Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Don't Ask Them Anything Personal
Despite their wicked humor, impeccable manners, and their love of a good time, the British people as a whole initially come off as standoffish on first blush. It is not unusual for the ignorant and uninitiated to assume the British to be rude, cold, or worse yet - offended by something one did. (My Aunt would describe this attitude as "Being too big for their britches"). However in my case, coming from the warm welcoming south, I may as well arrived on Mars as we deplaned at Heathrow.
Now I expected this from the well known guards at Buckingham Palace where tacky tourists (mostly Americans) do ridiculous things to make the strictly regimented soldiers show some emotion - some sign of life. But not from the lady at the Air France gate, the attendant at the chippy, even the friendly looking gentleman queued behind us in the line for a black cab. One would have thought I insulted their mum or told them their shoes looked ridiculous. Obviously neither was the case.
Heck, I could not get one to engage in conversation with me. Was this the Britian/ England/ United Kingdom I had read about for years? These folks were nothing like the characters on the BBC shows I loved so much. They were just one cup short of rude.
I was to learn that this was my initial introduction to the well known "British Reserve". Unlike us who can make friends in the grocery store line, the Brits almost avoid eye contact. Where American personality is seen as loud, pretentious, and wanting everyone to look at them. Brits find drawing attention to themselves frightening. As Mame said, "It ain't fit'n, it ain't fit'n, it just ain't fit'n."
It is not that they are cold, standoffish, or even unable of being expressive or open. Rather it is hard for them to grasp the concept of talking to a random stranger, of being told, or even worse, asked about personal details.
Close friendships in Britain are thought of as few and very special. They are fostered slowly over time. One just doesn't rush into a close friendship without a long period of development. Oh, they have plenty of acquaintances and friends, but a "close friend relationship" takes time.
The main reason for this reticence - Brits have been brought up in a centuries old tradition of not showing emotions. And never call attention to oneself. So knowing someone enough to be able to drop that facade and share emotions and trust takes a while and is seen as a long and serious process.
All this leads up to HRH Prince Harry. For someone who has been caught playing pool stark naked in mixed company and wearing a much less than PC Halloween costume, to name a few of his "infamous" headlines, the moniker "inhibited" does not come to mind. Unlike the Heir to the throne who is reserved and proper, the "Spare" seems to live life large.
But this week, that image was broken when, in an interview, Harry disclosed that he had finally sought counseling to handle the tragic death of his mother 20 years ago. His comment was that not knowing how to deal with the grief lead to years of total chaos n his life. Just his bearing his soul was above the fold news in itself.
Then what followed could possibly change the British reserve. He said that the therapy that he received helped him finally deal with Diana's death and showed him how to go forward. He encouraged everyone who needed help to seek it. There was no shame.
Now this is a conundrum for the Brits. Here was the beloved son of Britian's almost sainted Princess, who had grown up in the public eye, not only saying he had sought professional counseling, bared his soul, shared his fears, and admitted his emotions to someone - a stranger at that, but he was suggesting, asking, and saying not only was it the right thing to do, one should do it if they think they need it.
The Rubicon has been jumped. The Queen herself could have stepped forward and admitted that she had been seeing a therapist for years to help her and it would not have had the same effect. After all she is the Queen and not "One of us". However, Harry having grown up under a watchful and adoring realm was more "real". They can relate to him. He straddles the worlds of Royalty and mere mortality fairly well.
Well done Harry. Your mother would be proud of you. There are feelings and emotions in there after all.