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The tourist view of Britain involves lots of formal ceremonies. Some people have drawn the conclusion from this that the British are rather formal in their general behaviour. This is not true. There is a difference between observing formalities and being formal in everyday life. Attitudes towards clothes are a good indication of this difference. It all depends on whether a person is playing a public role or a private role. When people are 'on duty', they have to obey some quite rigid rules. A male bank employee, for example, is expected to wear a suit with a tie, even if he cannot afford a very smart one. So are politicians.

On the other hand, when people are not playing a public role - when they are just being themselves - there seem to be no rules at all. The British are probably more tolerant of ‘strange’ clothing than people in most other countries. You may find, for example, the same bank employee, on his lunch break in hot weather, walking through the streets with his tie round his waist and his collar unbuttoned. He is no longer ‘at work’ and for his employers to criticise him for his appearance would be seen as a gross breach of privacy.

Similarly, most British people do not feel welcomed if, on being invited to somebody's house, they find the hosts in smart clothes and a grand table set for them. They do not feel flattered by this, they feel intimidated. It makes them feel they can't relax.

It is probably true that the British, especially the English, are more reserved than the people of many other countries. They find it comparatively difficult to indicate friendship by open displays of affection. For example, it is not the convention to kiss when meeting a friend. Instead, friendship is symbolised by behaving as casually as possible. If you are in a British person's house, and you are told to ‘help yourself’ to something, your host is not being rude or suggesting that you are of no importance - he or she is showing that you are completely accepted and just like ‘one of the family’.

In the last decades of the twentieth century, the general amount of informality has been increasing. Buffet.--type meals, at which people do not sit down at a table to eat, are a common form of hospitality.

At the same time, the traditional reserve has also been breaking down. More groups in society now kiss when meeting each other (women and women, and men and women, but still never men and men!).


Date: 2015-01-02; view: 2309

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