In my last post I mentioned having learned to “contain myself when possible” within the first few months, probably weeks, of moving to Oxford. The English, I noted, are not a particularly loud bunch. (Kate Fox refers to English mildness as a key social characteristic in her Watching the English.) And I am not a particularly loud person. In fact, I would never characterize myself as loud period. But in England, suddenly my volume rose by 50%. Or maybe the volume around me decreased by 50%. I think the latter.
I would find myself in a circle of new people, begin to introduce myself by extending my hand, saying my name, “nice to meet you”–the customary greeting exchange, so I thought. But in this setting, my words, tone and actions felt abrasive. As if I were yelling at everyone, and they all just wanted to scurry away from the loud girl.
Over time I begin to mimic them more by quieting my voice, hiding my seeming eagerness by omitting the “nice to meet you” and replacing it with a slight nod of the head. It felt unnatural, like I was holding back a part of who I was.
I became quieter in many other situations. My American-white teeth, accent and clothing style said “U.S. TRANSPLANT” in neon lights. Why draw even more attention to it? So at my local sandwich shop I watched how the English would order, pay and say thank you in a delicate manner. I tried to do the same.
At the bus stop, I watched a passenger quietly board without asking the driver any questions as to where he was going and which stop was his. He would then remain quiet on the bus, only speaking to the person directly beside him if they knew each other and even then, only in low murmuring tones.
I often observed in wonder. They were all so chill. I wanted to be that way, and until moving to England, I thought I was. But my calm, cool and collected equated to their energetic, eager and slightly crazy.
So for a year, I toned it down. Whispered more, smiled less, played it cool. This sounds negative, but as in all of my English Lessons, I would ultimately find beauty in this British characteristic.