Watching the English (Kate Fox)

Watching the English is a book by Kate Fox, who is a social anthropologist.

In the book Fox examines the English culture and tries to find the rules underlying English behavior. By participant observation and talking to loads of people she manages to outline the core values, attitudes and outlooks of the English people (at least as she sees them) and give explanations for their most typical behavior – for example why the English are so extremely fond of and good at queuing.

Whether or not you accept Fox’s definition of Englishness is of course up to you. It certainly won’t be the last word on the subject, nor do I believe that you can ever fit an entire culture into one book. But nevertheless, Watching the English is an amusing read.

One of the many courses at uni I started was social anthropology, so I was a bit aware of many of the technical terms that Fox uses. Though she also explains them at the beginning, to have a first idea about them helps of course.

But apart from those terms, the book doesn’t stick much to the rules of scientific writing. There are barely any references, and even though I’m pretty sure that Fox did her research about the topic, she only gives us the results and some anecdotes. Also, Fox has a sense of humor and isn’t afraid to use it. While that also means that the book is inifintely more readable than most scientific books out there, and a helluva lot more entertaining, I did miss the numbers sometimes. (Like, out of how many, how many people actually do say sorry when you bump into them?)

I’m an anglophile and I travelled to England various times, but I’m certainly not a specialist on the English culture. Nevertheless I doubt that the English are naturally more socially inept than other cultures, as Fox posits here. As somebody who is really (and I mean really) crappy at small-talk, the English have always impressed me with their “Weather-Speak” that Fox takes as proof that English have a “Social Dis-Ease” that is somehow greater than those of other cultures.

But despite the doubts I might have about the universal truth of Fox’s theories, it was extremely entertainting to read about them as she tells her anecdotes with a lot of humor and self-deprecation. Which, according to the book, is very English of her.

Summarising: fun read.

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