Many Americans think of the United Kingdom — England in particular — as a classy place where there are no lapses in etiquette. Many Americans also think of that neck of the woods as full of educated people, all of whom graduated from Cambridge or Oxford.
A British accent of any type sounds more sophisticated to us than our own ways of speaking. Obviously, I don’t hear my own California accent, but I’ve been uncomfortable with it since the early 1990s, when I saw the Al Pacino film Scent of a Woman. You might recall the central character’s crass reference to a flight attendant’s “California Chickie” elocution.
Actually, like the United States, England has segments of the population with different levels of education, and who identify with different social classes. It might shock the average American that Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun reports a daily circulation of nearly one and a half million copies (source: Wikipedia), while the far superior Guardian reports a circulation of about one tenth that number (again, Wikipedia).
If you want to keep your news sources enlightening and fit for reading in the presence of polite bystanders, don’t read The Sun. Read The Guardian or the even less popular Independent. In those papers, you’ll find something you can actually think about.
(Disclaimer: Imported print newspapers are nearly impossible to find in San Francisco, so my knowledge of these periodicals is from what I read online.)
This morning, I found something encouraging on The Independent’s Twitter feed. It describes queuing as an aspect of British culture.
Okay, in the United States we aren’t all climbing over each other like a bunch of oaves. Not all of us. However, in many places around here, getting in line is kind of iffy. Sometimes there’s just a big crowd, with no queue to be found anywhere. Depending on where we are, it can be a fire code violation, but no one mentions that until after the stampede to get the free samples of cheese.
This piece in The Independent suggests the practice of queuing is carried out more consistently on the other side of the Atlantic. Click the link at the end of this post to see an example.
A word of advice, regardless of where you are: If you see someone who isn’t blatantly hostile slip ahead of the line, don’t assume that person is being presumptuous. I’ve seen misunderstandings, especially when tourists don’t know the terrain. Speak gently, and often you’ll hear an apology. Start yelling, and you may also hear an apology, but it will be followed by “you (expletive).”
In the end, it’s a judgment call, but please try to be kind.
True Story: Once, I was in a queue for pizza in a cheap, tacky place in San Francisco. A very intimidating man squeezed ahead of me, and I lacked the courage to say anything. I quietly simmered, while he got a narrow-looking slice of cheese pizza. Then I ordered, and got a great big slice.
“I saw what that guy did to you, and couldn’t resist,” the server said.
I thanked her.