Welcome to Britalian, the podcast where I try to keep up with the number of times British people apologise-a bit too often according to my Italian instinct. I don’t apologise quite as much. Etiquette is so relative.
Take greetings, for example. Why do I get the feeling that when Brits say: “you alright, luv?” they don’t actually give a toss?
Actually, how cringeworthy when people talk about themselves and their feelings! That’s oversharing.
Just do as an Italian would: go straight from hi to the core of the matter. Cut down on pleasantries such as thanks and please and may I. Maybe you’ll come across as blunt most of the time? Fair enough.
My personal goal is to make my colleagues say hi in the morning, when they come into the office. I get in with a loud “good morning!”. My colleagues just don’t say anything at all. Indeed, I’ve been told once to turn down the volume, as people are still asleep. And what’s worse, they don’t even say goodbye when they sneak away from the office. I’ll discuss this next time I talk to my line manager.
Loudness aside, I am mastering Britishness as well as I can. I can write perfectly passive aggressive emails of remonstration. I love using the words I am disappointed, which is the worst thing you can say in an email before descending into name-calling.
I have started staring ominously at people being loud and annoying in public spaces. Extra point on my British application. Unlike British people, though, I am not embarrassed to stand up and ask more or less politely for someone to turn the volume down.
The concept of socially unacceptable is so relative. I use handkerchieves. I’m a 30-70 blend of old fashion and environment-conscious. However, I suspect my hankie is not met with favourable reactions in public. British people think it is more polite to sniff and snuffle away than quickly blow your dripping nose, like the guy sat behind me on a Manchester-London train. Two hours of this, guys. Once I offered my tissues to a Scottish classmate sitting next to me who sniffed throughout a class and he refused them looking vaguely offended.
Besides, I think spitting on the road is not censored enough. Guys, that’s disgusting. I am extremely disappointed in you.
But if I had to pick a most British habit, it would be writing greetings cards. We don’t do cards in Italy. We do write some cards to go with presents, or for occasions such as christenings and first communions. In other words, something holy and boring.
When I was a teenager I remember reading a book by an English author and the protagonist observes he didn’t receive many Christmas cards. I was so out of my depth I couldn’t fathom this out, and I had to resort to the context to decide if it was a good or a bad thing. It was clearly a sad occurrence, but then why? Are cards a social symbol?
The very first card I ever received left me puzzled. It was-guess what-a Christmas card coming from a fellow student. Why would you hand me a card when you can say Merry Christmas in person, and give me a hug as a bonus? And why do you have dedicated shops, usually three in a row on a high street? Fast forward, card after card, I picked up the habit and now I send a card for any imaginable occasion. I have a box full of cards, I spend tenners on piles of artsy cards from shops, museums and National Trust places, and I am quite proud of my choices. I buy cards before even knowing if and when I am going to write them.
Now it’s our time to puzzle my Italian friends with cards. I still don’t think they quite get it. I certainly don’t get many cards in return.
I feel like this has boosted my chances for citizenship. I wonder if the Home Office will send me a cute blue-coloured card of congratulations once I get it?
Next time: carpets.