Pinstripe suits, terrible teeth, Queen’s English and cream tea for lunch every day – not all of the stereotypes are bang on point. But British politeness is famous and it’s 100% truth; I just happen to call it a different name. I call it horribly awkward. And here’s why:
1. The old getting-in-each-other’s-way tango
This is always a painful moment. You move left, they move left, you move right, they move right. It’s an eternal politeness entrapment (or at least it feels like it…)
2. That moment when you ask ‘how are you’ for the second time
We’ve all done it. ‘How are you?’ ‘Great, thanks, how about you?’ ‘Great thanks, you?’ Oh wait… Dammit!
3. When you offer a cup of tea and then realise there’s no milk in the house. Or tea bags
It’s so automatic. It’s the natural question when you’re hosting in Britain. It’s what we’re known for, TEA, dammit. And as you ask the question, remembering halfway through the sentence that there are no teabags left in the house (not even the emergency PG Tips in the safety draw) you get flushed, flustered and the tea becomes more necessary than ever before.
4. Accidentally inviting the annoying friend who isn’t actually invited
Yet another sign that we’re being too polite. We throw those invitations out left right and centre even when we don’t like the bitchy one with the moody face and the tendency to accept rounds without intending to return the favour. And sometimes this clashes with the invitations list… Oh well, we haven’t booked her space at the table so she’ll have to sit on the floor, won’t she.
5. Shushing someone in a cinema
It’s perfect – the lights are out, there’s a film to escape to afterwards – it’s the only time you’ll see a Brit get slightly confrontational. It’s a magical moment.
6. Being shushed in a cinema
It’s perfect – the lights are out, there’s a film to escape to afterwards – it’s the only time you’ll see a Brit disregard the rules, screw over fellow ticket-buyers and chat their way through two hours of Terminator 8 (I assume we’re up to 8 now…)
7. Dithering at doors
Then of course there’s: ‘after you’, ‘no after you’, ‘no I insist after you!’ – it’s as sickening as the American version (‘you hang up, no you hang up!’ – let me finish throwing up into a bowl and then I’ll end the call for you).
8. Leaving the last piece of food
That last doughnut in the Crispy Cream carrier, the slice of pepperoni pizza left in the box – it’s staring at you, isn’t it? It’s calling your name. But because you’re British, you’re not going to take it and it will end up in the bin.
9. That inability to make group decisions? Yep, that’s British too
When you’re standing on a street in the pouring rain discussing the pros and cons of Starbucks and saying phrases such as ‘I’m easy’, ‘I don’t mind’, ‘it’s up to you’ – yep, you’re most certainly British and you’ll end up standing in the rain until you all have to get the last train home.
10. From now on, just assume I’m always sorry unless I state otherwise…
Everyone in Britain also happens to be sorry, all of the time, which feels less awkward to us than only half of us being sorry, but unfortunately also equates to us not really being sorry any of the time.
11. The criticism sandwich
This is another quintessential British example proving our inability to cope with confrontation. You provide excellent customer service, you lost the company hundreds of pounds in a clerical error and need to be more organised, you have a great telephone manner.
12. N… No. Oh maybe. Alright fine
We just can’t say no. When a shady man in shabby clothes tells a long-winded story about how his luggage got lost and then he hitchhiked with a Saudi-Arabian man with an eye-patch who stole his wallet and now he just needs 50p to make a phone call – we want to say no. We really do. But it’s just easier to give the 50p.
13. Neck ache
The number of times we pull a neck muscle in one tube journey just to avoid eye-contact with the people we are staring at could keep physios in the job for years. But God forbid we look into each other’s eyes…
14. Getting trapped in a glass case of emotion
But in this case, the glass case tends to be a toilet cubicle or storage closet. Stiff upper lip, ladies and gents. If we get stressed at work? It’s okay, we don’t want to burden each other. We’ll just out-pour into a mop bucket or a toilet basin and flush away the salty tears.
Complimenting a Brit is a waste of time. Brits DO NOT receive compliments well. We will reject them, contradict them, mock and degrade ourselves until the compliment is well and truly flushed out of our systems. It’s just so damn embarrassing to be praised. Which is a shame, because we deserve plenty of it.