Abby has a friend at school with whom she’s had a playdate. Her mom is a barrister. She wears a white wig at work. That’s awesome.

I had a pretty interesting conversation with my British coworkers today about politics and etiquette. It’s fascinating what they’re uncomfortable with. For example, race. They basically don’t talk about it because they don’t know how to. In America, essentially everyone is an immigrant so we’re very comfortable talking about our past and our personal racial mix. Not so here. They visibly cringed when I asked a question about blacks here, not even comfortable with me using that term (and telling me not to). When I asked what term they would use, after some discussion they concluded that they’d just avoid the topic altogether – they’d never even refer to the group in conversation. What I wanted to ask is whether there’s a distinct black accent here (equivalent to AAVE in the U.S.) but it’s impossible to even formulate that question here without being rude.

There’s a similar effect even when talking within the United Kingdom. People from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland very deliberately say that they’re Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish. Not so Englishmen – they’ll say they’re British. I think it’s for the same reasons that they don’t know how to talk about race in general – there’s some guilt there, as there’s a (very long) history of Englishmen and imperialism, both in the world and in the UK. The English are still the “rulers” of the UK, so they don’t emphasize their Englishness.

In terms of talking about politics, I also asked if that’s OK to do here, and it is, but only up to a certain extent. You can debate it, but you can’t ask who others specifically voted for. We got to that point in the conversation, and one coworker literally said, “at this point, it would be extremely rude for me to ask who [x] voted for.” And just as uncomfortable for someone to volunteer that information. Two coworkers both told me that their parents have never told them, their very own family, who they’ve voted for, even when asked directly. Fascinating.

Jieun has an interesting theory on the English kids being more polite thing. She surmises that it’s not that the culture is more polite, it’s just that there’s no space. In America, there’s (relatively) tons of space and when kids get space, they use it with their activity and go a little crazy. Here, everything’s cramped and that cramps kids’ range of behavior also. I’m not convinced she’s right, but it’s an intriguing idea.

I mention this because my coworkers also gave me some perspective on the Heathrow airport runway debate. The problem is that England (and especially London) is really dense, so building another runway has massive consequences. In America, there’s (relatively) so much space that it’s not nearly as big a deal – you just build it, or build a new airport altogether. Done. Different story here.

I get the impression that the density affects a lot of things here, not just airports. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it affects behavior and etiquette as well – when you’re really crowded together, you have to take certain measures to maintain personal space. So I think there may be something to Jieun’s theory.

Also interesting hearing about the ramifications of parliamentary system. There’s a lot about the U.S. system that I hate. For one thing, the elections are so frequent that our thinking is insanely short term. For another, the fact that the legislature and the executive branches are chosen separately and can be (and frequently are) at odds means nothing gets done. I’ve always thought the parliamentary system superior – the people elect representatives, and the majority party selects a prime minister. So there’s none of the lame friction we have in our federal government where the 2 non-judicial branches are frequently trying to block each other. Faster progress. If the people don’t like it, that’s fine, they’ll just vote the party out in the next election. So there’s still accountability.

I was informed of the flip side to that – when there’s nothing really to hold back the majority party, while they can enact things more quickly, they can also quickly try to undo everything the previous party did. One coworker had a personal example. He went to a school that was a new experiment, started when one of the parties was in power, where they decided to make it very technologically advanced. Every kid had a computer, there was a lot of computer instruction, and so forth. Eventually, the other party came into power, and they severely defunded the school, just to shame the opposing party, to show that their school experiment was a bad idea. So it had personal ramifications for him, and ever since then he’s hated politics. And that’s interesting. I don’t think that could happen in the U.S. because the minority power still has a lot of say. It slows things down in both ways – moving forward, and undoing the past. I’ve still to figure out which I prefer.

Not that anyone cares, but I’ve figured out location names better now. London’s divided into boroughs, much like New York City. I’m in Camden. Then there are neighborhoods, again much like New York City. I’m in between Belsize Park and Hampstead. What’s confusing is that some boroughs call themselves cities, like there are signs for the City Of Westminster. That’s a borough. But then Camden Town is a specific neighborhood. And the City of London (separate from greater London) is also a borough. London also has exceptions to everything because of its size, like I think London is a county (and region) as well as a city. So there’s a City of London in the city of London, which also consists of the county of London, but that county does not include the City of London. Did you catch all that? I didn’t.

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