Adjusting to a Different Culture

Rachel Lucas seems to be trying to make her way in her new home across the pond, and talks about her impressions in regards to a story circulating of two teenage yobs who attacked a bus driver with knives:

But I don’t know now. I realize I’ve been here less than four weeks but already I’m starting to get a different vibe about this sort of event, and I’m not sure how to articulate it, but it’s something along the lines of: these people are just too nice.

The culture is different. There are a lot of ways to describe it, none of which really nail it for me, but it is different. And until you get to the moment where they’re not doing anything to help during an attack, it’s pretty damn AWESOMELY different. I hesitate to even say that because I know some of my fellow Americans will take offense or take it the wrong way, but the thing is, like I keep saying, the people are are exceedingly polite and I like it a whole lot.

Read the whole thing.  My total experience of the UK was a few days in London, so I can’t claim to be an expert.  But it strikes me as a good example of approaching a foreign culture with an open mind, and a willingness to admit that things aren’t always as simple or as straightforward as we assume them to be.

3 thoughts on “Adjusting to a Different Culture”

  1. I’ve spent two summer in Britain (plus a year as a toddler), and I’m also formerly Anglican. What she’s said makes sense, and she’s smart enough to have realized it in much, much less time than it took me. In short, even though the Brits mostly look and sound like Americans, there’s a weird feeling of being both not a foreigner and yet being a foreigner at the same time…like being a libertarian at a meeting of conservatives, for instance.

    We’ll leave the Scottish and Welsh out of this, as we pretty much mean the English when we think of Britain. Perhaps the easiest way to think of it really is to consider that the sort of people who suck it up when things get bad stayed in Britain while the kind who won’t stand that kind of nonsense left for the colonies. If you look at English history, they’ve had a lot more trauma and the need for tolerance in order to survive than we give them credit for. Waves of Picts, Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Norse, and finally Normans came in and generally wound up doing a weird combination of ethnic cleansing and intermarriage as each successive wave gained dominance yet not control over all or part of the island. Civil wars were common, from The Anarchy to the War of the Roses to the Catholic-Protestant persecutions of Mary and Elizabeth to the English Civil War; is it any wonder that the peaceful ascension of William & Mary was called the “Glorious Revolution?”

    The English were a people renowned in ancient and medieval Europe for their piety who combined a Roman sense of organization with a German-Scandinavian sense of justice. Looking at English history and comparing it to that of other cultures, my assessment is that they are a people who very slowly and very tragically came up with many the advances in humane culture that we Americans are often too impatient and ignorant of history to properly appreciate.

    Each mindset has its pluses and minuses, but the great risk of the English culture (and Anglican religious culture) is that while tolerance is useful when the alternative is civil war, in times of peace it becomes very easy for predators to rise to power and take advantage of this tolerance to further their own ends.

    After WWI and WWII, the English seem to essentially have become shell-shocked and unable to continue their traditions. If they’re able to be reawakened, though, I have no doubt that they will once again rise to be one of the great forces of humane civilization in the world.

    (Sorry; I’m honestly not trying to hijack the comments here for my own monologue!)

  2. I was forced to attend and Episcopal/ Anglican church which was filled with British Expatriates and I spend a good many months dealing with the Royal Marines and the British Army types in 29 Palms. My best friend since I was 13 is a former Brit, etc. I’ve never been to England, but I have some experience with English culture, and they are very nice (and funny as hell, as a general rule. British humor rules.)

    BUT, I would tender that argument with this: It’s a kind of polite for politeness sake. A sort of a fake niceness. I’ve seen this with Mormons, too. The use of what I call a backhanded complement or what my friend calls “Southern Humor” where you say something that’s nice that has a double meaning. “Well, you certainly seem intelligent for an American.” Uhh, thanks. I guess.

    Good manners are a cultural trait there, but actual kindness is no more common there than it is anywhere else. The Japanese are also very fake nice. Polite in the sense that what they consider rude, we don’t. They aren’t trying not to be rude, we just don’t notice when they are. When a Japanese cab driver spits on the ground on the other side of the street as you pass, it means something, and it’s not nice. Brits are the same way.

  3. Faugh. Color me American, please, because I have no desire to put up with that sort of nonsense. And for the record, standing idly by while someone is being attacked doesn’t strike me as particularly “nice”…if that makes me a hothead, or some sort of “ugly American”, well, I’ll live with that.
    If you favor the niceness of Britain, then by all means go there. I have heard a great many things to recommend it, although I have yet to go there myself (so I don’t pretend to be an expert, either.) I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone their choice to live under the social/ political system that works for them. I simply wish they’d stop trying to make this country what is not, all the while saying what a knuckle-dragging, ignorant, redneck Neanderthal I am for not wanting the same thing they do.

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