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From
Kate Fox’s observations in her book Watching
the English: the hidden rules of English behaviour (2004), it seems clear
that one of the main characteristic of English people, or, at least, of the
majority of them, is being socially inhibited, excessively reserved and awkward
in building relationships. As a matter of fact, she concludes her work with a
diagram showing which are the defining characteristics of Englishness (English
cultural identity) and, according to her, its central core is what she calls
“social dis-ease” that she defines as a shorthand term for the social
inhibitions of English people and refers, also, to the awkwardness and
embarrassment that leads them to a sense of discomfort and incompetence in the
field of social interactions and so to a lack of relationships. Moreover, Kate
Fox believes that the general disinclination of the English of showing emotions
and feeling, which is known as “English reserve”, and their obsession with
privacy are two of the symptoms of this social dis-ease. However, she believes
that this is treatable and that there are ways of dealing with it: with the use
of props and facilitators that allows them to break the ice and interact with
others and overcome their awkwardness by masking, at the same time, their social
incompetence (for example pubs, clubs, pets, weather-talk etc.) or retreating in
their houses. In fact, to compensate their lack in social skill, English people
retreat to the protectiveness and security of their own homes as behind the
doors they do not have to worry about it. And thus, given the reserved nature
of the English, houses are considered castles. Therefore, she connects their
obsession with nestbuilding and privacy sensitivity to their typical characteristic
of social inhibition, reticence and embarrassment.

As
showed by Kate Fox’s research, the English are, indeed, very private people and
highly individualist. As a matter of fact, British culture is what is called a
low context culture as opposed to the high context ones. These two terms were first
introduced in 1976 with the publication of the book Beyond Culture by Edward T. Hall, an American anthropologist and
cross-cultural researcher.

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According
to Hall’s definitions of these concepts, a high context culture values
tradition, long lasting relationships and the group harmony and thus it is defined
as collectivistic because it emphasizes the belonging of individuals in a group
and encourages conformity while discouraging individuals from sanding out. On
the other hand, a low context culture is characterized by valuing short-term
relationships and by being more individualistic, meaning that the individual needs
are considered to be more important than the group harmony. Therefore,
individualism is a dimension of a culture that has to do with whether people
regard themselves primarily as individuals than as a part of a group by
emphasizing personal freedom, accomplishment and every action that make an
individual stand out. As a matter of fact, in low context cultures, as the
United Kingdom, children are taught from an early age to think for themselves
as the rout to happiness is only through personal fulfilment.

 

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