Friday, 21 October 2011

Being British and the Cake Conundrum

There are many, many wonderful things about being British.

Like, when three people are standing around a kettle in the office kitchen waiting for it to boil, the lull in conversation can always be filled with mindless observations about the sun, rain, clouds, heat, cold (or lack of it).

And no matter how chaotic the shop, there will always be a staunchly adhered to queue at the pay desk, populated by people who possess the ability to communicate using only tuts and rolls of the eyes.

Then there's the way the transport system in our capital city is governed by a set of rules based on maintaining order and politeness: letting people off the train first, allowing those in a hurry to get by on the escalators, giving up your seat for someone who needs it, and then shutting the hell up so everyone can brood at the lack of space in silence.

We live in a country where "sorry" is probably the most spoken word in our collective vocabulary, uttered even if we're annoyed and complaining about something - which we frequently are - and yep, we do that really well, if quietly, too.

But for all these entertaining little British nuances, these little quirks based around maintaining order - sometimes there's the feeling that people can be just too damn polite. Not wanting to tread on toes or rock the proverbial boat, we'll often say the opposite of what we want when asked. I like to call it The Cake Conundrum:

They say: Would you like the last slice of cake?

You think: Yes. Say yes. You're starving. Say yes. Yes, yes, yes.

You say: Oh, no thank you. I'm stuffed. And I ate yesterday, so I really shouldn't.

All of which keeps the world a lovely polite place, but doesn't really do you (or your rumbling stomach) any favours.

The Cake Conundrum can be reversed and applied to many situations, but the end result is the same. One person doesn't say what they really want, and ends up feeling worse, maybe even a bit resentful for it. The other person has their cake, eats it, then feels rude when they later find out, usually by via someone else, that they deprived someone of much needed food.

To carry the metaphor to its healthy end: I suppose sometimes, I feel like I eat a lot of the cake.

You ask me a question, you'll get an honest answer. If you're dithering, I'll decide. You see a husky dog on the tube with a face like a cuddly bear and stare at it longingly; while I'll bound up to the owner, pat the dog on the head, ask it's name ("Bonza") and smile all the way to work.

Because politeness is good, politeness is great. Politeness makes this country go round.

But sometimes, it's good to shelve the weather talk, tell the cashier to hurry up, ask that person next to you to get their bag off your lap, and not automatically apologise when someone else bumps into you. Aside from anything else, you'll feel better for it.

And always, always smile at the dog.


Anonymous said...

It is a bizarre fact of life that I know the names of all the many dogs in our apartment complex and yet know very few of the human's names. I have waggy-tailed cuddled all of them - even the psycho pitbull/German Shepherd mix that the guy half-heartedly claims is a "labrador cross". It growls when it's happy. I'm pretty sure that's weird.

The humans all know me as "The British Guy", of course, helpfully I fly a Union Jack from my balcony in case there is still any lingering thoughts that I might be South African or Australian.

My neighbor (er, neighbour? - Chrome says I am spelling it wrong with the "u") on the second floor is one of those annoying people who *always* remembers your name and has a name which unfailingly completely escapes me. We've got to that awkward point six months on where I know him so well now I can't actually ask him what his first name is... it wouldn't be...polite... ;-)

Anonymous said...

p.s. All written with a bit of a red-wine hangover grammar. I think is shows..a little. Meh.

Lpeg said...

What an adorable dog! I love the husky breed.

Ellie said...

God I miss the queue. I wait a millennium to be served a coffee with milk.

That dog is gorgeous. I also miss being able to take my beast with me on public transport.

Whilst often biting your tongues, the English are, as a nation (not as individuals ... too busy biting tongues ... ) staunch and vocal supporters of individual rights. Much more so than the Americans, which is ironic given America's hotly publicized individualistic national character. That's just a little observation. :)

The Unbearable Banishment said...

Being British, you also get to speak with those charming accents. I dated a Brit and she was awful to me. And I knew it! But I was hooked on the accent. Couldn't help myself.

It takes an evolved man to admit that he's this shallow.

Miss Milk said...

I don't think that metaphor should extend as far as not patting dogs. Dogs have infinite pats to give, it's your own fault if you miss them.

treacle said...

I never say no to dessert or cake. I always smile at dogs - even when they are scary and try not to say sorry unless I really, truly mean it.

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

punctuation - Banish Chrome to hell with it's omission of "u"! It's so awkward when someone remembers your name and you don't know theirs. You end up introducing a group and going "Oh, I'm sure you can all introduce yourself!" Foolproof.

Lpeg - My sources tell me that in all likelihood it was a Japanese Akita. However, I think it looks like a Bear Faced Husky.

Ellie - Your observation might be right there. And as for missing the queues, the hubbub around buying stuff is by far the most stressful thing about being abroad. QUEUE, GODDAMIT. QUEUE.

Unbearable - Our accents are rather charming. I like our little turns of phrases, too. Like "arse over tit" and "hokiedoke!"

Miss Milk - An astute comment. I will always pat the dog.

Treacle - Sometimes I like to bump into people and count how many people say sorry.

(that's a lie)


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