I love this book. I really, really do. And because I love it so much, (and because she so succinctly phrases something that has been bothering me for two years) I'm going to just flat out reproduce a paragraph of it here:
"A pattern seems to be emerging as we examine different aspects of English life and culture, a recurring theme that I think may be crucial to our understanding of the English character. What I am noticing is that there is rarely anything straightforward or direct or transparent about English social interaction. We seem to be congenitally incapable of being frank, clear or assertive. We are always oblique, always playing some complex, convoluted game. When we are not doing things back-wards (saying the opposite of what we mean, not introducing ourselves till the end of an encounter, saying sorry when someone bumps into us and other Looking-Glass practices), we are doing them sideways (addressing our indignant mutterings about queue-jumpers to other queuers, and our complaints about delayed trains to other passengers, rather than actually tackling the offenders). Every social situation is fraught with ambiguity, knee-deep in complication, hidden meanings, veiled power-struggles, passive-aggression and paranoid confusion. We seem perversely determined to make everything as difficult as possible for ourselves. Why, as one American visitor plaintively asked me, can't the English just be 'a bit more direct, you know, a bit more upfront?' We would, as she pointed out, save ourselves and everybody else a great deal of trouble."
Yes, yes! See? This is why my most understandable and useful feedback sessions were with an Icelandic woman- not any of the Brits. They wondered why I was always convinced that I didn't really know what was going on, convinced that there was something beneath the surface that I just wasn't understanding? THIS IS WHY. Whew. It's a relief, really, to find this in a book. A book written by a Brit. A book written by a funny, erudite Brit. A book written by a funny, erudite Brit who can explain why it is that so many Brits are funny and erudite.