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Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour

Kate Fox

Top 10 Best Quotes

“A truly English protest march would see us all chanting: 'What do we want? GRADUAL CHANGE! When do we want it? IN DUE COURSE!”

“Tea is still believed, by English people of all classes, to have miraculous properties. A cup of tea can cure, or at least significantly alleviate, almost all minor physical ailments and indispositions, from a headache to a scraped knee. Tea is also an essential remedy for all social and psychological ills, from a bruised ego to the trauma of a divorce or bereavement. This magical drink can be used equally effectively as a sedative or stimulant, to calm and soothe or to revive and invigorate. Whatever your mental or physical state, what you need is ‘a nice cup of tea’.”

“Native speakers can rarely explain the grammatical rules of their own language. In the same way, those who are most ‘fluent’ in the rituals, customs and traditions of a particular culture generally lack the detachment necessary to explain the ‘grammar’ of these practices in an intelligible manner. This is why we have anthropologists.”

“The understatement rule means that a debilitating and painful chronic illness must be described as ‘a bit of a nuisance’; a truly horrific experience is ‘well, not exactly what I would have chosen’; a sight of breathtaking beauty is ‘quite pretty’; an outstanding performance or achievement is ‘not bad’; an act of abominable cruelty is ‘not very friendly’, and an unforgivably stupid misjudgement is ‘not very clever’; the Antarctic is ‘rather cold’ and the Sahara ‘a bit too hot for my taste’; and any exceptionally delightful object, person or event, which in other cultures would warrant streams of superlatives, is pretty much covered by ‘nice’, or, if we wish to express more ardent approval, ‘very nice’.”

“Many of those who pontificate about "acculturation" are inclined to underestimate this element of choice. Such processes are often described in terms suggesting that the "dominant" culture is simply imposed on unwitting, passive minorities, rather than focusing on the extent to which individuals quite consciously, deliberately, cleverly and even mockingly pick and choose amongst the behaviours and customs of their host culture”

“During the London riots in August 2011, I witnessed looters forming an orderly queue to squeeze, one at a time, through the smashed window of a shop they were looting. They even did the ‘paranoid pantomime’, deterring potential queue-jumpers with disapproving frowns, pointed coughs and raised eyebrows. And it worked. Nobody jumped the queue. Even amid rioting and mayhem – and while committing a blatant crime – the unwritten laws of queuing can be ‘enforced’ by a raised eyebrow.”

“...fine love poetry tends to be written when the object of one's affection is at a safe distance; also, it often reflects a love of words more than a love of women...”

“when the English say ‘Oh really? How interesting!’ they might well mean ‘I don’t believe a word of it, you lying toad’. Or they might not. They might just mean ‘I’m bored and not really listening but trying to be polite’. Or they might be genuinely surprised and truly interested. You’ll never know.”

“Moderation is all very well, but only in moderation.”

“Even the English, who understand it, are not exactly riotously amused by the understatement. At best, a well-timed, well-turned understatement only raises a slight smirk.”

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Book Keywords:

moderation, love, english, humor, poetry

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