London Internship Program 2016

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Work to Rule

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During my initial days of my internship, I found my new work environment confusing and unique from any internship I’ve had at home. As I read further into Kate Fox’s Watching the English, specifically the chapter on work, I began to understand that the things I found “weird” about my workplace, co-workers, and bosses are simply a part of English culture. Exemplifying the English “importance of not being earnest” that Fox stresses throughout the book, my bosses create a relaxed and friendly environment in our five-person studio. Unlike the typical American workplace in which workers sit at their individual desks and plow through work without really talking to their co-workers, my workplace is a very social and integrated environment. We all talk and help one another with work, and we sit down at a large table in the middle of the studio to eat lunch with one another everyday. We generally avoid talking about work while at lunch, making me feel as if I’m sitting down to eat a family meal. Even when I worked as a swim coach at Rice University last summer, the coaches, lifeguards, and I usually ate lunch individually, and our boss definitely never joined us.

While my bosses at my internship care about their business and getting efficient work done, they are also very lenient with arrival times. I attempt to arrive on time at 10AM everyday, but even on the days when I’m running late, I’m often the first one to the studio. My co-workers arrive late almost everyday, and my bosses occasionally run late as well. This further demonstrates Fox’s point that the “importance of not being earnest” rule in English culture extends to the workplace. Fox discusses the fact that if you’re work is interesting, then you are allowed to be interested in it. The nature of my bosses work makes itself thought provoking- they write articles and interview a wide variety of people in the community who they believe challenge the status quo of society. Thus, according to Fox, it is socially acceptable for them to act interested in it. However, Fox also states that while it’s acceptable to act invested in you’re work if it’s interesting, workaholics are still regarded as “sad and pathetic.” My bosses’ relaxation with arrival times and the friendly culture they create in their studio demonstrates that as interested as they are in their work, they avoid the English taboo of being workaholics.

Photo courtesy of Google Images



Home Rules

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At W&L, there is no privacy. Everyone knows everyone, we see each other all the time, and there are no secrets. While W&L might represent an extreme due to its small size, I imagine that most other colleges in America are the same way. As a generally private person, one of the things I look forward to on breaks is the ability to go back to Houston and relax in the privacy of my own home. Relative to college life, my home is incredibly private. However, after reading “Home Rules” in Kate Fox’s Watching the English, I discovered the extreme extent to which the English appreciate privacy in their homes. Kate Fox describes the fact that English streets are windy and change names often and house numbers are very obscure making it incredibly hard to find people’s homes. While I consider my home private, it is easily traceable on a map. Fox calls this difficulty in locating English homes the “Moat and Drawbridge Rule”- the English treat their homes like their personal castles, and the convoluted street names and numbers are their effective moat and drawbridge.

Other characteristics of English households that Fox describes further reiterate the importance of privacy to the English in their homes. According to Fox’s “Nest-Building Rule,” the English take great pride in implementing DIY work in their households. I did not find the implementation of DIY work in English homes any different from American homes- my father insists on building everything in our home himself, fixing everything that breaks himself, painting all the walls himself and so on. While the DIY rule itself does not differ much from the culture of American households, the class rules surrounding showing off not just DIY work in the household but general household décor differs between American and English society. According to Fox, showing visitors around the household is characteristic of the lower and middle-middles class. From the upper-middles and above, showing off the household is disapproved of, and it is considered improper to notice one’s surroundings when visiting someone else at their home. These class rules struck me as unique from American culture. Whenever my dad builds something new, redesigns part of the house, or redecorates, he is eager to show other people. This eagerness to show off the home is not just unique to my father and is characteristic of many other families of every class in Houston as well, including the wealthy ones. In driving through some of the incredibly upper-class neighborhoods in Houston, it becomes obvious that many wealthy families build their homes for the sake of showing off to others. They welcome visitors by hosting dinner parties and various other functions just for the sake of showing off their homes. The difference in American and English attitudes towards showing off their homes further demonstrates the intense English desire for privacy in the household that we lack in America.

Photo courtesy of Google Images.



Weather Talk

London-Weather

After reading “Weather Talk” in Kate Fox’s Watching the English I grew a bit skeptical of her claims on the unusual extent to which people in England talk about the weather. I’m from Houston where people talk (or rather complain) about the weather at least as much as people talk about the weather here in London. People in Houston are constantly complaining about the heat- during the summer it can easily get over 100 degrees, and it was even 90 degrees on Christmas this year. People in Houston also complain about the rain- it might not rain as constantly throughout the day as it does here in London; however, torrential down pouring is common in Houston. Both this summer and last summer Houston has suffered from flash flooding. I’ve been in Europe and haven’t been home yet this summer; however, I have seen many snap chats and pictures of friends from home in inner tubes floating down their streets that have turned into rivers due to the immense amount of rain.

I didn’t understand how “weather talk” in London was different from anywhere else until this past week. While people complain about the weather a lot in Houston, it does not serve the same social function that it does here in England. A few days ago at work my boss had a guest in to interview for the video portion of the company’s website. His cameraman used me as a stand-in to test the camera angles, and he also asked me to test out the sound equipment. Handing me one of the microphones on set, he told me to “start talking.” I stood there awkwardly for a few seconds holding the microphone in my hand unsure of what to immediately start talking about. The cameraman could tell I was caught off guard and saved me from my awkward silence my jumping into conversation about the weather despite the fact that the weather that day was only slightly drizzly- nothing out of the ordinary for a summer afternoon in London. As Kate Fox discusses in Watching the English, the English use the weather as a conversation starter. They jump to talking about the weather in those awkward lulls in conversation, just like the cameraman did with me. The next morning on my walk to work from the tube station, I ran into my boss on the street. We were forced to make awkward small talk with each other, and my boss immediately delved into conversation about the weather, further reinforcing Kate Fox’s claim that the English use the weather as a conversation starter. So while the English might complain about the weather to a similar extent as many other cultures, I have come to realize the distinctive social purpose that it serves here in England.

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British Humour from Broadway to the West End

Four years ago I went to visit my sister, Emily, and her British boyfriend, Hamish, in New York City. Upon Hamish’s recommendation, we went to see “One Man, Two Guvnors”, a British comedy that originally debuted on the West End and then opened on Broadway. I was 16 years old, had just flown back from a study abroad trip in Italy, and the very first thing my sister wanted to do was take me to see this play. In addition to the fact that I was incredibly jet lagged, the British humor made the play much harder to understand than any other typical Broadway show I had ever seen.

“One Man, Two Guvnors” is about Francis Henshall, a man who in attempting to make money takes on employment with two men- Roscoe Crabbe, a small time gangster, and Stanley Stubbers, an upper-class criminal. Francis attempts to keep his two employers (or “guvnors”) from finding out about each other. However, unbeknownst to Francis, Roscoe is actually Rachel Crabbe (Roscoe’s twin sister) in disguise, and Rachel’s lover (who killed her twin brother Roscoe) is none other than Francis’ second employer Stanley Stubbers. While the confusing plot line was hard enough for me to follow, the British humor confused me even further. I could not understand why everyone in the theater was laughing so hard until I read the chapter on humor in Kate Fox’s Watching the English. Satire, understatement, and irony pervaded every moment of “One Man, Two Guvnors”. The play is built around dramatic irony with the audience constantly aware of things of which the characters are not aware.

Going to see “The Play That Goes Wrong” further portrayed to me the importance of irony and understatement in British humor. While at the beginning of the play I found the humor a bit forced and predictable, after the first few scenes I was cracking up along with everyone else in the theater. I understood the British appreciation for understatement when the narrator at intermission commented that they had “hit a few snags” in the first part of the play but that it “was nothing out of the ordinary for any play” when things had been flying off the walls and characters were getting knocked out by doors. Our visit to the West End helped me further understand British humor not only in plays but in everyday life as well.

'The Play That Goes Wrong' Play performed at the Duchess Theatre. London, Britain...The Play That Goes Wrong performed at the Duchess Theatre Henry Lewis as Robert, Greg Tannahill as Jonathan, Jonathan Burke as Dennis Alastair Muir
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First Impressions

After spending four and a half weeks in Copenhagen and two weeks traveling around Europe, I got to London more than ready to settle in one location and unpack my suitcase for more than just a few days at a time. In the two weeks prior to arriving in London, I visited Copenhagen, Denmark; Bergen, Norway; Prague, Czech Republic; Milan, Italy; Paris, France; Barcelona, Spain; and Vienna, Austria. Out of these eight cities (in eight different countries), London reminds me the most of being back in the United States. Aside from the lack of a language barrier (I definitely missed having English menus and street signs during the month and a half I spent in a variety of non-English speaking countries), London possesses many other qualities similar to U.S. metropolitan centers. The city reminds me much of New York City. Both densely population financial centers are global centers of business and culture. While the tube system resembles many other metro systems across Europe and the United States, only in New York have I ever seen a metro train as packed as some of the tube cars on which we traveled in the past few days. London also houses a greater number of American food chains than I noticed in other European cities- I saw a Chipotle for the first time in almost two months a few days ago.

In my first few days in London, I also noticed many qualities that make the city unique from urban centers in the United States. Like other European cities I visited in the past few weeks, London possesses a much more relaxed culture than major American cities. London has much more green space than NYC, fostering a more relaxed environment. After leaving Lloyd’s, I also noticed the majority of businessmen at lunch were casually drinking and socializing- a midday scene much different from that of the hectic and stressed lives of New York City businessmen. London’s relaxed and social pub culture reiterates this difference from the intense business culture of America, specifically New York. Perhaps Americans can take a lesson from Europeans- business life can still be conducted without so much hustle and bustle and stress.

Summer weather June 27th. People enjoy the hot weather as they relax by the Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park, London, as today was set to become the hottest day of the year so far, with temperatures almost matching those in the Caribbean. Picture date: Monday June 27, 2011. Central and north London and the Home Counties were expected to bask in the highest temperatures in Britain, which are forecast to be only 1C (2F) less than the 32C (90F) forecast for the Jamaican capital of Kingston. See PA story WEATHER Heatwave. Photo credit should read: Clive Gee/PA Wire URN:11063603
 Photo courtesy of Google Images



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