Inpublic life Britain has traditionally followed what might be called 'the cult of the talented amateur', in which being too professionally dedicated is looked at with suspicion. 'Only doing your job' has never been accepted as a justification for actions. There is a common assumption that society is best served by everybody 'chipping in' - that is, by lots of people giving a little bit of their free time to help in a variety of ways. This can be seen in the structure of the civil service, in the circumstances under which Members of Parliament do their work, in the use of unpaid non-lawyers to run much of the legal system, in some aspects of the education system, and in the fact that, until recently, many of the most popular sports in the country were officially amateur even at top level.
This characteristic, however, is on the decline. In all the areas mentioned above, 'professionalism', has changed from having a negative connotation to having a positive one. Nevertheless, some new areas of amateur participation in public life have developed in the last decade, such as neighbourhood watch schemes. Moreover, tens of thousands of 'amateurs' are still actively involved in charity work. As well as giving direct help to those in need, they raise money by organizing jumble sales, fetes and flag days (on which they stand in the street collecting money). This voluntary activity is a basic part of British life. It has often been so effective that whole countrywide networks have been set up without any government help at all. It is no accident that many of the world's largest and most well-known charities (for example, Oxfam, Amnesty International and the Save the Children Fund) began in Britain. Note also that, each year, the country's blood transfusion service collects over two million donations of blood from unpaid volunteers.
I. Mark the following areas of activity as 'professional' or 'amateur / voluntary':
The civil service, Parliament, the legal system, the educational system, sports, neighbourhood watch schemes, charity work.
II. Sort out the following as positively or negatively viewed by the British:
Too professionally dedicated, only doing one's job, everybody 'chipping in', giving direct help to those in need, raising money, donation of blood.
PRIVACY AND SEX
Respect for privacy underlies many aspects of British life. It is not just privacy in your own home which is important. Just as important is the individual's right to keep information about himself or herself private. Despite the increase in informality, it is still seen as rude to ask people what are called 'personal' questions (for example, about how much money they earn or about their family or sex life) unless you know them very well. Notice that the conventional formula on being introduced to someone in Britain, 'how do you do?', is not interpreted as a real request for information at all; the conventional reply is not to 'answer the question' but to reply by saying 'how do you do?' too.
The modern British attitude to sex is an example of how, while moral attitudes have changed, the habit of keeping things private is still deeply ingrained. British (like American) public life has a reputation for demanding puritanical standards of behaviour. Revelations about extra-marital affairs or other deviations from what is considered normal in private life have, in the past, ruined the careers of many public figures. This would seem to indicate a lack of respect for privacy and that the British do not allow their politicians a private life. However, appearances in this matter can be misleading. In most of these cases, the disgrace of the politician concerned has not been because of his sexual activity. It has happened because this activity was mixed up with a matter of national security, or involved breaking the law or indicated hypocrisy (in acting against the stated policy of the politician's party). In other words, the private sexual activity had a direct relevance to the politician's public 'role. The scandal was that in these cases, the politicians had not kept their private lives and public roles separate enough. When no such connections are involved, there are no negative consequences for the politicians.
LOVELY WEATHER WE'RE HAVING
The British are always talking about the weather. Unlike many others, this stereotype is actually true to life. But constant remarks about the weather at chance meetings are not the result of polite conventions. They are not obligatory. Rather, they are the result of the fact that, on the one hand, to ask personal questions would be rude while, at the same time, silence would also be rude. The weather is a very convenient topic with which to 'fill the gap'.