Culture Warning – Some of the following is not pretty – If you are an ardent British nationalist or lack a sense of humour, please look away now. All stories have been gathered from conversations in the training room both in the UK and abroad.
- Avoidance of Confrontation
The Gazpacho is warm and the rack of lamb is cold. The Spanish waiter approaches the diners and asks with a smile, “Is everything okay with your meal?” What do the Brits reply?
“Fine. Everything is lovely”
The waiter walks away, unaware of both the trouble in the kitchen and the two faced lie he has just been told. If he were to listen closely he would hear the bitter mutterings that follow. “Dreadful food. We are never coming here again!” and, “I will destroy this place on TripAdvisor!”
Brits will sometimes go to great lengths to avoid confrontation. “It could be worse”, “mustn’t grumble” and, “at least we got a nice dessert.”
Which leads us to the most popular and ubiquitous word in the British etiquette lexicon – “Sorry”
Sorry can mean, “I am innoculating myself against a constant downpour of disappointment”, “You have done something wrong but it is me uttering the word sorry so as to avoid violence and carry on with my life.” Or, something else.
A contradictory and more assertive version is employed when sorry is used to mean, “I am apologising for the injustice or hurt that I am about to inflict upon you.”
“Is everything OK with your meal?
- The Meal Deal
We have a 20-year-old lunchtime ritual in offices across the land – of queuing up to buy a flat factory made dead sandwich which is full of fat, sugar and chemicals, a tooth rotting and chemical laden bag of crisps, and a pressurised ecologically disastrous plastic bottle of sugar water with artificial colouring, all of which will definitely make you feel worse for having consuming them. All this whilst sat at our desk surfing for kitten videos on YouTube.
The truth is – it’s not a meal and it’s certainly not a deal. A cultural anthropologist or sociologists would take a look at this bizarre British ritual and relate it to another ceremony closer to home. The Meal Deal is, in fact, the fodder found at a 5-year-old child’s birthday party.
I make no attempt at a cultural excuse for the meal deal. Its success is probably based on the temporary chemically induced high it produces in stressed workers suffering from low self-esteem and poor job prospects. These overworked people have been tricked into consuming both the modern work myth as well as the meal deal, as if it were designed to be enjoyable and beneficial.
- The Misery Line
The population of London swells by 1000 souls every week or so. Most of them seem to commute on the Northern Underground line. This produces an etiquette maze and one or two cultural phenomena that are hard to fathom for the outsider. In days gone by the savvy commuter employed a broadsheet newspaper as a shield against eye contact, social interaction and to protect a medium-sized personal safety zone. Now necks are bent as the stressed executive watches last night’s documentary on the breakdown of civilisation on an android phone whilst trying to endure the torture of London commuting. Like the 1970’s game “Operation”, where the “surgeon” extracts plastic organs and trying not set off the buzzer, the modern commuter must desperately achieve separation from other humans – contact is NOT desired. In a cultural coaching session held recently with an Indian executive from New Delhi, he became quite upset at this avoidant behaviour saying, “I felt like an untouchable.”
“Can you move inside please?”
- Street Life
You could be mistaken for thinking that the main motivation for earning extra money and collecting work related bonuses was to allow the middle-class family to move away from their town high street as soon as was convenient. The modern scene includes post-war prefabricated shopping centres, pound shops, charity shops and inflation fuelling, morally cauterised estate agents all vying for your attention. And, the most vile of British inventions – The gang of charity workers clogging up the pavement pestering members of the public for signatures and monthly payments to support a wide range of worthy and bizarre causes.
Having developed my presentation and communication skills to become a public speaker, I can proudly claim not to be pestered by the average Chugger – my doom laden scowl (known to make babies cry) and a refusal to engage with the Chugger’s dance, ensure a clean path from the beginning to the end of the high street. I note with incredulity that most people are much nicer than me. Fabricating sugary and polite lies, they attempt to avoid the patronising and manipulative pitch of the Chugger to maintain face all-round and continue on their way, feeling strangely guilty as they get on the move again.
It is the disenfranchised, the sick and the vulnerable who don’t have the energy to escape the gravitational pull. They are sucked into the black hole of the manipulative Chugger script. When next in town listen out for the word “Sorry” spoken by those caught in the Chugger web and see if you can spot the context in which it is being used.
About the Author – Matthew Hill is a trainer, speaker and writer, working in more than 30 countries, 4 of which sometimes call themselves the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Matthew is nostalgic for the post war and long dismissed concept of community and neighbourliness, when houses were used for living in, before privileged people came up with the evil idea of exploiting society’s essential workers, vulnerable citizens and the next generation purely for their own undiluted and greedy self-interest, wishing to generate maximum profits by charging unsustainable levels of rent to those that have no choice but to pay it.