Text 1 The English

TEXT 3 The English Comedy of Manners


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The English Comedy of Manners

English Social Habits. All letters concerning social affairs - invitations to parties, dinners, weddings, etc.- have to be directed to the wives, or wives and husbands together, never to the husband alone. They are, as a rule, written by the hostess who is responsible for the social affairs of the household. The habit of taking flowers to the hostess is not observed in England (one reason for the scarcity of flower shops in English towns).

Whenever you have spent a night or a weekend in somebody else's house, you have to write a letter, if possible at once when you get back. It would be considered very bad manners not to observe this custom - even if you haven't enjoyed yourself at all.

General Behaviour. When a gentleman walks with a lady in the street or on the pavement he does not always go on her left side, but keeps to that side of his companion where he can protect her from passing traffic; he will thus have to change sides according to whether they walk with or against the traffic. When crossing the street, he supports his lady companion by the elbow, thus steering her through the cars and over to the other side. When a lady comes into a room where there are a number of gentlemen, these will have to get up and will not resume their seats until she has sat down herself - often one of them will have to pull out or bring a chair for her to sit on. The habit of helping each other into overcoats is not compulsory in England, especially not with men who, anyhow, very often do not wear a coat at all, even in winter.

Eating Habits. Cutting potatoes with a knife is allowed, the fork has to be held with the hump pointing upwards, thus everything - including peas, which is difficult for the beginner - has to be balanced on top of, not placed inside the hump. Soup is eaten with the spoon held sideways, thus the liquid has to be sucked out or sipped rather than just to be emptied into the mouth. The sweet - be it cake, pudding, or ice cream - is eaten with spoon and fork. There is a rule for children (and grown-ups): do not eat between meals, and never in the street or any other public places; it is, however, not always observed.

I. Answer the following questions:

  1. Who is responsible for the social affairs of the household?

  2. What kind of letter do you have to write coming home after your stay with some relatives or friends? What if you didn’t enjoy your stay with them?

  3. Why does a gentleman have to change sides while walking with a lady in the street?

  4. What way do gentlemen demonstrate their attention to the lady coming into the room?

  5. Do English eating habits seem strange to you?

  6. What is different in them from Russian eating habits?

II. Explain the following words and phrases or give synonyms:

Social affairs; the habit is not observed; scarcity of flower shops; to change sides; resume their seats; compulsory; the hump pointing upwards.

III. Talking points:

  1. How are social affairs organized in Russian families?

  2. What eating habits are observed in the Russian homes? Are they different from public eating habits and from eating habits in England? What rules do you have to observe at table? Which of them seem unnecessary to you?


The Family

A "typical" British family used to consist of mother, father and two children, but in recent years there have been many changes in family life. Some of these have been caused by new laws and others are the result of changes in society. For example, since the law made it easier to get a divorce, the number of divorced has increased. In fact one marriage in every three now ends in divorce. This means that there are a lot of one-parent families. Society is now more tolerant than it used to be of unmarried people, unmarried couples and single parents.

Another change has been caused by the fact that people are living longer nowadays, and many old people live alone following the death of their partners. As a result of these changes in the pattern of people's lives, there are many households that consist of only one person or one adult and children. You might think that marriage and the family are not so popular as they once were. However, the majority of divorced people marry again, and they sometimes take responsibility for a second family.

Members of a family - grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins - keep in touch, but they see less of each other than they used to. This is because people often move away from their hometown to work, and so the family becomes scattered. Christmas is the traditional season for reunions. Although the family group is smaller nowadays than it used to be, relatives often travel many miles in order to spend the holiday together.

In general, each generation is keen to become independent of parents in establishing its own family unit, and this fact can lead to social as well as geographical differences within the larger family group.

There are about 10 million old-age pensioners in Britain, of whom about 750,000 cannot live entirely independently. The government gives financial help in the form of a pension but in the future it will be more and more difficult for the national economy to support the increasing number of elderly. At the present time, more than half of all old people are looked after at home. Many others live in Old Peoples' Homes, which may be private or state-owned.

Relationships within the family are different now. Parents treat their children more as equals than they used to, and children have more freedom to make their own decisions. The father is more involved with bringing up children, often because the mother goes out to work. Increased leisure facilities and more money mean that there are greater opportunities for the individual to take part in activities outside the home. Although the family holiday is still an important part of family life (usually taken in August, and often abroad) many children have holidays away from their parents, often with a school party or other organized group.

I. Answer the following questions:

  1. How many members did a typical English family use to consist of?

  2. What changes have taken place in the English family life in recent years?

  3. What are the results of these changes?

  4. Why do members of a family see each other less often than they used to?

  5. How many old-age pensioners are there in Great Britain?

  6. Who looks after them?

  7. What are the relations within the family?

II. Give a word or phrase opposite in meaning to the following:

Full-time, majority, elderly, to be keen, to go out to work, state owned, recent years, married, increasing, to keep in touch.

III. Talking points:

  1. One in every three marriages in Britain ends in divorce. What effects might this fact have on society and children? How easy do you think it should be to get a divorce? What are the usual obstacles to getting it?

  2. From your point of view what are the most important aspects keeping families together?

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