Malcolm's Reviews > Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour

Watching the English by Kate Fox
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's review
Jul 23, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: cultural-studies, sociology

There are several reasons that I like this book so much. First, it is a fine piece anthropology where Kate Fox turns her eye to home. There are some fine methodological reflections, and the introduction is a masterpiece of ethnographic method (including a discussion of purposely bumping into people to see how many of them say sorry: now there's a quintessential English trait). Second, she sets out to explain Englishness – to lay out what she calls the rule of Englishness – and in doing so exposes many of the mundane, ordinary ways that the English do, become, and are what they are. I particularly like the observation that altough there are very strict rules of queuing, there is also an injunction against public display so if anyone jumps the queue they don't get castigate them but the English will shuffle and mutter. Third, she has a fine eye and ear for the subtle distinctions of class and locality. Finally, she lays out these rules with a light touch and a deft hand.

I read this after I'd lived in England for about 7 years – and wish it had been around beforehand: i think I could have avoided some major gaffes. It is the kind of thing new arrivals should read after 6 months to a year. Wry, insightful, witty, and a superb piece of popular anthropology.

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