Simanaitis Says

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ENGLISH 101

AS IS evident from time to time, I am an unabashed Anglophile. Along these lines, here are three books that constitute English 101. (Not that these are in any way basic, but rather as an advisement that other such reviews are waiting in the wings.)

Each of these is listed at Amazon.com and ABEBooks.com.

The Queen and I

The Queen and I, by Sue Townsend, Methuen, London, 1992.

It’s 1992. A Republican government—the Brit variety, not ours—wins the election and the first thing it does is toss the Queen and her family into a Midlands council estate (think Detroit public housing).

Members of the ex-royalty respond to their plight, not all in ways you’d expect. Prince Philip becomes a slightly dotty stuffed shirt. Diana strives for the continued high life. Charles falls for a piece of council trash in a black PVC miniskirt, white high heels and a red blouson jacket. He “noticed the blue veins behind her knees, he wanted to lick them.”

Through all this, Queen Elizabeth remains regal in a pragmatic way. She—and the monarchy—deserves to carry on.

Watching

Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behavior, by Kate Fox, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2004.

Kate Fox is a social anthropologist. She is also an entertaining writer analyzing the foibles of her own people. Her Conversation Codes include a chapter on Pub Talk, with enlightenment coming in The “And One for Yourself” Rule. That is, tipping the landlord only reminds him of his service role; offering a drink is to treat him as an equal.

Among Behavior Codes, Fox has fun with the word “sorry.” Devising her Bumping Experiment and the Reflex-apology Rule, she’d purposely bump into people and study their responses. “About 80 percent of my victims said ‘sorry’ when I lurched into them, even though the collisions were quite clearly my fault.”

By way of experimental “controls,” she tried the same bumping routine with other nationalities. “Only the Japanese seemed to have anything approaching the English sorry-reflex, and they were frustratingly difficult to experiment on, as they appeared to be remarkably adept at sidestepping my attempted collisions.” (A footnote follows in which she notes that other studies confirm this Japanese adeptness.)

Reflecting her own Englishness, Fox says she kept messing up her experiment by blurting out “sorry” herself before the other person had the chance. Her book is replete with such charming observations.

The

The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British, by Sarah Lyall, Norton, New York, 2008.

Sarah Lyall reports for The New York Times from London. Like Fox’s book, this one has its anthropological aspects. But it’s also a memoir of an American woman married to a Brit and raising their two kids in England. Its dedication reads “For Robert and our English girls, Alice and Isobel.”

Chapter headings give an excellent idea of The Anglo Files. Naughty Boys and Rumpy-Pumpy is about sex, sex education and related English euphemisms. Her recounting of a visit to a distinguished gynecologist is a hoot.

A Fact Too Good to Check cites the penchant of English newspapers to get it right—eventually. “The great crested newt shown in the front of the Society section…was, as sober inspection confirms, upside down.”

Lyall concludes with a chapter-by-chapter list of Further Reading. I’m in good company because she recommends Kate Fox’s Watching the English too. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012

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This entry was posted on December 26, 2012 by in I Usta be an Editor Y'Know and tagged , , .
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