11/17/08

Lookout! Unfriendly, impatient, paranoid Brit' about town!

Living in smalltown America, one of the biggest changes a Brit' has to get used to is everyone being so open, friendly and trusting. For many years us Brit's have openly mocked and scorned the 24/7 American courtesy of saying to someone "have a nice day" as they leave you.

This is not at all the normal attitude in the UK, where we tend to live up to our national reputation of being a little stand off'ish with strangers. If I was on public transport in the UK, I would have been more than a little wary if a stranger had said "hello" to me, if they tried conversation I'd ignore them and I would not be alone. It's interesting to note when travelling on 'the Tube' (London's underground trains), how people will actively avoid any eye contact, even when packed together cheek by jowl.

So moving here was a total culture shock in this particular respect. Here in Okieland, well at least in smalltown Okieland, it would be more worrying if nobody ever said "hello" in passing. It is very noticeable as a Brit', that pretty much anyone who gets into close proximity with me, will cheerily say "hi/hello" and make eye contact. I am regularly engaged in brief but friendly conversations with total strangers, whilst out and about shopping etc!

When I first got here and even now occasionally, I find myself asking the hubster "who was that?" only to be told "I don't know them"!! Now that is a strange concept to most Brit's.

People really are refreshingly open and friendly to complete strangers and I find it actually makes me feel a little more secure. In the UK there have been many reported incidents of people who are obviously being attacked, abused or are even injured in a public place, not being offered help by passing strangers!

Now let me hasten to add this does not apply to all Brit's, I could never have turned a blind eye to helping someone in danger. My ex-husband once jumped right into the middle of an attempted robbery to assist a shopkeeper, but then he is Turkish and they are friendly people as a nation.

But sadly it seems many Brit's will now turn a blind eye, rather than end up involved themselves. I could just never imagine that happening here, I already know everyone in the vicinity would jump in to offer assistance to a stranger in peril. And yet the risks are far greater here, when you consider anyone could be carrying a gun legally!

Where I live now I rarely see acts of public aggression or rudeness. People are considerate of each other and generally courteous.

If you ever find yourself on the receiving end of a fit of road rage in NW Okieland, take a look at the tag and don't be surprised if you see a British flag! I'm ashamed to say old habits die hard for an M25 hardened British driver! The hubster has been embarrassed a few times since I arrived, at my horn hitting and gesticulating if another driver unwittingly annoys me, or god forbid slows me down.

I was also surprised from my very first visit at the way most people held doors open for others, or offered to give up a place in a queue if you arrived at the same moment. That last example in particular is a total no-no to most Brit's, who hate queuing for anything. Again I often irritate the hubster as I mutter furiously in his ear, if he should dare to waste time joining a queue, or heaven forbid let someone in ahead of us!

They are so polite here, that if you get within a couple of feet of most people in a public place, they will automatically say "excuse me" or "pardon me". It's quite bizarre, almost like they are all programmed at birth to say this when a stranger gets near. But I now find myself doing it in exactly the same way; although if someone says "pardon me", I often supress the desire to say to them "why, what have you done?".

But what really amazes me here is the level of trust.

Many of my friends and neighbours are highly entertained by my need to lock everything I own. I could probably walk up to at least 60% of homes here and walk straight in, at anytime of day or night. I know one couple who leave their very nice home unlocked 24/7. You walk in and there's a beautiful front room with a 60" TV and all their possessions totally unsecured! It blows my mind! When I queried how wise this was, my friend just laughed and said it's never locked, even when they go on holiday for 2 weeks!!

I lock my front door at all times, even when I am in the house, in fact I also lock my porch door just to be really safe. I often see the look of amusement in a friends eyes, as I unlock all my doors to let them in during daylight hours. I am only now just starting to knock and then enter my friends homes, without them actually coming to the door to open it for me. I have finally realised this is acceptable behaviour amongst friends here, but I still hesitate once in and call out to them before proceeding further.

Every single day of the week I see empty vehicles left unlocked and running in public. It's just the norm' around here. So much so, that I was recently given a free gift of a snap release key-ring by my cellphone operator. When I asked what it was, the nice lady explained I could attach my vehicle ignition key to one end and the rest of my keys to the other. Then she said "so when you go to the Post Office or Bank, you can just leave your ignition key in your car and take your mailbox or bank box key in with you". So in other words I can leave my car unlocked and running whilst I conduct my business and hope it's still there when I get back. Needless to say I was none too impressed with my free gift!!

But if your hear on the news of a smalltown in Okieland having a spate of car thefts and then a local cellphone operator being sued, you won't be surprised and I will be vindicated!

I once asked someone I worked with for her car key, she told me it was in her car. I asked where and she said somewhat surprised "the ignition"! She was very amused by my total horror at her doing such a reckless thing daily. She did however admit she had once had her car stolen in another town, her trust in her fellow man was undented and god bless her for it!

Whilst writing this I have found myself realising, that after 3 years living amongst such open, friendly and trusting people, I am now a little less reserved, friendlier to strangers, but still as untrusting as I ever was back home.

I guess it takes awhile to undo 40 years of British reserve, impatience and an ingrained lack of trust - but I am working on it. I am however considering buying my own gun, but that's a whole other post for another day ;-)

You should know though, your chances of EVER walking straight into my home, or seeing my car unoccupied and running, are exactly ZERO!

24 comments:

East Anglian Troy said...

I think to some extent it is a rural versus urban thing - I suspect NYC is like London and your part of Okieland is like some of the remoter communities in the UK.
Having myself moved from suburbia to a more rural environment I can relate completely to your posting. I lock everything up (did you ever read my blog posting about me trying to break into my own home?) - the "better safe than sorry" mentality is so ingrained.
I'm watching your blog counter and I'm hoping to be the 20,000th visitor.

Mary said...

I tend to agree with the post above mine - Urban vs. Rural. If you run into a friendly urbanite, usually he/she was raised in a small community/rural area.

Srg said...

From the sounds it, your British ways would fit right in here in CT! Even though there is still quite a bit of politeness to total strangers, it wouldn't be CT without a little road rage on the local highways! And we hardly ever allow someone else to go in front of us in a line. We're way to busy to be giving up our spot.

As for people who leave their homes and cars unlocked, I know a few families who do this and have never had any problems. I grew up in a fairly busy city and even though I'm in a more rural area now, there's no way I would leave my house unlocked!

Nan said...

I loved reading this. I wish it could be published in a national or international newspaper. But I was very surprised because I've always thought of the British as kind and polite and friendly to outsiders. At least this has been true the three times we've traveled there, in 1971, 1977, and 1992. Maybe it is different in the years since, but we were given such kindness and caring everywhere we went.

Brit' Gal Sarah said...

Nan, never having been an outsider in England myself, you may well be right. I know I was always those things to visitors from abroad. We are not however quite so considerate of our fellow Brit's in my experience around the London area.

And generally we are polite, but alot of the courtesies like holding a door open are lost these days. Brit's are all just under so much stress and usually in too much of a hurry as well.

Troy is right, in some rural area's these qualities remain, but in the cities they are not common practice anymore.

Sandi McBride said...

I lock everything I own. I never leave my vehicle unlocked, even parked in my yard in the middle of the back of beyond...I blame neither the years I lived in the UK nor the years I spent enforcing the law...I blame my mother...lol
Great post!
Sandi

Expat mum said...

Definitely urban versus rural re locking house doors, although a lot of people even in Chicago leave keys in cars etc. when popping into the 7-11.
It's clear you weren't brought up in the north east of England though. Stand at a bus stop for more than five minutes and you'll get the life history of everyone over 60! Very funny most of the time!

Expat mum said...

One thing you didn't mention, and it's probably too hot in OK to do it a lot, but that's "cracking the window". When I first moved here, my husband used to do this (open the windows about an inch before leaving a parked car) and I couldn't believe that no one would come along with a crow bar! My English guests are always surprised when I do this.

pamokc said...

Girl this is hysterical. I wish it were still that way down here in the city. We always had at least one door unlocked while I was growing up. The front door might be locked, but the back door was open. Go figure!

The hardened M25 driver let loose in rural Oklahoma is what tickled me the most. Having spent much too long on the M25 myself at various times -- I thought the road was hundreds of miles long because it took so long to get anywhere. When I found out that the stretch we were doing was only like 40 miles, but it took 1-1/2 hours, I was amazed.

But I will say that a lot of Brits are just as polite -- my husband one of them -- he couldn't get down the street in Las Vegas without saying "excuse me" to everyone he bumped into. Uh, too many people to say that all the time!

There is a link on my page to "Heard on the Tube" where a guy posts the rare and random things he has overhead. Hysterical.

And I will admit that to my sister-in-law's horror, I waved at everyone from the top of a double-decker sight-seeing bus, until I FINALLY FINALLY got people to wave back to me. I was going to make them wave or get thrown over the top! She was mortified.

Brit' Gal Sarah said...

Pam - so you're the nutter waving from double-decker buses in London huh! ;-)

Toni - I spent alot of time in the north growing up 30 yrs ago and certainly I remember that from way back then. I would agree northerners are friendlier generally, but I still think Okies would put them in the shade!

anglophilefootballfanatic.com said...

I think that's partially you being in a small town. I think my hometown city is more like what you describe than the one I'm in now - which is smaller in size & population, oddly enough. But, I'd have to say in the last 20 years everything is less safe, friendly, and hospitable.

East Anglian Troy said...

Thanks for calling by mine again - glad you liked the meme. And to answer the question you left - when I came back I was 20,010 so just missed it. You've a popular blog, so perhaps I can now aim for 30,000 which at the rate you are going could be before Christmas (or for the PC Americans -the Holiday Season!).

Dee/reddirtramblings said...

Well, Sarah, we're polite (and no, we don't come programmed. I have three children I've been programming for years) but don't mistake that for not being wily. My neighbors in the country are not that friendly. In small towns and suburbs, we are, but out here in the sticks, everyone is suspicious of everyone else. However, they will open the door for you on your way to vote. We were well trained. I wonder about the next generation.
Does that mean, the Brits won't be friendly when I come to visit their gardens? I enjoyed this post very much.~~Dee

wanderingbtrfly said...

Hi Sarah,
I can completely relate to what you're saying! When I went to visit some friends in Montana, I left my purse sitting in her unlocked pickup while we ran into the local hardware store. We were in there about 20 minutes, and I was panicked the whole time - I just knew my purse would be gone when I came out! Alas, when we came back, it was still sitting there, completely undisturbed. I was amazed!

Leslie: said...

I think I agree with others that it's a rural vs urban thing. I'd never leave my house or car unlocked - EVER! And I'm like you in that I lock myself in my own house even in daylight hours.
Funny story - I moved up to the wilderness area of BC to teach for a year. The day we drove into the area, I thought that everyone knew I was coming because every single driver we passed going the opposite direction waved to us. I was thinking "I don't recognise him/her from when I was here before." But I soon found out that it was just "the thing to do" - you give every driver a little wave. So I started doing it, too. But I felt weird about it. We certainly don't do that in the city or the suburbs.
Oh yes, and I've always found Brits to be more than delightful - friendly and helpful.

Ladybird World Mother said...

I think that I live in the wrong country!! I have an ex who lives in San Francisco...I used to go over there and was amazed by strangers saying hi when I passed them in the street. Totally mad.
But I moved from London to country and the same happened. Hi from anyone who passed me. But thats a bit different from passing one person in a tiny country lane , to passing 130 people in a park, and they all say hello.
I lock it All. Once burgled , twice shy, I reckon. Pardon me for mixing my wotsits.

Smocha said...

This is not at all the normal attitude in the UK, where we tend to live up to our national reputation of being a little stand off'ish with strangers. If I was on public transport in the UK, I would have been more than a little wary if a stranger had said "hello" to me, if they tried conversation I'd ignore them and I would not be alone. It's interesting to note when travelling on 'the Tube' (London's underground trains), how people will actively avoid any eye contact, even when packed together cheek by jowl.

Can you tell me why this is? I am getting ready to move to the UK and I keep hearing stories like "everyone is so unfriendly, I don't have any friends...etc.."

I grew up all over this country and while I would not strike up a conversation with some gang bangers ,I don't see the harm in replying when someone says "Hi" or "how are you."

I am like you , as far as the safety and not trusting strangers with my belongings. My doors are always locked ,I would never set my purse down in a grocery cart and certainly would never leave my car running, unattended.

Great post!

Josephine said...

If you think people are polite in Oklahoma, then I wish you could visit the folks here in the "South"...
My mum has just been here for a visit, her first time.
She lives in the North of England, where most people are friendly by nature, and willing to help their neighbour.
She was overly impressed with the politeness and friendliness shown her, a complete stranger, and yet everyone seemed to have a "y'all come back now" attitude.
Folks here seem to have a habit of raising their hand, as they pass you driving down the street, you don't have to know them, just acknowledge them. Mum kept asking, "Who was that?" I would say "Don't know them ", and she would just look at me like I was fibbing or something. Well, before the end of her visit, she made it a point of waving to people as we passed, driving along. They would wave back, and she would have this unmistakable grin on her face, like she was accepted, and "gone local".......
She said it is so refreshing to be amongst genuine, polite people. Reminded her of how the people in England use to be some fifty years ago.

Brit' Gal Sarah said...

Leslie and Josephine - I totally neglected to say that alot of people here wave to you as they pass you on the road! Thanks for reminding me, I'm just so used to it these days!

Janet said...

Great post, Sarah.

I'm from a rural area in England, and the people there were always polite and friendly. But I would never have dreamt of not locking my doors or my car.

Whem my dad visited us here in OK, he was horrified that I didn't bother to lock my car. Though I would never leave the keys in, or the engine running.

Also, my front door is open from morning until night, (though the glass door is shut), because the cats are in and out all day. But I do lock up when I go out, and at night.

Daryl said...

You'd fit right in here in NYC .. rude driving gestures and all ..

;-Daryl

Josephine said...

Ooh I meant to add to my previous post, seems like it takes a lot of effort to keep raising your hand off the steering wheel to waive....
so most people just raise one finger (not that finger ), lol, and appears to mean the same gesture, even kids do it !

Melissa said...

Sarah,
I would say your American experience is totally geographical. I live in the NE and we behave just as you describe the Brits behaviour. It must be our strong British roots here! ;)
It wasn't always like this though. When I was small strangers said hello. Not anymore. And it is a cold day in hell when someone actually wants to carry on a conversation with you, say while in queue? I have a neighbor who has lived across from me for 3 1/2 years. He still does not know our names. This is normal here.
I believe it was CT where a man was recently hit by a car and left to lie in the middle of the road. No one approached to help him for several minutes. They all stood gawking at him or kept walking. It was caught on film and played on the news here.
The South still has some hospitality to it but I think even that is changing as more people move around the country.

Melissa said...

I just wanted to add I live in a rural area...on the bible belt no less and people don't talk to each other, period. And yes, we lock our doors and cars. In fact it is more tempting in rural areas because it takes longer for police to respond. Not to scare you but something to think about.