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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

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  9,279 ratings  ·  831 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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Dan Just read it. I highly recommend it if you're an expat living in or moving to England. …moreJust read it. I highly recommend it if you're an expat living in or moving to England. (less)

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Average rating 3.92  · 
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 ·  9,279 ratings  ·  831 reviews

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Petra-X is down to 75 books awaiting reviews
May 10, 2020 marked it as 1-awaiting-review-but-read
Update (This is very funny, but sadly true). The Monday Morning Moan Ritual. 'English work-moaning is a highly predictable, regular, choreographed ritual. It is universally understood that everyone hates Mondays; that we all had trouble dragging ourselves out of bed; that we really could have done with an extra day to get over the weekend; that the traffic/tube/trains/buses just seem to be getting worse and worse; that we have far too much to do this week, as per bloody usual; that we are alread ...more
Dec 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: uk, class-etiquette
This confirms that I’m very English, although I identify as a European Brit. It’s social anthropology that explores the “grammar” of English (not British) conversation and behaviour codes. English readers enjoy recognition:
To have our instinctive 'knowledge'... properly measured and confirmed by objective research.”
Others may understand us a little better.

It’s structured like a text book: each chapter has an introduction, headings, subheadings, a summary, and maybe a few footnotes (in additio
Dec 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel, socsci
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
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'm a big fan of BBC Radio 4 and this is how I first heard of Kate Fox's work on social anthropology.
If you are interested, listen to her talk on social and cultural aspects of alcohol. Her ideas were so thought-provoking and engaging, that I couldn't have passed this book.
The task of working out a basic formula of what makes up a national character seems incredibly complex, if not impossible. Luckily, Kate is a trained anthropologist who is more interested in discovering the unwritten rules go
Jul 14, 2012 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
Aug 11, 2013 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
Jill Hutchinson
Sep 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It is hard to really rate this book as some portions are extremely humorous, while others are dry as dust. Basically, this is a look at the English (not British) people from a sociological point of view and an explanation as to why they behave the way they behave. If you take this book too seriously, the English will appear to be an alien race, put upon this earth while you weren't looking; the author, an anthropologist by profession, gives the reader room to take some of the information lightly ...more
Elizabeth George
Apr 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recomended-reads
This book was sent to me by my English publisher, and it took me a while to read as I made it my daily breakfast reading instead of my leisure reading. For anyone who has traveled in England and experienced some of the unusual aspects of the English "character" -- such as never, upon pain of death, make eye contact with someone on the Tube--this is an amusing read as the author, a social anthropologist, tries to work out why her fellow countrymen are as they are. Great fun to read. ...more
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 01, 2014 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?


Sarah Clement
Jul 26, 2015 rated it it was ok
I am the type of person that likes to learn everything about whatever new endeavour I've taken up, so the intended purpose of reading this book was to learn more about my new country. Although the book had its moments - discussions of queuing, pub etiquette, social dis-ease food, and the weather were among the highlights - I found the obsession with class deeply off-putting. Fox is clearly from the upper-middle or upper class, and most of her discussions of 'distinctive' English characteristics ...more
Jun 04, 2007 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
Kelly Vincent
Feb 07, 2009 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
Dec 07, 2012 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
Adina (taking a break from literary fiction)
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 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
Jul 25, 2009 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
Feb 08, 2016 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
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
Nov 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books
In this 2014 update of a book originally published in 2004, social anthropologist Kate Fox dissects English attitudes and behaviours to expose the core values that make us 'English' and affect our every waking (and sleeping) moment - and she does it in an accessible, humorous yet always informative way ( a bit like the Bill Bryson books that I love but with far more information and direction). This is a fairly thick book so I basically read it as a 'coffee-table' book - a chapter a day in the mo ...more
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 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
Dec 05, 2008 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
I have a confession to make - am an anglophile, and on top of that, an anthropologist at heart, so I could have given this book five stars only for the title…But it has so much more to offer then the title.

The author, Kate Fox, started her professional training earlier than most. In her own words:
‘My father - Robin Fox, a much more eminent anthropologist - had been training me for this role since I was a baby (...). I was only five, but he generously overlooked this slight handicap: I might be
Jul 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: great-britain
A charming yet misfigured look at English social codes.

The peculiarities of English behaviour are so greatly extrapolated that the other side of the Channel sounds almost like a different planet. In practice, a basically well-mannered & polite foreigner with an erudite dash of Anglophilia feels welcome.

Some sections are hard to follow unless you are English. Many habits come off as small town/suburb ideals that don't hold up in the inner big city. And just as many are unfortunate reminders of a
Florin Pitea
Jul 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
It would have been a very entertaining read had Kate Fox (or her editor!) had it in her to make it 280 pages instead of 560. As it stands, it drags on for chunks at a time and its entertaining capacity is tarnished by unfunny jokes and repetitive mumbling.

Also, why on earth this book needs not one, but two chapters on horse races? Nobody cares about horse-races.
Aug 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
jesus, who am I that it takes me nearly a month to read a book? my reading habits have changed considerably this year. anyway, one of those weeks I was on vacation, mostly staying in a hotel, with a tv, and my daughter made us watch cooking competition shows and catfished, so I did very little reading.

despite my slow progress, 20 minutes at a time at lunch, I loved this book. I am a displaced english person who was brought up by english parents in the US, so I have read several books about engl
Jan 15, 2013 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
Jan 31, 2015 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
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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

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