Our guest blogger this week is Lisa from Anglophile's Digest. She is an American living in the north of England. Toni and Lisa weigh in on the question of manners.
I don’t think it would be accurate to generalize one nation, America or Great Britain, in terms of manners. My experiences in Britain have put me in contact with both ends of the spectrum. I have encountered the absolute rudest and most disrespectful people on my visits to London, and I have had the pleasure of being treated with the utmost politeness up here in the North East of England. The same goes for America, and I think wherever you go in whatever country you are going to experience politeness is greatly varying levels.
Receiving people into my home and entertaining is where I find the greatest disparity between American and British manners. Although I have lived here for a year, I still often feel like the rudest hostess since I don’t always perform up to expectations. Simply put, I don’t put the kettle on. I might put out bowls of chips and snacks but I never think to put the kettle on when I am having guests over. I will of course offer them whatever cold beverages I have on hand or a cup of tea of coffee when they have settled in, but it is not a compulsory thing for me to prepare tea for guests. It is especially true when I have workmen in my house. I think it is incredibly unprofessional for a plumber or handyman to take a break for a cuppa when I am paying them by the hour.
On the flip side, I find the “pot luck” style dinner is nowhere to be found in Britain. In America it would be bad manners not to bring a bit of something to a family dinner or a dinner party, or at least offer to bring a dish to pass. In Britain the hostess is responsible for every course with the exception of maybe the drinks. In fact, some proud home cooks might even be offended if you brought a dish to pass.
At the end of the day though, I have to say when it comes to tolerating the cultural differences in manners I think the British are much more patient. Possibly it is the exposure to so many different cultures in close proximity but I seem to be excused for not putting the kettle on and for bringing my famous mashed potatoes to family gatherings. My British friends, family and acquaintances assume I am going to have a different way of doing things.
I can’t say that my American brethren are as understanding. Most Americans have the attitude that their manners are “just common sense” and it can often cause friction. In the past I have been at a party or gathering where there are guests with different upbringings and their unconventional manners are either looked upon unfavorably and whispered about or sometimes even openly mocked or challenged.
Although the British are certainly not saints when it comes manners, they definitely win the day when it comes to tolerance and discretion.
People often ask me whether I think Brits, or Americans are more polite. After 19 years in the States, I still haven’t made my mind up. Both can be the rudest imaginable and the epitome of gentility. The Brits probably sound more polite but here in the American mid-west, people go out of their way to show you respect and make you welcome – unless they’re behind the wheel of a car of course.
The most important thing to remember, if you’re travelling between the two countries is that what is considered manners in one place isn’t necessarily so in t’other. The example I always give is referring to someone, as “he” or “she” when that person is in your presence. In the States, this is done all the time, and no offense/offence is meant at all. I venture to say that in the UK, it’s one of the rudest things you can do and often elicits the retort “Who’s she? The cat’s mother?” (A prize for anyone who can tell us where this came from.)
In the States, the word “please” isn’t used so much, yet British parents will withhold all kinds of treats until they hear “the magic word”. It’s not that Americans aren’t polite here, but the inflection of the request infers the manners. That’s why when a perfect stranger comes up to me in the street and says “Do you have the time?”, smacking them across the head or otherwise expressing disgust at their uncouthness isn’t my first instinct. Americans are much more into “thank you”, and the acknowledgement of the thank you, to the point that omitting “It’s a pleasure”, “You’re welcome”, or the oft heard “Mmm hmm” is a tad rude. Even my 6 year old reprimands me if he says “Thank you” and I don’t appear to acknowledge it.
And then there's "Bless you". I was in a large group of people yesterday when someone sneezed. I kid you not, everyone within about a three row range of the woman turned round to say “Bless you” even though they didn’t know her. That’s not something I remember growing up with in England- family members and some friends perhaps, but not complete strangers.
So if your impressions of Americans have all come from TV shows and movies, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at their manners.
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