Getting to know your British 21st century class system as an American (you have learned it, right?)

yahooavatar15Hey, don’t think that I am ‘rising above my station‘, but I want to share with you a little something that mystifies my American self (and is starting to scare me) about after living in Britain for 5 years. Wait, ‘mystifies’ is a polite word. I should say that my own self is starting to annoy the hell out of me. I am getting my own goat. I am ticking. my.own. self. off.  Help! As a member of the ‘upper-to middle-middle-class bordering on spiralist-meritocracy’ echelon, I am starting to become class-conscious. Has it happened to you yet? Be warned!

I am becoming a person that like other Brits, can “identify” class ranking like a stinky fish in a garbage can. I wanna say that I don’t care about class and all that hoopla but yet here I am thinking about it more frequently then I ever did living in America. Its infilatrating my brain! Got a Cath Kidston diaper bag and Molton Brown in your bathroom ? Oh, I detect a Yummy Mummy! Got a gold earring, have shaved stripes in your eyebrows and are wearing white Ted Perry trainers? Oh, that could be bordering on chav territory. Got a posh neutral accent and wear a cravat? Mon dieu, he MUST be a public school boy! Drive a white va…. ok you get the idea… and I can’t help myself. Have I been subliminally trained ? How in the world did I learn all this??

Something I just cant get used to here in Britain is the class-system ruckus. Words like working class, middle working class, the underclass, the middle middle class, the working blue collar, the noveau riche, the Old Boy’s network, wag, public school,  state-schooler, Mondeo men, Chavs, Neds, scallies, the rah, the essex man… ahhhh…..my god there are a lot to learn! Enough to make my head spin trying to keep it all straight. God save me before its too late!!

How To Make Friends and Influence People (English Style!)

redlillocks

Hey lovelies, today we are proud to bring you a guest post by a another American in the UK, who calls herself ‘Redlilocks’– (insert applause!)

A quick introduction… I grew up in Pennsylvania but moved to Denver and then later to Wisconsin where I met an English man with a wicked sense of humour who made me laugh like no American man ever did. After a whirlwind romance, we married and I moved to Kent with him in 2001. Cut a long story short, the relationship didn’t work out & we divorced two years later. By that point, however, I felt so happy and settled in the UK that I decided to stay. I lived in Kent for 8 years and have only just recently moved to Manchester (oop north) to live with my new lovely man. This is not to gloss over the first 3 months I was here in which I spent either crying, saying, ‘pardon?’ to every person who attempted conversation or dreaming of Wendy. (No, not my BFF – the burger joint). But I stopped making comparisons and started to enjoy what the UK had to offer – and there was plenty. Including good friends.

Reading the comments, I felt compelled to write as it seems so many have such a problem making friends with British women. I have some fantastic friends here and genuinely love the UK. I relate so much better to the British mentality then the American ‘gung-ho’ attitude which always left me feeling slightly uncomfortable. That is not to say I’m reserved – by no stretch of the imagination – I’m actually very enthusiastic and out-going but I think I’ve learned that British people aren’t actually cold and snotty but they ARE more reserved and I have had to adapt the way I approach making friends with this in mind.

I have a lot of really great female friends here but have admittedly ‘worked’ for it – at least to start – but it’s been totally worth it and I’d like to share my advice. Bear in mind there are no guarantees here. After all, some people are just not very nice and nothing you can do will change that but do you really want to be friends with someone like that? No, I didn’t think so.
Let’s get started then.

MEETING FOR THE 1ST TIME:

Turn down the volume. I have turned my ‘volume’ of enthusiasm when meeting new people from about a 9 down to around a 5. This isn’t about not being yourself, it’s about being a more chilled out version of yourself .

Asking lots of personal questions doesn’t work. Whatever you do, DON’T ask a million and one questions when you first meet someone thinking that will break the ice. It won’t. They will think you are being exceptionally nosey – questions can come upon meeting them the 2nd, 3rd and 4th time. It’s like melting ice – yeah you can go at it with a sledgehammer to break it into a million pieces or you can warm up the temperature around it and wait. Believe me, the waiting is worth it.

Engage in pointless chitchat. Go ahead and talk about the weather for the first conversation. Tell them where you are from, why you’re here when they inevitably ask and you may need to smile and laugh while you suffer through their stories of holidays in Florida. If the conversation falls flat, let it. English people are not as uncomfortable with silence as Americans. It’s okay, you haven’t failed. Compliments are always welcome. Tell them you love their earrings or their shoes or their bag – it might start a conversation about how great Matalan is.

Keep it light, Keep it positive. DON’T complain about anything British (not even the weather). They will get defensive which is what you are trying to avoid. DO NOT TALK RELIGION OR MONEY. Keep it light and impersonal.

MEETING FOR THE 2ND TIME:

Be warm, not overbearing. You will find they will be a little warmer. Smile warmly back. That is all. Don’t extend your hand (You are not on an interview.)

Remember their name. This is sort of a no-brainer. Don’t be upset if they’ve forgotten yours. I can guarantee they haven’t forgotten you – being American brings with it a novelty value.

Be personable without being intrusive. Now is the time to be slightly more personal. Ask them where they are from, what they do.
Know your limits. Now is probably not the best time to regale them with stories of your childhood or how much money you make. There’s time for all that (well, not the money – that’s just not a conversation you want to have. Ever.)

Bear with the process. It seems long-winded. You’ll have to bite your tongue. You will feel like you are not getting anywhere but I promise you will!

MEETING FOR THE 3RD & 4th TIME:

Greet them appropriately. You may find by this time that they will be even warmer – you might want to give a kiss on the cheek if you feel it is welcome (NOT A HUG). If not, a warm smile always works.

Get to know them ‘properly’: Now you can start asking more personal questions, asking their opinion about something in the news, offer funny stories (preferably if you’ve done something silly – they love self-deprecating humour and it shows humility). Don’t be surprised if they start asking you some personal questions back and genuinely try to get to know you.

Don’t be scared. If you find you have things in common and you would like to see them again, invite them around for a cup of tea or a drink down the pub. You’ll be surprised how quickly the English will open up when they’ve had a few.

I think the main thing is not to try too hard – it will seem forced. My female friends (English) who have met other Americans find them scary – overly enthusiastic (which they don’t trust; they think it is fake, no matter how sincere you are) and nosey. What’s natural and normal for us is alien to them and they don’t know how to take it. So being accepted here is all about working around THEIR issues slowly until they are warm enough to you that you can feel very natural about totally being yourself. By that time, they will have (almost) forgotten you are American and the person beyond that will shine through.

You might not want to take my advice – it’s just what’s worked for me. I find with English people, once they DO warm up to you, you will have some pretty fantastic relationships. When I moved from Kent to Manchester, I had 3 going away parties because I had 3 different groups of pals (male/female mixed) that I wanted to be able to say goodbye to. It’s worked and I don’t feel like I’ve not been myself, or have denied who I am.

So now that I have moved I’m starting all over again – having to make new friends. I start a new job tomorrow and am hoping that in a couple months time, I have made some new friends to go shopping with or get lunch with or have a natter with over tea. In the meantime, I’ll smile politely, chat about the weather and laugh at the appropriate places when they tell me all about their annual trip to Disneyworld.

How do you find people in Britain who make you happy when you’ve just moved?  Click here

How a pair or rollar skates can help you make friends in Britain- Click here