Online Placement Test
What are the British REALLY like?
I remember attending a cultural awareness training session where all delegates were paired up and given a small sealed plastic bag containing black discoloured egg. Having been instructed to open the bag and dissect the egg we were all immediately faced with a rather strong, pungent aroma. We were later told that this was a “hundred year old egg”, an egg whose culinary preparation included being buried under earth for a considerable amount of time. This is considered a delicacy in some parts of China. The message was clear. What one culture consider a gastronomic delight, another can look on as repulsive. There’s more to foreign language training than just learning to speak different words. Which got me thinking about some examples closer to home. When the English make a new friend on holiday and say on parting: “When you’re next in town, give us a call. You must come and stay with us!” they very rarely actually intend the new acquaintance to follow their instructions. You mustn’t be surprised when a phone call announcing your arrival is met with a hesitant: “Oh! Right. Well. Let’s see now. I think we have something on this weekend.” Of course, they mean: “no, you can’t come round then. We don’t actually enjoy your company so much as to sacrifice our weekend. In fact, when we said “come and stay with us” we were actually lying, but it’s what people say to each other in this situation.” That would be far too embarrassing.
If you are coming to the UK to study, visit, improve your English language or simply on holiday, you may find yourself living as a paying guest in a British person’s home. The tips given below may help you to prepare for what particular cultural differences might await you:
1 hot and cold taps – don’t expect a “mixer tap” in any other room than the kitchen. The British defy logic by continuing to use a hot and a cold tap. So either you risk scalding your hands with near boiling water or you freeze to death by holding them under the cold. At least you can apply first aid as long as you scald before you cool. You are going to do what the British do: put the plug in the basin and mix the water to the right temperature.
2 “Oh. Just help yourself! What’s mine’s yours!” – When you are staying as a guest in a British person’s home. Again, rarely true. The actual etiquette is to continue to ask if you can get a glass of water from the kitchen for about three or four times after this is said by your host. The guest who immediately starts to eat items out of the fridge and takes hold of the tv remote will most certainly upset their hosts. If you really want to violate and deflower an English man’s castle, just turn up (or switch on) his central heating system in the middle of the night. Expect a “My wife and I have been thinking about you staying here with us…” type of chat the very next morning…
3 “Don’t mind the dog. He sleeps upstairs, he won’t bother you.”- Well, OK. He SLEEPS upstairs, but he runs around the whole of the house every minute of every hour that he’s not asleep, right? When he’s licking dirty plates that are stacked in the dishwasher, actually, he DOES bother me. Make no mistake about it; the British love and care for their pets as if they were an elderly but much respected close relative. “Sorry. You can’t sit there, that’s Sheeba’s (the cat) chair. She doesn’t like people sitting in her chair.” Or “he’s just high spirited. He can’t help it. It’s in his nature.” Usually said just after a vicious and ill-disciplined bulldog has bitten your hand, drawing blood.
4 No smoking! – despite the comfort a few cigarillos would bring you, as well as the ability to screen the odour of all the housebound damp animals gathered around the small electric fire, smoking inside the British house has become strictly taboo. People will look at you as if you had asked to break wind violently during a church funeral service, should you dare to ask to smoke in their house. And don’t think about sticking your head out of an open window either. Your Anglo Saxon host has a nose that is more sensitive than an aircraft smoke detector. The best you can expect is to be allowed to stand and smoke in the garden. In the rain.
5 “What do German people (or French or Swiss or whatever nationality you belong to) REALLY think of the British?” – Please, God, don’t be confused into answering this one honestly! Your bags will be packed and waiting before you can say “Sherlock Holmes”. Try the following expressions should you ever find yourself in this difficult diplomatic situation: “there is a lot of interest and respect for the Royal family”. Or even, “The British are well known around the world for being reasonable and fair.” Whatever you do, DON’T, if you are German, tell them that the nickname for the UK in Germany is “Monkey Island” and if you are French, never tell them that the British are seen as rather snobby and cold with no idea how to cook.
Seriously though, staying with British hosts when visiting the UK is simply the most effective way to improve your English, make friends for life and learn exactly how the British think, live and work. Oh! And don’t forget to invite your hosts to call you and come and stay at your house should they ever be in the area, because:
1 they will definitely never come
2 they will be expecting this invitation
3 they know that it won’t actually be a real invitation