The funniest social science book I’ve ever read took a long time to find me — and Watching the English is one of the funniest books out there no matter what the genre. Since I read it I’ve waited for a funnier one by a social scientist to come my way. It hasn’t. Kate Fox still has the prize for my money. And what she writes is painfully close to the bone.
Her interview with a train passenger gives the flavour (page 139):
It is common, and considered entirely normal, for English commuters to make their morning and evening train journeys with the same group of people for many years without ever exchanging a word. . . . . ‘After a while,’ one commuter told me, if you see the same person every morning on the platform, and may be quite often sit opposite them on the train, you might start just to nod to each other when you arrive, but that’s about as far as it goes.’ ‘How long is a “while”?’ I asked. ‘Oh, maybe a year or so – it depends; some people are more outgoing than others, you know?’ ‘Right,’ I said (wondering what definition of “outgoing” she could possibly have in mind).
So if anybody out there is wondering why it’s so hard to talk to an English person, don’t worry – it’s not your fault.