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We'll tot all this up later, when we've examined enough different aspects of English culture to build up a representative sample of its unspoken rules, from which we can distil our 'quintessences of Englishness'. In our exploration of the minutiae of conversation codes, we are already starting to see some recurring themes, but we must be ruthless: will these themes appear again in other contexts, such as the way we decorate our homes, our behaviour on trains and buses, the customs and rituals of the workplace, the rules of eating and drinking, sex and shopping?

21. See Fox, K. (2000) Social and Cultural Aspects of Drinking. The Amsterdam Group, London

22. The 'social micro-climate' is a concept I introduced in The Racing Tribe, where I suggested that just as certain geographical locations (islands, valleys, oases, etc.) are said to 'create their own weather', some social environments (e.g. racecourses, pubs, universities, etc.) also have a distinctive 'micro-climate', with behaviour patterns, norms and values that may be different from the cultural mainstream.

23. Nicknames can also, of course, often be used for less friendly purposes, including expression of hostility, social division and social control, but this is not their function in the pub.

24. Females do sometimes participate in these bantering pub-argument games, but much less frequently and usually with considerably less enthusiasm than males. When women argue, it tends to be 'for real'.

25. Of course, some arguments in pubs do escalate into physical violence, but pub-arguments of the type described here take place constantly, and our research has shown that physical violence is very unusual, occurring only on the rare occasions when the rules outlined here are broken. The issues of aggression and violence, and their relationship with drinking, will be covered in more detail later.



Some of the rules of Englishness do not require years of participant observation research to discover. The privacy rules, for example, are so obvious that you could spot them from a helicopter, without even setting foot in the country. Hover above any English town for a few minutes, and you will see that the residential areas consist almost entirely of rows and rows of small boxes, each with its own tiny patch of green. In some parts of the country, the boxes will be a greyish colour, in others, a sort of reddish-brown. In more affluent areas, the boxes will be spaced further apart, and the patches of green attached to them will be larger. But the principle will be clear: the English all want to live in their own private little box with their own private little green bit.26


What you cannot see from your helicopter, you will learn as soon as you try to visit an English home. You may have the address and a map, but you will have great difficulty in finding the house you are looking for. The Hungarian humorist George Mikes claimed that 'an English town is a vast conspiracy to mislead foreigners', citing the indisputable facts that our streets are never straight, that every time a street bends it is given a different name (except when the bend is so sharp that it really makes two different streets), that we have at least 60 confusing synonyms for 'street' (place, mews, crescent, terrace, rise, lane, gate, etc.), and that street names are in any case always carefully hidden. Even if you manage to find the correct street, the numbering of the houses will be hopelessly inconsistent and idiosyncratic, further complicated by many people choosing to give their houses names rather than numbers.

I would add that house numbers and names are usually at least as well camouflaged as the street names, indicating that an obsession with privacy, rather than a specific conspiracy to confuse Hungarians, is the real reason for all this muddle. We could not, even if we wanted to, demolish and re-design our muddled towns on a 'sensible' American grid system - but if we wanted to make it easier for others to find our house, we could at least paint the name or number reasonably clearly and in a position where it might be visible from the street.

But we do not. Our house numbers are at best highly discreet, and at worst completely obscured by creepers or porches, or even left off altogether, presumably on the assumption that our number may be deduced from those of our immediate neighbours. During the research for this book, I made a habit of asking taxi drivers why they thought this might be. They spend so much of their time crawling along, peering out of their side windows in search of a well-hidden or non-existent number, it struck me that they must at least have pondered the question, and perhaps come up with some interesting theories.

I was right about the pondering. Their initial response was almost always 'Bloody good question!' or words to that effect. The trouble was that it often seemed to be a cue for them to launch into a rant and moan about faded, camouflaged and absent house numbers - generally ending with something like 'Anyone would think they were doing it on purpose!' which as far as I was concerned was where we'd started. Trying a more devious tack, I would then ask the drivers if their own houses were clearly labelled. At this, most of them looked a bit sheepish and admitted that no, come to think of it, their own house numbers and names were not particularly conspicuous. Why not? Why had they not painted their house number or name in big, bold lettering on the front door or gatepost? Well, it would look a bit odd, a bit flash; it would stand out, it would be drawing attention; and anyway they practically never took taxis, and their house was not hard to find, and all their friends and family knew where they were - and other lame excuses (much the same excuses, in fact, as those I received when I put this question to non-taxi-driving householders).

Apart from reminding me that there is an element of typically English reserve in our reluctance to display our house numbers, as well as a fixation with privacy, my initial taxi-driver interviews were not terribly helpful, but I persisted, and eventually one gave a succinct and astute response. He explained: 'An Englishman's home is his castle, right? He can't actually have the moat and drawbridge, but he can make it bloody difficult to get to'. From then on, I thought of the English practice of concealing our house numbers as 'the moat-and-drawbridge rule'.

But an Englishman's home is much more than just his castle, the embodiment of his privacy rules, it is also his identity, his main status-indicator and his prime obsession. And the same goes for English women. This is why a house is not just something that you passively 'have', it is something that you 'do', something that you 'work on'.


Which brings me to the English mania for 'home improvements', or 'DIY'. When Pevsner described 'the proverbial Englishman' as 'busy in house and garden and garage with his own hands', he hit the proverbial nail on the head. Never mind football, this is the real national obsession. We are a nation of nestbuilders. Almost the entire population is involved in DIY, at least to some degree. In a survey conducted by some of my colleagues about fifteen years ago, only two per cent of English males and 12 per cent of females said that they never did any DIY.