often stopped in my neighbours are far too polite to knock!

Social Rules

I inadvertently passed the 'Nightmare' rule which states that "when talking about your house-move, it must always be described as traumatic, fraught with difficulty and disruption, even if in fact the process was completed smoothly and without noticeable stress" This of course was because our move was indeed a nightmare, moving country, visa dramas, lots of damage during shipping and moving our possessions into a house 1/3 the size of the previous house.

Part of the traumatic, disruptive move

Love how the English embrace the queue. If two people walk into a shop, they will form a queue without even thinking. In China, the idea of a queue is mostly a fairytale, if a queue is formed and you leave small gap in between yourself and the person in front, someone will fill that space and not budge. It is survival of the fittest and I learnt to elbow my in like the locals. It is refreshing to be in the midst of instinctive queuers, takes the stress out of shopping for everything from groceries to train tickets.

Chaotic Chinese 'Queue'

I learnt to elbow my way to the front and get a shot!

The "Class Rules" are explained and how people are judged by the words they say, the clothes they wear and the type of pet they have. Luckily, so my Kiwi husband says, Kiwis and Aussies are exempt from the Class structure... I think we come under "The Eccentricity Clause". I just have to remember to call a 'serviette' a 'napkin' and the 'toilet' a 'loo'...or maybe not!

This insightful book has helped me understand the ways of the English, the manners that have evolved from living on a crowded island and the "Rules of Englishness" that are sometimes obvious but more often very subtle. A must read for any newcomer to these shores, my copy is already well thumbed.


  1. I think you must have been away from Perth for too long Rob. Perth is chockers with expats and all these rules apply here. Perth is really just Hampshire with heat these days. I think i would enjoy that book none the less, i love a good chuckle about the ways of 'old blighty'. x

  2. It's a great book...very witty, the section on how to behave on public transport is a hoot! People ask how long I'm visiting, when I reply that I've moved here... they ask 'why would you do THAT?'... and they all have a 'rellie' or two in Aus! Will get to Tring soon x

  3. Great post Rob! Wish we'd had a version of that book for China.....

    1. Thanks...Think I know just the person to write that book for China now!!!