In my German class, we have been learning about the difference between the Imperativ (giving orders) and the more polite Konjunctiv II (polite requests). An Italian student in my class wanted to know if the imperative could be used with friends in German, because she had discovered that in English, you definitely shouldn’t. This is true; even amongst close friends, you ask if they can pass you a book. Even if “please” is omitted, you use a courteous conditional: “could you pass me the book?” and you must always say “thank you”. It would be quite jarring to hear even your nearest and dearest say, “pass me that book”, unless they are deliberately being rude, for comic effect or otherwise. At a push, you could get away with it, if you tack on a “love” or other term of endearment at the end to soften it.
Here, as an English person, I’m a minority, but not in a sea of Scots, who also feel like a minority in my world. Never in my life have I ever been around so many Americans (except when I was, y’know, in the USA I suppose…), on my course, in my residence… everywhere. Last night at dinner I found myself pounding the table and (only half-) jokingly crying, “we are in the UK, why am I defending my own culture?!” There are a few English people here to back me up, stand up for words such as shuttlecock (clearly a better word than birdie) and help explain the difference between the US and UK use of the word “fanny”, and so on. One thing we definitely beat Americans on is our biting sarcasm though; I realised this as I watched a compatriot take down basically the entire American culture in one long, acerbic rant, to silence from our American friends. Ouch. It was all in good humour, though.
It’s an interesting dynamic in the classroom too. In workshops the only UK people in the room are myself and the tutor. I have to explain certain words that appear in my writing, such as Sainsbury’s and crackers, and let slide my American peers’ spelling of words like “color” and “favorite” (my god that felt weird to type). I’m hamming up the Englishness for all I’m worth and feeling particular fondness for all the other English people around me – though I love the Scottish best (yeah fine, I love the Americans too, I suppose).
I also feel I should apologise when – well, I feel that all the time because I’m English. But I do feel I should apologise in particular to my Scottish friends and Scotland as a whole because I keep committing the same thought crime – i.e. starting sentences with, “here in England…” before self-correcting with a guilt-ridden, “er, in the UK…”
The whole oh-so-you’re-English-but-you-know-you-don’t-look-it thing seems to be this awkward thing with everyone but the actual English people I meet. I should say British actually, because it’s only ever the non-British who seem to care where I’m “really” from, or who seem to somehow hear a Chinese accent in my speech. Whatevs, innit.