Why I sometimes call British culture “paranoid” or “narcissistic”

If someone writes to you “with the greatest respect”, isn’t it paranoid or an indication of extremely low self-esteem, hence possibly narcissistic, to believe that it means “I think you’re an idiot”?

That’s not “sarcasm”, folks.  That’s bonkers. Nuts.

YouGov survey: 
British sarcasm 'lost on Americans':

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-46846467

So when a local shop owner suddenly started repeating “Don’t worry about it” a few years ago, I had no idea that it meant “Piss off!”, and I still have no idea why he suddenly wanted me to piss off either. I must have said something that he thought was intended as the exact opposite of what I said and meant?

Interesting is that before I moved from Amsterdam to the USA, I received some warnings/advice about Americans that turned out not to apply at all – for instance about the dinner invitations as mentioned in the BBC article – but I did later discover that some of it applies with regard to southern England.

For people in countries that don’t have English as their main language, the fact that British English is so vastly different from other forms of English can be really confusing.

There is also a thing in British English that we foreigners sometimes call hinting, and that people from other countries don’t get either.

I am not so sure that what the BBC writes about the British use of sarcasm applies to Scotland, by the way.

I do remember one occasion when I did catch the sarcasm. A year or so ago, I walked into a store to ask something and addressed someone whose last words to me before I left the store again were “and we’ll sort you out”.

What she meant was that they would teach me a lesson.

I suspect that I know what it was about and if I am right about that, then she considered the items she was selling “old junk”, felt that I had been comparing her to old junk by something I said (perhaps indicating that she was not very happy with what she was doing, even though I think she was an owner, not an employee).

This is typically British. Anywhere else, you’d be considered paranoid or otherwise not well in the head to have thoughts like these. Here, however, you are considered not well in the head – slow on the uptake – if you don’t get this stuff.

See how upside down the world can be and how tricky cultural differences are?

 

In defence of men

Isn’t today Father’s Day in the UK? Maybe the post below is a suitable Father’s Day gift.


Women often complain about or ridicule the phenomenon now known as mansplaining.

A typical and highly illustrative example is a man at a cocktail party explaining something to the woman he is talking to when the woman happens to be the world’s number one expert on the topic.

Is this really a feminist issue or could it be something else?

I am a feminist.

I am also Dutch.

Dutch men and women also do a heck of a lot of mansplaining. Dutch culture says that it is everyone’s democratic duty to have an opinion on everything.

The Dutch don’t say “I think that…” or “In my opinion…” and they don’t phrase their opinions in the form of questions either.

They make authoritative-sounding statements because they feel it is their duty to do so.

So I often get corrected and told that such and such is the truth and nothing but the truth. Also when it concerns topics that I have in my professional background and the other person does not!

When I go to the Netherlands, having been away from the country for a long time and having gotten used to a very different communication style puts me in the shoes of the average foreigner who is faced with the very direct and opinionated Dutch.

I too am now taken aback at first, but after a while, I fall into the familiar patterns again.

But it sometimes stays on my mind for a while when Dutch people seemed to be dismissing my professional background.

So then it hit me.

This is the same phenomenon as mansplaining.

It usually has nothing to do with wanting to take the other person down a notch or two, with wanting to convey a lack of professional respect or anything like that.

It is much more often a genuine effort to contribute to the discussion and do one’s very best.

That’s simply what men tend to do. That’s also what Dutch people do.

Emancipated Dutch women do it to me too. Mansplaining.

Of course, the old phenomenon of pissing contests does play a role in mansplaining as well. I am not denying that.

But maybe mainsplaining also happens because humans are really quite willing to help one another.

When someone offers to help you with heavy luggage at a train station, does that mean that the person seriously thinks that you’re not capable of carrying your own luggage or because he or she simply wants to be kind and give you a hand?

That this happens on the basis of outward appearances like apparent age, manner of dress, gender and hair colour (age) can be somewhat discriminatory.

Hey, tired young people wouldn’t mind a hand with their luggage either! And yes, the help often includes the assumption that women are less strong than men.

But these are snap decisions that people make, not decisions made after an hour of debate.

When you see a very young kid fall into the water, you rush. When you see a strong young man dressed in swimming gear fall into the water, you are a little bit less concerned.

That’s probably where it all comes from. Some people may say that this is the reptile part of our brain kicking in.

There is a difference between seeing someone fall into the water and having a conversation with someone, though. No life is potentially in danger during a conversation, so there is time for a quick thought or two before speaking.

Maybe the mansplainer and Dutch person could ask himself or herself “What is the other person’s background? Is it possible that he or she knows a lot more about the topic than I do?” before offering their opinions, which creates room for the option of asking a question instead.

But then, they also might not offer their unfiltered views and hold back what could be a genuine gem.

So, maybe the person on the receiving end of the mansplaining should simply listen and then provide a reply based on a wealth of knowledge.

It could lead to much more fruitful discussions.

This will go into my new book “We’re such animals!”

Prank, boredom or tardiness?

Yesterday, I found this note under my door. Is this a prank, evidence of boredom (komkommertijd bij de Engelse politie?) or does this inquiry relate to when I was attacked in July 2007?

Hint: I added two letters to the note.

I think it is a prank. First of all, the police forces here are stretched thin in many ways and the officers don’t have the time to go around inquiring randomly whether persons are fine. That makes no sense. They stopped investigating crimes against individuals ten years ago because they don’t have the resources. Their standard response when you report a crime – all over the country, not just in your own town – is that they will treat any information you give them as “intelligence” and then they refer you to the city council and your GP. (In practice, they tend to serve mostly as “citizen oppression officers”, unfortunately.)

Also, it just so happens that I stopped by at the police station only a few days ago, with my passport, to inquire about something in relation to an e-mail I’d had from my home country (someone had reported me missing after my e-mails stopped getting through to him) and the officer at the desk said that everything was fine.

Yes, I was attacked by five lads in July 2007, in an incident similar to two others that had just cost the lives of two Britons. (Thankfully, I didn’t know that at the time of the attack; a Briton in my home country later e-mailed me about it.) Local police (Hampshire Police) showed zero interest in what had transpired at the time, which is rather odd in view of the fact that they must have been aware of the other incidents. Or…?

It is hard to imagine them showing up 10 years later!

A while after the attack back then, via the Old Bailey, I got in touch with the widow of one of the other victims, which was probably good for both of us. After all, I merely had a mild concussion – two stones hit my head – and never lost consciousness so I was relatively fine. (I sustained a serious concussion in my teens as a result of two blows to my head during a traffic accident and those knocked me out good. I was carted off by ambulance then, so I knew it wasn’t as bad as that.)

When I found the lads sitting on a wall in front of my home a few days later, I called police in a bit of a panic, but then too, police, well, I guess were completely unaware of the other two incidents that had happened and cost lives? It is the only explanation that makes sense.

So, no, Hampshire Police officers don’t go around inquiring whether people are well, not even after a serious attack, and I am not on a first-name basis with anyone called William either.

So it must be another prank, from anonymous neighborhood folks. I get pranked a lot. Also by police.

(The latter isn’t something I can explain to people in my home country as it appears to be part of the quintessentially British makeup.)