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english “sociality”

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A footnote, which glosses “model[s] of conviviality and sociality” British and not-British, from The Impostume’s latest post:

*Outside ULU last week there was a Brit/Non-Brit split perfectly exemplified. Two girls were introduced to French guy by a mutual Spanish friend. Hello, they said , then immediately turned to each other and began talking furiously about an absent third party who would be joining them later as the French guy stood there looking surprised and awkward. Their eyes locked on each other they went breathlessly gabbling on, desperate to maintain the little, fearful bubble of private space until the French guy, realising he wasn’t going to get a word in stepped heavily back a few paces and began looking distractedly around, pretending he was intrigued by the ebb and flow of the crowd. The two English girls visibly relaxed, the tension went out of their postures: thank god, thank god, now we won’t have to find out anything about him until we’re good and drunk in a few hours time.

Yeah, that seems just about right. It is a bit hard to understand, and you can start to feel a bit hurt and weird until you do. Phew.

Still, it dawns on me that, despite my thirty year run from birth to expatriation in the US, somehow I grew up essentially British as far as this matter goes (The complexities of being myself the offspring of Commonwealth expats, non-anglophilic but Victorian to the core, has something to do with this, and much else that I’m slowly sorting out) but British in a non-British milieu. Thus, rather than an implicit mutually-agreed taciturnity until pints and glasses, I was allowed to be taciturn amidst chattering friendly types… Here, faced with a populace of people that are basically just like me to one degree or another when it comes to striking things up, starting things off, well, things get tricky and sometimes stuck and worrisome.

I’ll sort it out. It dawned on my wife and me the other night that, now that our kids are actually growing up here, there’s a likelihood that unless something undeniably perfect were to draw us back, we’ll probably end up lifers. Kids cut the whim and access to arbitrary out of your life – we couldn’t even move to a different neighborhood at this point without landing them, say, in worst school in Camden council or whatever. So I’ll have to sort it out.

Written by adswithoutproducts

June 14, 2009 at 7:13 am

Posted in england, sociality

14 Responses

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  1. Aargh! We’re not all like that!

    infinite thought

    June 14, 2009 at 8:41 am

  2. A bit! Hahahaha.


    June 14, 2009 at 10:16 pm

  3. Also it’s the country that’s producing another season of “Skins” right as we speak. If that’s not reason enough to move away…

    peli grietzer

    June 15, 2009 at 6:02 am

  4. Ah I should watch that, for sociological reasons and because there is absolutely nothing else on. We’ve got a big tv and a maxxed out satellite subscription, but literally watch all the tv we watch on my laptop, propped on a ottoman in front of the couch. HBO downloads and I wish I could get rid of the Sky sub… Hmmm….


    June 15, 2009 at 11:52 am

  5. I’ve seen that vignette! But at American academic conferences, and there’s a crucial difference. People are introduced and then immediately ignored on the basis of their “lower” college origin or a sharp assessment of their use-value as a networking tool. The main difference is that the assessor won’t speak to the alienated conversationalist later when drunk. They’ll never speak to him or her again.

    They’re currently showing Skins in France and I actually think it’s a Good Thing. Not just because the series is one of my guilty pleasures. The stereotypes of British people round these parts (and abroad generally) are (like all stereotypes) so bizarre and there is actually a lot of truth about Britain and its youth in that series…


    June 15, 2009 at 1:32 pm

  6. Totally true RobDP. Let it be said, though moving abroad has given me a somewhat better perspective on my home country (I fucking hated the place before, I have to say) none of the anti-Britain knocks are meant to suggest that one place is better than the other. You’re absolutely right about conferences, and it isn’t just conferences. (Though, to be fair – I wonder what happens if you show up at an Oxbridge hosted affair with the wrong sort of nametag on…)

    On Skins. Kids are a bit wilder here than Americans. Lower drinking age and all, cultural difference (tinge of nihilism vs. lingering idealism at home). I’ll have to watch the show, at some point. And I suppose, in 13 years or so, I might well know at first hand… or I won’t.


    June 15, 2009 at 6:47 pm

  7. Kids are a bit wilder here than Americans.

    Ooops. Wait. I have no idea whether this is true. I grew up in the NJ suburbs. I am here in some sort of Park Slope equivalent. I’m not adjusting properly for the difference between the milieus; I have no idea what it’s like for kids out in Essex or wherever. So I have no idea. I’ll still watch the show tho…


    June 15, 2009 at 6:48 pm

  8. I grew up in Southend (Essex). I could tell you some stories, most of them fulfilling all of the stereotypes (teenage pregnancy and testosterone-fuelled alcoholic vomiting)… but I thought NJ was meant to be the American Essex? I heard the makers of sitcom Gavin & Stacey were remaking it for US telly and changing the Essex side of the family to New Jersey and Wales to Ohio or something.

    I was only bitterly jossing about Americans at conferences. I have a North American partner who hits me on the upper arm more or less every time I make a judgemental comparison between the two landmasses anyway…


    June 15, 2009 at 7:01 pm

  9. but I thought NJ was meant to be the American Essex?

    By which I mean: I see you were making the NJ-Essex comparison, but Essex holds a special place in English cultural stereotypes which is far from tame or bourgeois.


    June 15, 2009 at 7:06 pm

  10. Skins reminds me of Kubrick’s quip that he directed The Shining cause he wanted to make a happy movie [that is, supernatural horror undoes its edge by promising a-life-beyond]. Unlike let’s say Gossip Girl, Skins doesn’t have the guts to admit its tricksterin’-fuckin’-boozin’ young gods operate as total power fantasies even if you mix-in a broken home and the occasional eating disorder. The most-main characters are nothing short of Byronic, yet the show won’t let go of its affectations of raw authenticity. Fun though.

    peli grietzer

    June 15, 2009 at 7:25 pm

  11. I more or less agree. But other than the fun, I think the main thing to be said, very seriously, for Skins is a point that was made much of at its inception: it is more or less unique among young-adult/teen dramas in being entirely unjudgemental about drug use/sex/etc. I was a little disappointed when there was actually a pregnancy, but refreshed that this wasn’t used as a way to indict their activities. Pretty much all television about young people abides by a version of the principles outlined in Scream (if you have sex, you will die (or at least get pregnant); if you take drugs, you or your friend will overdose and die; if you get in a fight, you will lose and realise that violence solves nothing). Skins has its own morality somewhere but it really is completely different to everything which is allegedly in the same genre, from Dawson’s Creek through to As If (terible yet oddly addictive Sunday-morning Brit teen drama in the early ’00s). People have sex, take drugs, get drunk, and the consequences of their actions usually have little to do with what they tell kids in secondary schools, and much more to do with their particular character flaws or the unfortunate contexts in which they find themselves. And they live on. I think it’s great. I am completely unaware of any other mainstream TV programme about young people that does this in any way, shape or form.


    June 15, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    • RobDP — Check out Freaks & Geeks, Gossip Girl, the 1st season of Veronica Mars.

      peli grietzer

      June 15, 2009 at 9:46 pm

      • I see I’ve come to an expert 😉 I will indeed…


        June 16, 2009 at 7:58 am

  12. RobDP,

    hmmm. Yeah I’m prolly confused about essex. I’ve only been there once (invited for sunday lunch). It vaguely reminded me of the very distantish suburbs of New Jersey, trees and things. But really I have no idea.

    New Jersey is mixed. Nothing plays this more brilliantly than the opening montage of the Sopranos, which I could talk endlessly about and often do.

    Ok, Ok, I’ll start downloading Skins as soon as I have some HD space. (I’ve run out for the first time in about, hmm, 15 years…) Right now we’re watching fucking Big Love, purely out of sheer boredom and HBO brand loyalty. But it’s bound to end sooner or later.


    June 15, 2009 at 9:18 pm

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