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British reserve

By Nickunj Malik - Oct 11,2017 - Last updated at Oct 11,2017

The contrast between the exuberance of Indians and the reticence of the British is most apparent when you emerge from a flight that takes off from one country and lands in the other. In a span of a few hours you can encounter diametrically opposite cultures, from the departure gates of one airport — where the relatives or friends are weeping and hugging their loved ones while bidding them goodbye, to the arrival area of another — where every traveller is received with an impassive and measured restrain.

So, what exactly is the famous British reserve? Why are the Brits generally disinclined to show emotions or feelings or to act in any way that could be viewed as slightly off centre? Where do they get the idea of restricting their gestures and tempering their language? Is it true that most of the nation’s men and women are prone to show “passive” personality traits, as confirmed by the latest research from Mintel Market Intelligence Agency in London? 

Alexandra Richmond, senior consumer and lifestyles analyst at the firm says “far from being a negative label, the fact that the English are more likely to be passive personality types, is something we can be proud of. Passive, in this instance at least, doesn’t stand for not caring or becoming lazy, but shows someone who is easy-going and who wants to keep the harmony. Rather than being a pushover, the Brits are shy of confrontation, going out of their way to avoid causing unnecessary conflict. A passive personality type will presumably be quieter than others but they choose their words wisely and when they do speak, they are likely to say something worth listening to”. 

Also, according to social anthropologist Kate Fox, Brits have struggled to greet each other since “how do you do” became out of fashion. This formal yet standard greeting was a safe way of starting a conversation with strangers but these days they do not know how to interact because its demise has left England puzzled. “There is a ‘nice to meet you’ but quite a lot of upper class people are not happy with that because the etiquette books frown on it. Every single other nation on the planet has a straightforward ritual for greeting someone. We seem to be the only ones who can’t reach a consensus on what is appropriate,” she noted. 

Right! That is why the British have adopted the habit of speaking about the weather which is a conversation starter, an ice breaker or just a greeting and can be used for all sorts of social reasons. But when one says that it is cold and windy today, it does not mean that you are reciting a meteorological report. It is simply a manner of saying hello to an unknown person.

Passing the front desk of the hotel in London on day five of my stay, I notice a new face behind the counter. Accustomed to the usual British reserve from the staff there, I am surprised to hear a cheery “cold, isn’t it” directed at me from an immaculately dressed lady.

“It’s freezing,” I agree.

“Carry an umbrella,” she suggests.

“Thundershowers are forecast at noon,” she continues chattily.

“She’s definitely not English,” says the voice in my head. 

“The weather is unpredictable, like back home,” she drawls. 

“You are from San Francisco,” I state.

“How did you guess,” she asks. 

“I am an Indian clairvoyant,” I joke. 

 

“Not a British one, thank God,” she laughs.

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Comments

Wonderful and quaint pen picture of a nation whose people, despite being our erstwhile tormentors and being a bit " under the weather", globally now, still fascinate us.

Their own apparent fascination with the weather as a conversation starter, itself is an indication of how it affects moods of people. Maybe the exposure to the Sun and subsequent surfeit or lack of Vit D, explains the exuberance of Indians and the reticence of the Brits.

Or maybe it is related to the nose, one twitching helplessly over the stiff upper lip and the other long enough to ensconce itself firmly into everyone else's space.

Definitely not cricket, eh?

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