Archive for December, 2011
So, yesterday, we took the fam to the Fens. We were supposed to walk along miles of boardwalks and see a lot of wildlife. However, having two small children run along in front of you, either whooping their way, or begging loudly for muesli bars/illegal mints from grandma’s handbag (one of them dressed almost entirely in neon pink), oddly seems to scare animals away.
There were two points where I got the kids to behave. The first time was around a man who seemed Quite Serious about his Fens adventure and was wearing head to toe camouflage. He was even carrying a camera with a very large lens that had a lycra camouflage covering. ‘Is he going to shoot us, mummy?’ Mr5 clung to my side as the man passed by. The truth was, it looked like a distinct possibility and if they kept up with the noise, he just might have. The second time I got both of them to be quiet for approximately 3.5 minutes in a ‘hide’ (where they had to behave because there were already two strangers in there enjoying the view). We saw two squirrels, a bunch of water hens and what my mother thought was a ‘great tit’. In the end, it was my father who couldn’t behave, even in the presence of strangers. ‘Are you sure there weren’t two of them?’ he whispered in a serious voice. And, thus, with much muffled snorting, we all had to leave the hide in disgrace.
Apparently a big, rambling walk is quite traditional on Boxing Day in England. So, today… we rambled. The family (over from Australia), piled into two cars, then piled out again at the closest stately home to us. Our target was the stately home’s folly (just a little ruin they built to picnic at, don’t you know?). It was a balmy 14 degrees today, so the place was heaving with ramblers and the sheep were Put Out with all the highly-sugared-up children around who were hell bent on catching at least one of their kind…
P.S. Thanks to Uncle Paul for the pics!
I’d read once, years ago, in a Bill Bryson book, I think, about the English love of a good queue. I remember him mentioning how good the English were at queuing and how well they would have done under communism because of this cultural trait.
Even though Aussies don’t talk about ‘queuing’ as such (as far as I can work out, we usually ‘line up’), I’ve realised we operate in an extremely similar fashion to the English when it comes to waiting our turn. Say, for example, you’re at the post office. There’s a line. You join it. There’s rarely a lot of fuss or people who try to cut in line, right? If someone does try to cut in, there’s a bit of grumbling, but generally no-one confronts them about it. So, when I started reading social anthropologist Kate Fox’s excellent book Watching the English: the Hidden Rules of English Behaviour, I began nodding my head a lot when I got to the section on queuing. I laughed out loud when I got to the following:
According to George Mikes: ‘an Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one.’ When I first read this comment, I thought it was an amusing exaggeration, but then I started to observe people more closely, and found not only that it was true, but also that I do it myself. When waiting alone for a bus or at a taxi stop, as people do in other countries – I stand directly under the sign, facing in the correct direction, exactly as though I were at the head of a queue. I form an orderly queue of one. If you are English, you probably do this too.
Guilty. I most definitely do this. Do you?
I’d seen some most excellent queuing in action on my recent trip to London. I’d caught a bus and a train and another bus and everything had been orderly and nice until I’d reached the reception desk of the hotel I was staying in, which was, of course, full of international travellers. There were four reception staff manning the desk and around twelve people waiting to check in. Suddenly, I found myself in the middle of a free for all and I became very, very cross as people cut in front of me. There was a queue, here! Couldn’t they see that? I began to huff and puff. And then I realised I was doing exactly what Kate Fox says the English do:
The English expect each other to observe the rules of queuing, feel highly offended when these rules are violated, but lack the confidence or social skills to express their annoyance in a straightforward manner. In other countries, this is not a problem: in America, where a queue-jumper has committed a misdemeanour rather than a cardinal sin, the response is loud and prescriptive: the offender is simply told ‘Hey, you, get back in line!’ or words to that effect. On the Continent, the reaction tends to be loud and argumentative; in some other parts of the world, queue-jumpers may simply be unceremoniously pushed and shoved back into line – but the end result is much the same. Paradoxically, it is only in England, where queue-jumping is regarded as deep immoral, that the queue-jumper is likely to get away with the offence. We huff and puff and scowl and mutter and seethe with righteous indignation, but only rarely do we actually speak up and tell the jumper to go to the back of the queue.
I then remembered something I’d seen in the Very Long Queue we’d joined to get into Versailles, months back. Right when we’d got to the top of the (45 minute) queue, a group of three adults had tried to hustle their way in front of the American family in front of us. The Americans had called them on it. Big time. And the group had slunk off further down the queue to sneak in elsewhere (probably in front of an English family…). My husband also told me about several queues he’d encountered on his recent trip to Budapest. Each time he went to catch a bus, there had seemingly been a queue until the bus had pulled up and then, when it did, the queue would dissipate and it would become a free for all. It all sounded quite disconcerting.
Anyway, I highly recommend Kate Fox’s book. I was surprised to find how many things I do as an Australian that are really quite English. Though, thankfully, we seem to have gotten over the class thing. I can’t remember the last time an Australian politician used the following as a put-down:
An upper-class Tory MP once sneered at fellow Tory Michael Heseltine by remarking that Heseltine had ‘had to buy all his own furniture’ – the put-down implication being that only nouveaux have to buy their furniture: genuinely upper-class furniture is inherited.
I’m really looking forward to writing a lovely little post on queuing. And I will. Once we’ve all finished having the plague here (or it’s finished with us). How do I know it’s the plague? Well, only the plague could survive the sleet and frost etc. outside. Oh, and then there’s the fact that someone has painted a red cross on our front door.
So, we’ll keep busy dying here. Feel free to follow @therealplague on Twitter to see if we get a mention…
This morning, a ‘kind’ friend sent me a link to the following video on YouTube. My email from Australia tends to come in while I’m sleeping and I read it over breakfast. Needless to say, I had to push away my Vegemite toast and make some porridge instead. Sure, this is how we all feel about Marmite, but having to watch it over breakfast is just wrong…