Playing along

Needless to say, my interactions with British people has changed drastically from the beginning of the trip until now. The two main reasons for this being Kate Fox’s Watching the English and picking up on social queues in every day interactions. One of the biggest misconceptions i’ve identified with my 20/20 hindsight is the etiquette of greetings. Bobby and I discussed how on our first days of our internships we felt like we crushed it with our colleagues in the office.  We greeted them all with a nice big smile, handshake, and introduction. Little did we know at the time this is not how most English greetings go. Sure, there are different regulations for professional environments, but we were completely unaware of the common progression. After reading Fox, however, we were able to piece together bits from different chapters to help find a way to make friendly conversation around the office. Fox opens her book the same way any Brit starts a conversation with a stranger, by talking about the weather. I found the idea of using weather as a common ground for conversation interesting, but have never been a fan of talks about the weather. Besides, I feel like even Brits know that talks about the weather are somewhat forced when people have nothing else to talk about. That being said, I found Brexit as a good substitute for the weather this summer. It can get fuzzy talking politics in the office, but in casual discussion, everyone has an opinion on it they can discuss. It was then easy to implement Fox’s self-depravation humour by mentioning Trump and letting the Brits poke fun at American politics for a little bit to diffuse whatever Brexit rant they had usually started on (one way or another).

  • I’m glad I didn’t have a face-to-face encounter with my boss prior to reading those helpful chapter in Kate Fox’s “Watching the English,” because I’m sure I would have made a much bigger fool of myself than y’all did! Thankfully, by the time we met, I knew to open with the weather, which she responded to quite well. I agree that the easiest way for me personally to incorporate the very english brand of self-deprecating humour is to simply bring on Donald Trump. Regardless of my personal political leanings (which are quite ambiguous at this stage of the campaign process), it is easy to agree with all the crap that the British have to drop on Donald Trump’s infamous name and chime in myself. From there, I also like to bring up Brexit, and refer to it as a warning to Americans that the impossible is possible. Though this seems like a rather cut and dry, methodical, and weirdly thought-out way to go about a casual conversation, it seems to have worked fine so far. Thanks Kate Fox!

  • This was a pretty tough realization for the both of us I think. It was discomforting thinking we had done so well to find out the opposite. However, we banded together and did possibly the nerdiest thing we had ever done. We went back to the chalkboard and basically planned conversation starters trying to make friends. This is where it gets bad. We compared the success we were having and kept trying. Eventually, yes, we were accepted. But I’m not proud. In certain conversations when someone said something new to me that they had not said to Zach– something that I had planned for, I was lost. I felt like asking for a line like in a play. Or maybe just telling them that they weren’t supposed to say that. Another unsuccessful strategy was to simply pretend they hadn’t said what they said and keep going ruthlessly forward with plan A. In the end we found our struggle to be pretty funny, (which we then also capitalized on because we realized in one of our late night chalk talks that self-deprecation was gold) and a good way to summarize some of the culture shock and our attempt to get over it.

  • I also had similar experiences interacting with the English. I feel like in America there is more pressure to be outgoing than there is here. Their demeanor is more refined than it is in America and using what I learned from Fox’s book I tried to adjust my greeting style so I did not come off as overenthusiastic. I also used weather and Brexit as my go-to to conversation topic. Usually with Brexit I made a Donald Trump joke because I did not want to come off as a know-it-all American. The Brits found it interesting that I lived by Mar A Lago, which is Trump’s home/ country club in Palm Beach. It is not like I actually have met Donald Trump, but I have been to Mar A Lago (invitation only; it’s a little bit pricey) and I know that he never shook anyone’s hands before he ran for president because he was afraid of the plebeian’s germs. People in my workplace always enjoyed this anecdote and would ask me more about Trump as they presumed I was an expert since I grew up near him.

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