Wednesday, April 20, 2005

I am reading "Watching the English" by the anthropologist Kate Fox. It is a fascinating book, particularly because it has so much to say about social class (one of my preoccupations). When I was younger, I always thought that the more money you earned, the higher up the social class you got. This obviously isn't the case - and in fact the uppers and the lowers are far more similar to each other than you would think - the most important thing being that they both don't care what anyone thinks about them. It's the middle-classes and all of the substrata (lower-middle, middle-middle, upper-middle) who are the guardians of the country's morals, diet, language and so on.

Here's a checklist of some of the more memorable things in the book - use it to find out what social class you really are:

egg and chips, putting the milk first in tea, lavish weddings, bling, clothes that reveal skin, gambling, sport, beer, unironic kitsch, television, cropped hair, spells in prison: working class.

any form of diet, coasters, keeping a neat lawn, having the same coloured toilet paper as your bath, minimalist new furniture, ambition, education, cocktails, ironic kitsch, gap years: middle class.

threadbare inherited furniture, scarves in good weather, unkempt gardens, being thick, gambling, sport, eccentric kitsch, floppy hair: upper class.

Fox's main thrust is that the English are mainly very awkward socially and this has led to things like our ironic sense of humour, our love of "fair play", our hypocrisy and tendency to moan. She also has a lot to say about male and female differences - the most notable point being that English men gossip as much as women but are only allowed to do it in an unemotionless way - no "ohmygod, she never?" Also, English men are only supposed to show three emotions: surprise, anger and triumph. I recognised a lot of myself in the book, but then again, I am English, so I'm supposed to!


bikipatra said...

I will look for this book! I love the English-I married one! Class consciousness is so inbred in the culture. My husband uses the word WE in a way middle class Americans do not. He means his class! He is stuck in a post-colonial rut!

Lawrence said...

"Unemotionless"? Professor 'iggins, you're 'avin' me awn! That ain't no proper Inglish! Unemotionless indeed. An' you call me un-heducated.

matty said...

Wow! Who knew I had so much in common with the wealthy! LOL!

Just wish I had the money!

I am not sure I buy that you only show 3 emotions. You don't come across that way in your writing!

Show us all some love! Come on!


Anonymous said...

Just reading this following your blog review.

It's quite a helpful book because she's so good at conveying the importance of embarrassment of social interaction for the English (something I suffer from excessively) whilst describing social roleplay in England as a kind of game with some very weird rules. Why helpful? Because if it's a game, you don't have to take it seriously.