The British have a certain way about them. Here are a handful of influences worth adopting into social life:
1) British Reserve
It is very common, at least in big cities, for people to lead with their jobs. Brits are generally more reserved and while they may be proud of their accomplishments they won’t reveal personal information until getting to know you and when it makes sense. Actually, you may never find out in some cases. On the same note, Brits have mastered the art of self-deprecation. I was talking to an English friend who was having an off day and he emailed me saying, “I’m just a very small cog in a very big machine.” So, me trying to bolster him up wrote back, “No you’re not. You’re a big cog!” Hmm, it didn’t quite come out right but it did get a laugh.
I had the pleasure of going on a behind-the-scenes look at the London Zoo because a friend-of-a-friend works there. After the tour we had drinks at a local pub and I turned to her coworker and I, being an American, may have been overzealous in my compliments and was like, “Wow, that must be really cool to live at the zoo and work with animals. How did you get into this?” The friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend (got that?) sighed and said, “I don’t really feel like talking about it if that’s alright.” Oh, okay. I was 100 percent not offended and found his honesty refreshing. I’ve been in that situation before and just not in the mood but I always feel obligated to answer. To be honest, he looked like the lead singer of a rock band rather than a zookeeper. Maybe I should have asked about his music interests?
3) Queuing Up
Queuing up is a fancy pants way of saying, “get in line and don’t act like an arsehole.” If you drive or walk to work then you are one of the lucky ones. If you are on a train platform on a daily basis it’s a rough way to start and end the day. In the UK people will get to the station and as it fills up stand behind one another. I know, it’s a crazy notion, right? In the U.S., even if you are first at the station the people behind you will scramble and flood past you just to get a seat as the train doors open. Queuing up is much more civil and it is, how it should be, first come, first serve. If there isn’t enough room on the train then Brits wait for the next one. Possibly I will look into posting signs at my local train on how “queuing up” works and maybe my fellow train riders will follow suit.
I will take a stiff, buttoned-up, shoulders back British hello over an unsolicited slobbery kiss and chest-to-chest embrace any day. I’m all for a hug and a kiss on the cheek but when it makes sense. For instance, if I haven’t seen you for a long time; if I’m very happy; if I’m very sad (hopefully that doesn’t happen often). But, not every time I see you. It’s like, “I just saw you yesterday and I’ll probably see you tomorrow.” There are complete strangers who will lean in for a hug and it’s like, “Umm, I don’t know you?” Of course, all those rules are out the window if it’s the end of the night and we’re all a little tipsy and having a love fest. Brits are on the same page and save kissing someone hello for someone who is familiar. And, even with that said, it may just be a hand shake or knock to the shoulder.
5) Drinking Skills
Speaking of libations, Brits are introduced to alcohol and pubs much earlier than Americans. They seem to handle their alcohol much better. The pubs in Britain close early but Brits start earlier. It’s typical to go out straight after work, eat some bits, and have had a full, fun night and be in bed by 10pm. With that said, sure there are the all day sessions with Brits in the U.S. getting to the pub at 8am to support their favorite football (soccer) teams because of the time difference. But, even then, they seem to handle themselves quite well. And, if not, they travel in groups – power in numbers – and there is someone to lean on when spilling home. Versus the frat boy American-like straightforwardness of hitting up the scene between 10pm-midnight, pounding beers back-to-back, interlaced with hardcore shots and barely speaking to each other but eyeing the opposite sex.
What other British “imports” could we use in the U.S.?