Text 1 The English

TEXT 7 Eight ways of telling whether Mr. Smith is English or American

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Eight ways of telling whether Mr. Smith is English or American

(before he opens his mouth)
People are dressing and looking more and more alike, and national stereotypes are fast vanishing. Very few Americans parade around the world in Stetson hats, cowboy boots, with huge Havana cigars and Hawaiian shirts with string ties. Englishmen are equally unlikely to travel abroad in tropical topis and knee-length shorts, bowler hats, monocles, thick hairy tweed suits, or any of the other 'milord' kit that once announced their island home at a thousand paces. Nonetheless, there are still subtle ways of distinguishing on which side of the Atlantic Mr. Smith resides, by careful observation.

If he signs his name 'James M. Smith', he's very likely to be American. Few Americans can comfortably live without a middle initial, whether it means anything or not. (The 'F' in John F. Kennedy stood for Fitzgerald; the 'S' in Harry S. Truman stood for nothing, except the security that middle initial gives to an American name.) 'J. Smith' will undoubtedly be an Englishman who doesn't feel that it's entirely decent to expose his first name in front of strangers. He may give away as much as J.M. Smith but seldom more, and if he's called James, you know immediately that he's English, for all American Jameses are instantly reduced to Jim or Jimmy by their fellow countrymen, even if they happen to be, as Mr. Carter was, President of the United States.

A signet ring on Mr. Smith's little finger tells you he's English. It's a long and rather aristocratic habit shared by Prince Charles. The American would probably find a ring on a man's little finger a bit effeminate. On the other hand, the American Mr. Smith may have a large high school, college or fraternity ring on his ring finger, which the Englishman would probably find a bit vulgar. Well, there you are!

Striped ties are common and popular on both sides of the Atlantic, but spot the subtle difference: the American's stripes go down from left to right (as you look at him), and the Englishman's stripes go down from right to left. There is no significance in this, political or otherwise - just one of those funny little things.

If you can detect the line of tee-shirt sleeves under Mr. Smith's long-sleeved white shirt, or if he's wearing a short-sleeved shirt with a tie, he's American. (The tee-shirt undershirt is for extra warmth during the summer months when Americans set their air-conditioning at slightly above freezing, and the short sleeves are to keep cool in the winter when their homes and offices turn into centrally-heated sauna baths. Americans never do anything by halves!) If, on the other hand, Mr. Smith is wearing a striped shirt with pure white collar and cuffs, he's certain to be English, posh or pretentious, as this fashion makes a public announcement that he has his shirts custom made, and hopes you'll think it was in Jermyn Street in London. (The fact is, it's really more likely to be made in Hong Kong at half the price.)

Not by brand, as the English are just as likely to smoke Marlboros as the Americans are to smoke Benson & Hedges, but if Mr. Smith offers you a cigarette, he's English. Most Americans don't smoke anymore, but even if they do, it's not a custom to offer cigarettes, partly because in the USA they are too cheap to make the gesture appear generous (about half the UK price), but also because brand loyalty amongst American smokers has always been so fierce that a Benson & Hedges smoker would turn up his nose at Mr. Smith's Marlboros, or the other way around.

If the fellow has a glass filled with so much ice that there is hardly any room for any kind of liquid in it, he's an American beyond any doubt. Having enough ice is as much an obsession for Americans as getting a good cup of tea is for an Englishman. If, on the other hand, the glass contains only one or two meagre melting ice cubes, or perhaps no ice at all, he is, of course, English, and comes from a climate where chilling drinks artificially is not normally necessary.

If he's drinking ice water with his meal, he's surely American. Americans crave water seemingly round the clock. The USA is filled with drinking fountains for constant replenishment, and the first thing you get at an American restaurant is not the menu or the wine list, but a glass of water. The drinking of ordinary water is not as disdained in England as it is in other European countries, but, as every American tourist to Britain discovers to his discomfort, it is neither common nor customary, and if Mr. Smith the Englishman is quite happy with beer or wine with his fish and chips, Mr. Smith the American cannot enjoy the first bite of his hamburger without a tumbler of ice water with which to wash it down. If he asks the English waiter for water, and ask he must, he'll be lucky if he gets it before he gets the bill. Unless, of course, he orders Perrier water, for which he will be charged as much as if he had beer or wine.

If it's the third of November and Mr. Smith writes the date as 11/3, you know he's American, but if he writes 3/11, he's English. Consider the English businessman who has an important sales contract to sign with Mr. Smith on 1 /4, and arrives on the first of April only to discover that this Mr. Smith is American and that the appointment was on the fourth of January, three months before. The contract, alas, went to a competitor who arrived on the correct date. Happy April fools, and have a nice day!

The benefit of all this advance information is that when you are finally introduced to Mr. Smith, you'll know whether to say 'How do you do James', or 'Hi, Jimmy. How are you?'

  1. Answer the following questions:

    1. What kind of article is it? (Is it a serious one?)

    2. Describe typical Americans and Englishmen of the past.

    3. What do Americans use the middle initials in their names for?

    4. What may the American Mr. Smith have on his ring finger?

    5. Where are striped ties popular?

    6. Why do Americans wear t-shirt undershirts?

    7. Where are cigarettes more expensive?

    8. Do English people like tea with ice?

    9. What is the first thing you get at an American restaurant?

10.Why do you think it is important to know what way dates are written by the English people and Americans?

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

Huge cigars, stand for, undoubtedly, first name, instantly, reduced, a shared habit, a bit effeminate, a subtle difference, significance, posh, custom made, a generous gesture, the other way around, an obsession, meagre melting ice cubes, chilling drinks, for constant replenishment, appointment, benefit.

  1. Talking points:

    1. Do you find the information given in this article useful? Why? Prove it.

    2. What customs and habits described in the text do you find reasonable or nice? Which of them would you like to follow?

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