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Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour
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Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour

3.89  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,757 Ratings  ·  560 Reviews
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. The rules of weather-speak. The ironic-gnome ru ...more
Paperback, 424 pages
Published April 11th 2005 by Hodder And Stoughton (first published 2004)
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Ekaterina Gladyshenko It is absolutely hilarious and is full of ludicrous situations for the English

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Dec 02, 2008 Guy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: socsci, travel
If only there were a book like this for every country and people! It has been a long time since I have laughed as much while reading a book... and I'm not sure that I have ever read so many excerpts of a book out loud to my wife. If you have ever wondered why the English behave the way they do, then run (do not walk) to buy this book.

Kate Fox is an anthropologist after my own heart (when I went on an expedition, it was through the Alps rather than the Himalayas) -- uninterested in the "macho" o
May 20, 2015 Caroline rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Caroline by: Paul Cheney
Shelves: psychology
I think this would be an excellent book for any foreigners coming to live or work in England, (even Americans, who might think we share a similar culture).

The author’s introduction sets the stage well, describing her aims and methodology, and her final chapter is a thorough synopsis of the ideas she expands upon in the book. I think one definitely needs to read the whole thing though. It offers the reader a chance to really wallow in our ways of living, and ways of presenting ourselves to the w
Anthropology practised on the English. The author claims that this was to just avoid the discomfort involved in studying peoples in obscure and isolated parts of the world - but she also tells us that humour is the default mode of the English and that modesty is one of our values. Having put us at our easy with a friendly joke and a humility topos she is able to smuggle her research past the reader and show us just how alien the English are. Which is a nice way of demonstrating the value of her ...more
May 03, 2014 Hannah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very entertaining book!

Now I understand why I'm such an anglophile; I'm a quirky English soul stuck in an American body! If I ever get across the pond, I think I'll fit in better then not.

Would love to read a similar book on other nationalities:
Dissecting the Danish?
Judging the Japanese?
Analysing the Australians?
Surveying the Swedish?


Jun 04, 2007 Trin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, english-lit
A really amusing anthropological look at the English by an Englishwoman. Fox’s sense of humor is what really makes this book; it’s a bit long and repetitive at parts—skewing too much toward being an academic text when what I want (need) it to be is a work of popular science—but Fox’s own innate “Oh, come off it!” reaction always pulls through in the end. Somewhat frightening: how much of Fox’s “grammar of Englishness” I find applicable to myself—social awkwardness, humor, cynicism, belief in fai ...more
Jul 14, 2012 Terry rated it it was ok
I'm struggling to finish this book. It could be a brilliant book but it is just simply boring. The book methodically attempts to analyse the character of the English and observe rules of social interaction etc. It is profoundly middle-class London-centric, unnecessarily wordy, attempting to be partly research and partly humourous. It's all been done before. It misses out great swathes of the population who don't talk about the weather or say "pleased to meet you", namely most people under 40. Th ...more
Kelly V
Feb 07, 2009 Kelly V rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who have spent time in England and want an explanation for peculiarities of English society
I really loved this book. First of all, it's hilarious--not because she's writing humor, but simply because it turns out that it is surprising and amusing to have basic human behaviors picked apart. Second, she is very accurate and the information could actually be useful in future interactions with English people. I feel that Fox is very skilled as an anthropologist to have been able to identify these traits in any culture, much less in her own culture. But she still keeps the book's style very ...more
Aug 07, 2009 Jasmine rated it it was amazing
Shelves: british
I read this book because an english person came into the store and bought it, and I figured, I wouldn't buy a book like this on america so it must be good. Now it certainly didn't hurt that John is also English and that Barsby yelled at me for commenting that he sounds like Ringo star (I hold fast he does, this is not a british thing on the basis that I do not think any other people sound particularly like Ringo star,only Barsby). Moving on, basically I read this book and I was vindicated, the b ...more
Dec 07, 2012 Simon rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This started well enough, with some amusing and perceptive points about how the English greet each other (or rather, don't) and converse. But it soon falls into the typical trap for this kind of book, and one which Fox herself warns against in her own introduction: generalisations. Time after time she'd assert that English people do X, to which I'd reply in my head "Well, no, I don't".
She's also obsessed with class. She claims that all the English are, but she seems to think about it an awful lo
I feel I have something of a love-hate relationship with this book. It's clever, insightful and funny, and yet I couldn't help feeling frustrated the further into the book I got. At one point, Kate Fox mentions that she's never criticised for being overly negative, only for being deemed to be too complimentary to the English. However, in an obvious attempt to avoid being `too complimentary', it seems she's gone too far in the other direction. I feel she's excessively critical of the English, ref ...more
Adina R
Jun 27, 2016 Adina R rated it liked it
Read it around 10 years ago after my first visit to UK. Maybe I should read it again and try to find an explanation for what happened last week.
Feb 04, 2012 Rebecca rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
At its worst, anthropology can be extremely condescending, analyzing other cultures as if they were animals. But at its best, the discipline explains the very meaning of what it is to be human and live in human society. Fox neatly sidesteps the first to embrace the second by turning her trained gaze on her own culture.

And so we get an examination of why one doesn't speak to fellow commuters, the English substitution of home pride for social skills, the liminality of the pub, and pea-eating's rol
Josh Friedlander
I'm South African, meaning warmer than the English and nicer than the Australians, or so I always thought. Reducing whole nations to a few characteristics is a dangerous game, but never feels more right than when done by Kate Fox, an anthropologist whose keen intellect shines through this book, despite her commendable repudiation of academic jargon and pretension. With typically English humour and modesty (or so her book would have it) she explains her project, an anthropological survey of domes ...more
Nov 20, 2012 Sarah rated it really liked it
I found this fascinating. Full disclaimer -- though I think I pretty much read the whole thing, I absolutely did not read it in the order that it is written, but rather in chunks over a few days. As someone who grew up raised in Canada by English parents, with regular-ish trips to the UK to visit family, I found this indispensable. It explained and put words to so much that I have observed and felt over my lifetime. It also helped me to understand the madness that is the English class system muc ...more
Jan 31, 2009 Jafar rated it really liked it
I probably should have read this book sooner. I learned a lot about the Englishness from this book that I hadn’t noticed personally – but that just could be because of my lack of real immersion in the English culture. If you work for a high-tech company and live in London, you won’t necessarily see many English people around . In spite of my limited interaction with the English, this book should still be very useful to me. Next time that an English coworker of mine takes off a week from work to ...more
May 24, 2015 Sunny rated it it was amazing
I thought this was excellent. The book is about the English and some of the foibles you may have taken for granted. It really helps to understand why you may act in a certain way in certain situations and say things in a certain way. It explains why the English tend to be slightly reserved and lots of other peculiarities. It’s a must read for anyone new to the country who will be working here or living here for a certain period of time. Some of the areas it talks about are: conversation codes, c ...more
Emma Woolley
Jul 01, 2011 Emma Woolley rated it did not like it
I didn't enjoy this at all. There are some genuinely interesting insights (such as the invisible queueing at the pub), but they are lost in Kate Fox's self indulgent style. She constantly moans that the social sciences aren't respected, but she hasn't done much for the cause - this is presented as an academic tome, but reads like anything but. I struggled to finish it.
Jan 15, 2013 Lizzy rated it it was amazing
I've read this book first of all as an anthropologist and a follower of New Ethnography paradigm. But the hidden reason for reading this book was that I really love english people and I wanted an insider opinion of their culture and manners. Fox's attempt to free anthropology form Academia is a successful enterprise of humor and professional behavior and skills, well managed in the midst of collateral damages due to her position of 'native' as well as 'outsider ethnographer'.
I really enjoyed th
Florin Pitea
Jun 18, 2015 Florin Pitea rated it it was amazing
I loved every page of this book and I whole-heartedly recommend it. It is thoroughly documented, well written, nicely divided into sections and subsections, witty, clear and to the point. It does a wonderful job of covering its object of study thoroughly, informing readers and keeping them entertained at the same time. Do yourselves a favour, buy it and read it.
Mar 05, 2016 Geraldine rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
This was obviously a good idea formulated in a pub. I will go so far as to say it would have made a fascinating 'long read' magazine feature. Or perhaps a *short* book.

But it went on too long and the joke wore thin, and then ran out of steam.

In fairness, she did caveat several of her observations, and did remark at length on class differences - too much length.

Sure I recognised the characteristics she described. But there were so many broad brushed generalities that didn't really stand up. Or a
What have I learned? England runs on alcohol. When preformed by men all forms of social behaviour, like speech and clothing, are gay. Being middle class, and worse yet middle-middle class, is inescapably pathetic in every respect. People really do hang out in pubs unironically and 'upper class poor' isn't an oxymoron. Who knew?

At the same time, exotic as all this is, i'm not entirely convinced there is such a thing as a national character at all now. I'm from a country who's shorthand attribute
Jenny Sparrow
Jul 26, 2011 Jenny Sparrow rated it really liked it
Будучи страстной поклонницей Англии и всего английского, я просто не могла пройти мимо книги Кейт Фокс "Наблюдая за англичанами. Скрытые правила поведения". Долго вылавливала ее в интернете и наконец купила! (кстати, это была первая книга, купленная мною через интернет-магазин). Переплатила наверняка, ну да не жалею ни капли!

Кейт Фокс - потомственный антрополог, взявшая на себя трудную задачу - определить скрытые правила поведения и особенности национального характера англичан, так называемую "г
I was immediately charmed by Watching the English, wherein anthropologist Kate Fox turns an academic eye to why the English talk about the weather obsessively; use irony so rampantly; and otherwise indulge in other quirks that tend to baffle outsiders. The resulting book is very funny and, for the most part, quite a revelatory look at the unexamined social ‘rules’ that govern the English.

I saw a meme circulating on tumblr recently. It was entitled ‘How to have a lovely day’ and it included advic
Candy Wood
Enjoyable analysis of what Fox calls “the hidden rules of English behaviour.” As an American spending time in England, I’ve observed many of the kinds of behavior she describes. She warns at the end that “Englishness can be rather contagious,” and I can testify to that as well, myself saying “Sorry” to someone who has just bashed into me with an oversized backpack on the Tube (“Englishness means always having to say you’re sorry,” Fox proclaims). Humor is another defining English characteristic, ...more
Asmaa Kamel
Nov 13, 2015 Asmaa Kamel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A brilliant book! and indeed made me laugh out loud several times. It's interesting to read while experiencing England for the first time, however, it made me a bit oppessive about how people behave trying to test the theories suggested in the book! It will definetly help you better understand the English but don't be too "earnest" about it and take every interpretation of the English behaviour as a fact :)

Finally, if you're not a native English speaker like myself, you'll have to look up a lot
Anastassia Dyubkova
Jan 08, 2016 Anastassia Dyubkova rated it really liked it
Очень занятная книга.
У меня одно из самых свежих русскоязычных изданий, которое вышло под заголовком "Парадоксальные англичане. 2460 фактов" - не совсем понятно, чем руководствовался переводчик, потому что по факту оригинальное название "Наблюдая за англичанами: скрытые правила поведения" (под которым, кстати, и выходили предыдущие русские издания) более соответствует истине. Эта книга - не сборник фактов, а полноценное антропологическое исследование; факты в ней, безусловно, представлены, но их
Christopher Litsinger
Fox does an interesting thing here: she combines a dry, academic, anthropological style with a funny, irreverent look at her own people. As an American reading this book, I sometimes felt a bit too "outside". I'd like to read a U.S. equivalent.
Here's a reasonable sample of what you'll get:
When the fork is being held in your left hand and used in conjunction with a knife or spoon, the prongs of the fork should always point downwards, not upwards. ‘Well-brought-up’ English people must therefore ea
Murray Ewing
Nov 18, 2015 Murray Ewing rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I hadn’t realised how very English I am! (Sorry for that, and, you know, everything.) Kate Fox examines the main areas of modern life and boils Englishness down to ten essential elements, though mostly it comes down to ‘social dis-ease’. Humour, politeness, ‘reserve’ — it’s all about either preserving our need for privacy or desperately trying to overcome it.

I have to admit, however much I found the observations spot-on, I skim-read a lot of this book. I can’t help wondering if, armed with her d
Claudia Gregori
Feb 27, 2015 Claudia Gregori rated it really liked it
The writer, an anthropologist, gives detailed information in how the English are built. She is obsessive with class, that is true, but so are the English. But she was spot on in describing how every English learns to be a hypocrite in nursery and I don't say that as a criticism. I always was fascinated by the English people, their culture , rich history. But what really impresses me about the English is their strength in keeping calm in very tense moments. Maybe that is why the hipocrisy is an a ...more
Feb 17, 2016 Kate rated it liked it
"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. The rules of weather-speak. The ironic-gnome rule. The reflex apology rule. The paranoid-pantomime rule. Class indicators and class anxiety tests. The money-talk taboo and ...more
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Kate Fox is a social anthropologist and Public Relations director. She is the director of the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC).

Fox is the daughter of an anthropologist Robin Fox (not to be confused with the famous historian Robin Lane Fox). As a child she lived in the UK, the United States, France and Ireland. She studied for an undergraduate degree in anthropology and philosophy at Cambridge
More about Kate Fox...

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“A truly English protest march would see us all chanting: 'What do we want? GRADUAL CHANGE! When do we want it? IN DUE COURSE!” 16 likes
“Social scientists are not universally liked or appreciated, but we are still marginally more acceptable than alcoholics and escaped lunatics.” 7 likes
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