Separated by a common language?

January 15, 2015 • 2 minute read

Seemingly every few months, stories about the quirks of the British make the social media rounds anew. The BBC is the latest to weigh in on this most robust of debates, even getting their own staff involved in bringing to life some of the more idiosyncratic behaviours.

Deciphering ‘British’ has also been the terrain of arguably more cerebral explorations by journalists (Sarah Lyall, The Anglo Files) and anthropologists (Kate Fox, Watching the English), both worthwhile reads that I have found amusing and informative in equal measure.

Some of this is perhaps being fuelled by the rise of interest around the world in Brand Britannia and, in particular, the Royal Family, as can be seen by the fervent welcome for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in New York just recently. Even among my own family and friends back home, the upcoming holiday catch-ups will no doubt feature many of the standard array of questions: Why do the Brits end every statement with a question? Why do they apologise for everything? What’s so terrible about ‘z’ after all?

It has been five and a half years now since I first moved to the UK to pursue my MBA, and just over four years since joining the professional workforce in this country. In the early days, it sometimes felt like I was learning the English language all over again. It wasn’t just about the vocabulary of the language, but rather its execution: nuance and subtlety will, in many cases, get you a lot further on these shores than bluntness or candour. Having worked in PR for more than 15 years on two continents, I’ve found the whole experience an incredibly useful masterclass about the true flexibility of language, the compelling power of nuance, and the danger of hidden meanings or misunderstandings.

In the end, it’s less about whether you use a ‘z’ or ‘s’ or add extra vowels, and more about the more ‘artistic’ expression of the English language. I’ve learnt that getting your head around that is an important way to understand the British better, and a continuing journey of discovery for me personally. And as we join forces with our colleagues in the US to create Infinite Global, having a mutual understanding of each other’s contexts and ways of communicating will be essential.

Thankfully, some of the more amusing British idiosyncrasies will, I’m sure, pop up on Twitter or BuzzFeed once again. When they do, we’ll all have a good laugh – on both sides of the pond – as if we’ve never heard them before.