Sunday, 20 November 2011

Subtlety and Cadbury's

As I'm averaging about one post a week, I think a brief reflection on cultural shift at this point wouldn't be unwelcome. Yes, there's plenty of wedding stuff I could ramble on about but essentially a) I am not a very girly girl and b) the things I might chatter about are pretty much what you might expect from anyone about to get married to their life's love, regardless of country or emigration experiences.

Perhaps that's a bit cold, a bit casual. Maybe I am avoiding such a post because it will, yet again, render me without words due to the simple and ultimate power of my feelings for the man who is almost my husband, much as I may want to attempt it. But perhaps it's more to do with the fact that I had a conversation tonight with the aforementioned wonderful man of mine, and we decided that, after reflecting on a conversation with my best friend back home that I'd had today, this title and topic would make a far better post than more nuptial neuroses.

Today, I spent an hour or so chatting on Skype with Joy. Amongst the other things we talked about, once general catch up on life, men, work, and so on had been discussed, the inevitable question of, "What do you miss most?" came up. The answer to this is simple enough: people. I miss my family, and I miss my friends. But that is to be expected, and cannot be remedied as such, only born, so doesn't make for much of a conversation - or blog post! So what else?

That answer came easily, too: I miss English social norms, and in a way I never expected. I often find myself overwhelmed by the simplest of differences between the Brits and the Yanks: Americans talk. A lot. About everything. And are very, very friendly - but not always in a way that actually means anything.

With Brits, you have to work at getting to know people, or rather, for a person to want to open up to you. They won't tell you things about their life, work, or even their day, without a little encouragement if you don't know them that well. On top of that, the phrases used often aren't to be taken literally. "It was quite good" usually means "it wasn't very good at all", or "I've seen better", for example. Once you do know a person well enough to have a more detailed chat, you still have to be specific about wanting to know how things are going, and can expect a summary response - you won't be regaled with a novel-sized tale of their experiences since they saw you last. Not that Americans do that, exactly, and obviously when I say "Americans", I am talking about the small percentage that I have met that I don't know very well (it's less strange when your friends or family are talkative and sharing with you; I am referring to people I have only met once or twice), so it's not representative of the whole country, as far as I know.

But Brits and Yanks are significantly different when talking. In turn of phrase, in volume, in sheer amount of talking done. People also seem to talk across each other more, and use pronouns in a way that might offend an English person (who is "she", the cat's mother?!). So, the thing I am missing the most when I go out is just feeling like I fit in. While I am happy to talk, I won't shout over people, and I won't push to get my voice heard. I also don't feel the need to say things I haven't been asked about, to try to turn the topic of conversation, or just add in some random waffle because I can.

On the flip-side of this coin, I do enjoy how friendly Americans appear to be. I've often said I'm a bit too cheerful about getting to know new people for an English girl (I've been known to scare people), so in a way, I fit in here somewhat better than at home when it comes to meeting folk. However, I think I didn't realise just how ingrained my cultural norms are, so despite being frequently pleased by how seemingly welcoming and happy people are, I am also subconsciously unnerved by it. To try to summarise/explain better, the table below provides a good translation of what British people say and what they actually mean, and how it can be misinterpreted - this is what I am trying to get at with this post: we're a lot less literal, in terms of what we say, and say quite a lot less in the first place.

Oh, incidentally, I also really miss Dairy Milk. 

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