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How to not offend the English

August 19, 2009
Top Book

I’ve got some tips on how to not offend the English and it’s all thanks to two people: Kate Fox, author of the book Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour and Lynette Topham, the person who lent me said book.

If you’re like me and have come to England in the hope of making friends with the locals, the first think you should learn is the etiquette regarding discussing weather. And the most important thing of all is at no point should you EVER criticize it. You may be thinking, they seem to complain about it so surely it’s okay for me to. Well, it’s not. Don’t do it. Never ever ever.

This is how I screwed up chatting about the weather:

Last month (mid Summer) I was waiting for Swiss Cottage coffee cart man to make me my flat white. It was grey and rainy and my attire included a jacket and woolly socks. Not what I’m used to wearing mid Summer but hey, it’s all part of the experience right?

‘Breezy, isn’t it?’ eccentric coffee cart man said as he handed me my coffee.

‘Yeah, it’s freezing’ I replied, giving him a 30p tip. (As I always do – except for the time I accidentally short changed him and boy was that awkward. But that’s another story.)

‘Well, it’s not really freezing is it?’ he said. ‘I stood outside with this cart all winter. That was freezing. I just said it was breezy.’

‘I’m just not used to this weather,’ I said. ‘It’s much warmer back home. This week in Sydney it got up to 29 degrees and it’s winter.’

That sentence was my downfall because that’s when the tirade began:

‘You Australians have the nerve to call us whinging poms but all you do is complain and moan about the weather. You knew what the weather was going to be like before you got here. And if you don’t like it, then don’t come over.’

Wow, I thought, where the heck did that come from? It was the first time an English person made me feel unwelcome. Sure, they’d made me feel dumb or inferior before, but never unwelcome. I was a bit hurt. Especially after I’d given a 30p tip (that’s nearly 20%). And who bloody-well tips a coffee cart man? I may be a moaning Australian but don’t I get some slack for being an obsessive compulsive over-tipper. It’s like a disorder you know? Or a handicap. Couldn’t he just have been nice to me?

But now, weeks later, I understand why he snapped at me. The book explains it all in the chapter The Weather. According to Fox when the English talk about the weather it’s actually a way of saying, ‘hey I want to be chatty to you, and this is how I break the ice.’ And there’s a few unspoken rules on the appropriate way to discuss the weather. One rule distinctly mentions that Americans and Australians who put down the English weather come off as being offensive. Crass even! Who would have thought that by mentioning the weather in Sydney I was coming off as crass?

This is how I chatted appropriately about the weather

‘It’s meant to be the hottest day of the year today,’ a girl said to me today.

My gut instinct was to laugh and say, ‘What a whopping 28 degrees? Watch out’. If I had said this I would have been a crass Australian. So instead I said, ‘Yes, it is lovely.’

‘Well, it’s probably all going to be downhill from here,’ she said. I wanted to reply with, ‘Oh help me Lord. Don’t make it all downhill from here. I don’t think I would cope with any more crap weather.’  However, I remembered Kate Fox’s  anthropological study.

‘Do you know the forecast this weekend in Scotland? I’m going to the Fringe Festival,’ I said. At which point we started to talk about Scotland and comedy and other nicer things.  Score! No one was offended and the moral of the story is, sometimes following the rules can get you ahead.

For all those trying to make friends in England with the English I would recommend you grab this book pronto. It could help you avoid offending people, and people offending you 🙂

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. jarvis permalink
    August 20, 2009 8:44 am

    It’s so so very true, and very well-played Em! (Weather for the win!)

    If you ever need practice, go and visit (or call) my English grandmother. She is the Master of Weather Discussion (but the non-ice-breaker variety) …

    • August 20, 2009 12:09 pm

      Hehe – thanks Jarv. Might take you up on the offer 🙂 Maybe we can practise when you come visit me …

  2. August 20, 2009 1:09 pm

    I think I can sum up the probable weather up in Edinburgh for you in one word: erm,colder.

    I’m sure the warm atmosphere will make up for it though.

    • August 20, 2009 7:22 pm

      Hehe. Cheers, I can’t wait for some Scottish-comedy-goodness

  3. Lyn permalink
    August 20, 2009 7:20 pm

    Yep, it’s a scarey old place eh chick. Remember, only talk to them when they’re in their FRONT yard

  4. August 20, 2009 10:59 pm

    LOL! I’ve not really outright criticise the English weather in front of an English before so I am not too sure how it will pan out. The worse I’ve gone is like ‘chilly’ and that’s about it.

    Then again, coming from a tiny isle near the equator where it’s over 30 deg C all year round, I do appreciate England’s seasonal weather. Actually, I appreciate any change of weather at all.

    Oh well, a new thing a day. 30p tip for a cup of coffee! Wow, that’s something.

    C K

    • August 21, 2009 6:25 am

      Hey CK, oh, I could do with a few days in Singapore right now 😉

      That’s a good point re seasonal change (and perhaps call for a future blog post). I must admit, I’ve been loving that too. We do have some kind of seasons in Sydney but not like here. Have you been in London for Autumn before? This will be my first one and I can’t wait to see the oranges and reds (in Sydney we tend to have all year evergreens).

      30p tip – a compulsion from all my hospitality days – hehe 🙂

  5. August 21, 2009 12:24 am

    So true! But I understand, I get defensive when English people complain about our weather, they come out here in winter expecting a tropical paradise in Sydney and then have the nerve to complain! Cheeky bastards!

    • August 21, 2009 6:21 am

      Haha. So true. And to talk again in generalities and stereotypes (because I haven’t done enough with this blog), Aussies seem to be defensive about everything. A complaint I read from an Englishmen on a BBC blog. We don’t want anyone to say anything bad at all about Ozland. To the point we can’t even talk rationally about our country.

  6. August 21, 2009 12:47 pm

    @emsalkild,
    Have spent two autumns in London. I’m really looking forward to colder weather really. Other than having the greenery in London turned into an orange hue, I can don a pullover for work… which means that I no longer have to iron my shirts! LOL.

  7. Erin the Red permalink
    August 22, 2009 11:07 am

    Oh bless the precious English and their weather. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest perhaps there may be a little jealousy behind Mr Snappy Tom’s response, because they seriously stuffed up by sending us convicts to paradise?

    hehehehe

  8. aprile01 permalink
    October 6, 2010 1:19 pm

    Obviously that coffee man has been over the top in telling you to stop moaning after merely saying it was freezing (Although you were probalby were making an overstatment). But I’ve got to say that after spending 3 years in Sydney and living my whole life in London, hearing Aussies moan about and critisising the English is an Australian obssesion. Aussies love a good old overstatment. The times I’ve heard Australians exaggerate the climates between the countries has always made me laugh as you prove…”It’s much warmer back home. This week in Sydney it got up to 29 degrees and it’s winter” I was in Sydney at the time at what you said is true, but it’s hardly typical, the Aussies there were going about how it never happens and I can say it certainly wasn’t typical of a sydney winter whilst I was there. Also I notice that a 35 C day in Sydney is championed as a hot hot day, yet I whenever it reaches that in Lodnon (admittedly not often) and the locals say hot it is, the Australian response is “it’s not that hot!”
    I don’t why but Australians insist on dressing Australia up as a sun kissed utopia and that Britain is a hell whole, I can confirm both are complete nonsense and I am fully justified in saying that if you truly believe this, then go home! When I realised I didn’t like living Sydney and prefered London life, I didn’t stay and moan, I left.

    Good day! 😉

    • March 23, 2011 11:57 pm

      On behalf of my fellow Australians I apologise if we have offended you. If you read this post again you will see that was not our intention and when we mention the weather we probably do it out of homesickness rather than to get one up on you or to moan. I actually moved to London with the hopes of experiencing something new and making friends with the locals – and luckily the English folk I befriended found this blog tongue in cheek and a way to bond rather than offensive.

      Yeah, home is where the heart is. After 18 months of London life I felt it was time for me to pack up and move back to my beloved Sydney. You did well lasting 3 years in Sydney as it seems we really rub you the wrong way (and our weather is a bit blah blah to you).

      Just to confirm, I never called London a hell hole (in Australia we refer to them as holes not wholes). I’m really glad for my time and experience there but being in a new country is always going to be difficult. Especially when saying a flippant comment like, “I’m freezing” can make people hate you. Hehe.

    • Marcus permalink
      October 31, 2011 5:25 am

      aprile01, I’ve noticed similar responses from my compatriots here in the U.S. When people here (San Diego) talk with fellow Californians about the weather they tend to complain that its SO HOT. Even though there’s usually no reason to. When a foreigner, or even someone from a colder state, comment on the heat they’ll respond “no its actually really nice/you’re just not used to it/it gets way hotter than this” as if trying to convince everyone that they have the best weather. Same happens in reverse in a place like Minnesota where its cold. They hate the cold but if you complain its because “Californians are soft or spoiled) In my opinion the weather here is fantastic and consistant. I think people just like to complain about things like weather, but are too sensitive or proud to take rational criticism.

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