Book Reveiw: Watching the English

Watching the English: *** (three stars)

This book was ok – parts of it had me on the ground rolling laughing especially the following bit:

Many commentators have observed that queuing is almost a notional pastime for the English, who automatically arrange themselves into orderly lines at bus stops, shop counters, ice-cream vans, entrances, exits, lifts… … sometimes in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason.

According to George Mikes: ‘an Englishman, even if he is alone, forms anorderly queue of one.’ When I first read this comment, I thought it was an amusing exaggeration, but then i started to observe people more closely, and found not only that it was true, but also that I do it myself. When waiting alone for a bus or at a taxi stop, I do not just lounge about anywhere roughtly within striking distance of the stop, as people do in other countries – I stand directly under the sign, facing in the correct direction, exactly as though I were at the head of a queue. I form an orderly queue of one.

actually every time I relate this story to a brit, they always end up busting a gut with embarrassment. and as I get more and more into the story, they laugh even more and at times even spit up their drink or fall off their chair because they imagine themselves in the situation described and they know it is so true!

but other parts of the book just seemed to ramble and make gross generalizations. Other parts seem to point to particular social mannerisms and imply as though they are specific to the English rather than acknowledge that they are norms of Western society in general.

All in all it is a humorous book – but I think only if you’ve lived in the UK or visited there a fair bit. Otherwise the humour may be lost on you – an observation which is discussed in the book as well…

But don’t try to read it as an end-to-end book – you’ll definitely get bored. just pick out the parts that you’re interested, laugh, sip a bit of tea, and try to understand ‘Englishness’ – which Kate Fox is claiming is not dead.

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