25 June 2010

Can't shock the posh

In these times of a world cup it may get somewhat snowed under, but in better times one of the first clichés that would come up when the Brits are mentioned would be the stiff upper lip. Exchange empty pleasantries and polite phrases in received pronunciation, and never let any anger, frustration, or desire get past that renowned barrier. And I have met Brits who indeed still adhere to that mindset. Additionally and reciprocally, the Dutch still having the reputation among the Brits of being bluntly direct means that there is something left of that culture.

Many months ago there was a job to be given away, and several men gave a presentation in order to convince us they should get it. Roland chaired this event. When one candidate left the room, and we had the opportunity to evaluate the impression he'd made, one of the Brits immediately sketched this man's merits in a very concise sentence. I was not the only one to be surprised; Roland responded somewhat taken aback that he was used to it being hím that made such remarks.

Later I expressed my surprise to our student. She was not very amazed; she pointed out the Brit in question had been upper class, and the posh seem to be too arrogant to care about what anybody else thinks of what they say. I would not call this gentleman arrogant, but when she said this I did recognise in hindsight that there is something posh about him, and that it would indeed make sense that that makes a difference. I had a bit of a "third rock from the sun" experience; being a foreigner I can only read class society with difficulty.

Later I had another encounter with my upper class colleague. A whole bunch of geographers had gathered for lunch, and we just innocently chatted away. However, for some reason or other the discussion ventured onto exchanging bodily fluids, and before I knew it the man in question hurled what could be called an inappropriate comment in my direction, and me being me I did not think, but immediately topped it. The guy did not budge, but I saw the faces of the middle class Brits on our table display signs of panic, and I thought one day I might well get fired for my big mouth. It did make me realise, too, that perhaps the Dutch should restrict themselves to liaising with the posh for their own safety...

This new insight into society came in handy soon enough; it helps making sense of the cavers too. And being a scientist, I always like more data. Anyway. Once I was on the phone with Dave, discussing writing a report for the PCG website. And he commented on what he called my "broken English"; if I send PCG emails around I sometimes can't resist using some grandiloquence, which is quite unlike what Dave would write. I highly indignantly objected to his choice of words commenting on that. Later he told me his daughter had been within earshot, and she had given him lots of crap for his politically incorrect remark. Politically incorrect! If they'd been posh they hadn't cared. I'm getting the hang of this!

The Mendip weekend provided another illustration: the hut we stayed in had a drying room for kit, and at one point several of us wanted to collect our stuff from there at the same time, and thus I ended up with two men in a small, hot and steamy room. The boarding school alumnus of the two assessed the situation, and remarked that this was probably the closest to sex we'd get. The other guy pulled a face like that of the non-posh Brits at the lunch table mentioned above, and got the hell out of there. Middle class! And another prejudice was immediately confirmed; this time I did not give some snappy answer, but pondered how one would parametrize sex, and if this situation indeed would qualify as the closest to it. And if not, then what would. Nerdiness defies class and nationality...

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