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British Expat Newsletter:
28 May 2008

Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.

In this issue

  • This week: Etiquette
  • Virtual Snacks
  • Bizarre Searches
  • Quotation and joke

This week

One of the biggest challenges that expats face is learning how the norms of polite behaviour they’ve grown up with at “home” differ from those in the country they’re now living in.

This is no great surprise. The rules of etiquette are supposedly there to ensure that social interaction goes smoothly without making anyone feel uncomfortable. In practice, though, the effect can be the precise opposite. Nancy Mitford’s famous 1954 essay, “The English Aristocracy”, on English vocabulary as used by the upper class (“U”; examples are “scent”, “graveyard”, “jam”, “napkin” and “sofa”) and the middle class (“non-U”; “perfume”, “cemetery”, “preserve”, “serviette”, “settee/couch”) was never intended to be taken entirely seriously – but it set off a passionate debate about class consciousness in Britain. And it’s often seemed as if the rules of etiquette are kept in place only for as long as it takes for the middle class to learn them – then they’re changed…

As you might expect, it’s at mealtimes that etiquette reaches its most elaborate. After all, it’s when people are brought most closely together (apart from during sex) and when their bodily functions are most evident to each other (ditto), so everyone’s expected to keep things as pleasant as possible. All very well, when it’s a matter of avoiding things like belching loudly, opening your mouth while chewing, leaning across people to reach the salt and so on. But when it comes down to arcane rules like discarding cutlery to eat asparagus spears with your fingers, tipping the soup bowl away from you to reach the last spoonful, or breaking bits of bread off your roll and buttering them rather than cutting it in half and spreading each half, then it starts to sound more like a set of secret Masonic rituals than a means of oiling the wheels of society.

Of course, attitudes change over time, and the elaborate rules of how to dress for any given day – or even time of day – have generally been abandoned even by those people wealthy enough to maintain the staff needed to help them observe them. “Morning dress”, once the norm for daytime wear by men in polite society, is now seen only at weddings and other formal occasions. (Wedding etiquette is such a big subject that it could have a whole newsletter to itself!) And to a certain extent eating out is less formal than it used to be – it’s a bit difficult to get worked up about what cutlery to use when you’re eating in KFC or Pizza Hut.

On the other hand, as codes of etiquette from yesteryear drop out of use, so others have sprung up around whole new areas of everyday life, such as how to behave at the cashpoint or ATM. The British Bankers’ Association have even gone to the extent of producing a guide to ATM etiquette. It all sounds pretty self-evident, such as queueing to use the machine, giving the person at the machine enough space to use it in private, leaving non-urgent transactions for later if there are other people waiting, and so on.

Nevertheless, not everyone’s willing to play the game. Not so long ago a group of people waiting to use two cashpoints in a British city spontaneously formed a single queue for both machines. All went swimmingly, until a young woman swanned up out of nowhere, cast a contemptuous glance at the single queue, and barged straight up to the first machine that became free. Needless to say, the queue had a few sharp words for her; needless to say, she dismissed them all as “losers”.

And it’s precisely when people decide not to play the game that society breaks down. In some places, the woman might have got a good kicking…

Do you have anything to say about this topic? Or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not comment and tell us?

Virtual Snacks

Just a few suggestions if you have a little time to spare:

If you want to know how not to behave in polite society, then the unofficial Borat homepage at webgeordie.co.uk is a great place to start!

ukstudentlife.com has an interesting guide on British etiquette and cultural norms for foreign students – though some of the advice is a bit arcane; cream teas, anyone?

Bizarre Searches

Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:

  • guitars with indian flag
  • shooting drunk drivers on the spot
  • how not to worry about housework
  • emily erotic film
  • how to get into your man mind
  • strip surprise
  • photos of women pleasing men s penises
  • tips for good wife funny
  • slow blokes to morocco
  • mustard clear sinus

Till next time…
Happy surfing!

Kay & Dave
Editor & Deputy Editor
British Expat Magazine

Quotation

“Children are natural mimics who act like their parents despite every effort to teach them good manners.”

– Anon.

Joke

Little Johnny’s mother is working in the kitchen, listening to little Johnny playing with his new electric train in the living room. She hears the train stop and her son saying, “All you bastard passengers, shift your arses and bugger off now, ‘cos this is the last stop! And all you bastards waiting on the platform, you’ve got thirty seconds to get your arses onto the train, then we’re leaving.”

Horrified, Mum goes in and scolds little Johnny, “We don’t use that kind of language in this house! Go to your room and stay there for two hours. When you come out, you may play with your train, but I want you to use nice language.”

Two hours later, little Johnny’s allowed out of the bedroom and carries on playing with his train. Soon the train stops and Mum hears little Johnny say, “All customers who are leaving the train, please remember to take all of your belongings with you. Thank you for travelling with us today; we hope you had a pleasant journey with us.

“For those of you just boarding, we ask you to stow your luggage in the racks at the end of each carriage and above your seats. Please note that smoking is prohibited throughout the train. We hope you will have a pleasant and relaxing journey with us today.”

Mum is just beginning to smile contentedly to herself, when little Johnny adds, “For those of you who are pissed off about the TWO HOUR delay, please see the fat cow in the kitchen.”

PG Author: Kay McMahon

Kay has been an expat for nearly 30 years. She set up the British Expat website back in early 2000, whilst living in London and missing the expat life. These days she spends much of her time lugging computers and cameras around the world. (Dave gets to deal with all the really heavy stuff.)

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