Watching the English by Kate Fox

Synopsis:

288448In 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 many more …Through a mixture of anthropological analysis and her own unorthodox experiments (using herself as a reluctant guinea-pig), Kate Fox discovers what these unwritten behaviour codes tell us about Englishness.

Review:

I’ve met a lot of Brits here in Japan so I thought I would learn what makes them tick. I feel empowered in a way – I now know how to order at a pub and properly “moan” about the weather.

But oh, the quibbles.

  • The book feels looooong. It’s not (only) due to the page count, but because Fox ends each chapter with a summary. I get that she’s doing the “tell him what you’re going to tell him, tell him, tell him what you told him” thing but it feels like blatant rehashing. The conclusion at the end of the book would have been enough.
  • “Liminal” seems to pop up twice a page. Ditto “dis-ease”. There isn’t any difference between unease and dis-ease, right? It was a cute visual joke the first time but grated after that.
  • Woah, there’s a lot here about class. It was interesting in short bursts but some sections never seem to end. Names were used as stand ins for lower and upper class teenagers – Darren and Chantelle, Jamie and Saskia – and for the life of me I could never remember which was which. To my American ear it’s two normal guy names and two uncommon girl names, so… yeah. I guess I fail that test.
  • If most of the class comparisons were between working and upper classes I may have been able to deal with it, but the fine differences between lower-middle, middle-middle, and upper-middle were a bit much for me.
  • Even though it took me a long time to get through the book repeated phrases and jokes kept jumping out at me. “The English have satire instead of revolutions” is great the first time, but by the fourth I’m rolling my eyes.

As much as I learned I’m glad to have this one behind me.

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