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June 11, 2007


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Anthony Paul Smith

Somehow you do get used to it.

khalid mir

Gawd..talking about the Welsh as "the British" cracks me up.

"navigated social space".
Crikey, you must get out of university more often Jodi :)

Amish Lovelock

It provokes confrontation and keeps things real.


omg that is hilarious! do you have an ipod or something? then you have an excuse when you run into people "sorry, I didn't hear you" lol

there mustn't be too many bolshy yanks doing their daily jog along that stretch of path. maybe they share k-punk's distaste for 'good health' and were trying to sabotage your healthiness. did the 20-somethings have a fashionable post-gothic pallor and bad teeth?

in australia there are often mini- moral panics in the local media (normally in retiree and tourist locations) about youths who don't "give way" on footpaths.


It's probably not a good idea to make generalisations about 'the British' based on a few hours in the capital of Wales; It probably doesn't make much sense to talk about a 'British accent'; and it's best not to assume that a foreign culture is simply deficient in your norms rather than having some of its own that you haven't quite worked out yet. Still, it's moderately amusing to see the regularity with which these kind of errors occur.


um, Oliver, did you read the post? The examples spread over a period of years and included more than a few hours in Cardiff. Also, people here seem quite eager to identify my 'American' accent despite the multiple differences among American accents.

Lighten up, already.

khalid mir

Have you ever thought, just for a second, that the problem might be with you? I mean, people "navigate social space" (to use your hilarious phrase) all the time. Maybe you just weren't picking out the signals that we're all familar with here.

anyway, maybe not being constricted to a formal system (all to the right or all to the left) says something about "British" liberalism and its unwritten rules. Or maybe we've just not got used to walking around like Zombies in an American-style shopping mall yet.

Since we're dealing in caricatures, this sounds like the typical American abroad!

Foucault Is Dead

There must be a non-linear equation that we can teach kids in school to use when navigating space.

Although some people I've noticed don't even know how to walk in a straight line.


Hmmm sounds like a Zizekian left-right reversal!

Anthony Paul Smith

Well, no, it is true. Try going to a large supermarket - it's bedlam! Everyone kind of looks pissed off about it too.

Though - 'Have you ever thought, just for a second, that the problem might be with you? I mean, people "navigate social space" (to use your hilarious phrase) all the time. Maybe you just weren't picking out the signals that we're all familar with here.'

That might be true, but it seems to me the real signals are 'Oy! Move out the way!' But, I have to say, at least the British have a social space to navigate. Aside from big cities like New York, Chicago, and L.A. can you think of a city where the social space has to be, um, navigated? I live in a relatively small city in the UK and the amount of sociality I have to deal with is highly disproportionate to what I'm used to in similar sized cities back in the states.


Khalid--it's not me and it's not about a comparison with the US. Similar problems don't arise in Vienna (a city where I spent 6 months) and Frankfurt (where I lived a year). I also haven't encountered these sorts of weird spatial incapacities in large airports (Schipol, for example) or in Ecuador, Peru, or Canada (to include countries also part of North America). They don't seem to arise in Budapest, Zagreb, Rome, or Amsterdam. It doesn't even seem to be a matter of crowds--there is pedestrian flow that actually flows in Chinatown in NYC and in horribly crowded museum spaces in Washington, DC.

I've noticed that the inability to navigate social or shared space (when traveling primarily by foot, although bicycles come into the picture) seems a problem confined to white British people. I've wondered if it is affiliated with a underlying colonialist impulse: all space is ours/mine or an ingrained lack of need to adopt a perspective of others who might be around.

With regard to the mall, given the crowds shopping around here, as well as the numbers of carrier bags many seem to, well, carry, it seems to me that the British are well ahead of the shopping game--or perhaps not ahead if one thinks of the shift in the US away from malls to big box stores; there has been a significant decline in per square foot sales/profits in malls in the US over the past 20 years; some malls are responding by trying to provide more lifestyle attractions like health clubs and walking tracks, spas and spa services, childcare. Anyway, the dominant retailer in the US is Wal-Mart, not mall-based stores--which isn't surprising given the extreme disparity between rich and poor.

Anyway, the shopaholic novels are by an Englishwoman, Sophie Kinsella. They capture well the popularity and preoccupation with shopping of consumerism in the UK.

APS--I think you might have a point regarding the lack of social space in the US. Most interactions, if they can be called that, occur among people in cars (and who can forget the epidemic of road rage that never quite hit?). Interestingly, though, even in the big cities, there is not this bizarre confusion on the sidewalks.

khalid mir

Jodi, sorry, what you're saying sounds just mighty odd to me. I've lived here for 25 years and I've hardly seen what you're saying or even heard of anyone even talking about such a thing. If it was a common phenomenon then it would have slipped into the familiar caricatures (like people in an elevator all looking in a different direction-because that at least contains *some* truth*).

Crowds flow all the time. If you're still in Blighty come over to London and I'll show you some real navigation in the rush hour!

But I think you do make an interesting point. D,H.Lawrence once said that England doesn't have any public spaces..only pubs!
but again, it's vastly different for different areas. Go to Brixton and you'll see a more casual , laid-back approach to the street; go to Walthamstow market and you'll be pushed all over the place by africans and desis!

Anyway, you're way off the mark. I regularly travel on the tube and people are always nodding and extending their hand to give way. the only people who disturb the public space are drunks, tourists (and the occasional loud American- who invariably seems to have gone to Harvard judging by his sweatshirt!)

Yes, I'm afraid you're right; we've been infected with your craze for shopping ..maybe this country is always twenty years behind in such things. As in america, the big stores that one drives out to are now days out with the family! (Ikea, etc). R.Sennett was right about driving through places. I think Bauman calls them 'no-places'.

Yep! A preoccupation with shopping! the bane of my life. I wonder if you've seen the online 'century of the self 'where the techniques of Bernays, freud's nephew, convince Americans to buy stuff?

sophie who? Please, send us more Bellow, Roth and M. Robinson. No more Dan Brown for Christ's sake.
(btw, Gaddis has a great piss-take of what you guys read: all the self-help books and "how to make friends" psycho-babble).

Yes, I like how one can get married in a drive-through by Elvis in some place in America!
the open road, freedom. How convenient for the development of capitalism!


I'm not the only one to have noticed the spatial incapacity--at the very least, Anthony Paul Smith, in this thread, has mentioned it, too.
It is not the case that common phenomena always and everywhere become well known caricatures; sometimes, a foreign gaze tells people something about themselves that they didn't know before-- De Tocqueville is an obvious example.

Sophie Kinsella is a very popular British writer of chic-lit. Her confessions of a shopaholic series, set in the UK, includes at least 4 or 5 different books.

Another spatial weirdness: parking in both directions on both sides of the street.

The first department stores don't originate in the US; shopping is not a practice that originates in the US and then extends outwards.

patrick j. mullins

What I thought Khalid might clarify is differences between the Welsh and the English. I don't doubt that all the generalizations made by Americans about British and British by Americans are true--and my favourite one is that British feel quite righteous in their constant Empire-mongering accents, which they claim to have forsworn, but that exist in every class of British society, down to the lowest middles of Hyacinth Bucket...

However, my desire to find the relatives of Tom Jones was the one thing that made me hold off on saying anything about 'the British', because I had for the moment still been thinking about 'the English', and although I never found the English (the only ones I've spent a good amount of real time with there) to slow down movement, that may be because I like the pace there, I never jogged there, and I like all the graciousness. Yes, I even like the ENGLISH a lot, except that they do STONEWALL linguistically so that sometimes you just have to BREAK THEIR HEADS. Actually, this changes from region to region, and I've spent time in the North (Liverpool and Manchester), the West (Penzance and Isles of Scilly, which are pure heaven), as well as 4 or 5 trips to London. I always feel totally at home in London. Liverpudlians are the most marvelous people on earth, and there's a great sense of soulfulness there, more than in Cornwall or London. I'd have thought the same to be true of Wales. Anybody knows London is full of fussy folk, so big deal. New York and Paris have stereotyped RUDE PEOPLE, and stereotypes usually have a lot of truth--I'm a classic RUDE NEW YORKER myself, and I learned it from living in Paris, where the people are often RUDE...

Before commenters from UK started responding, I thought perhaps what Jodi was responding to might be related to the stereotyped patience of English waiting in bus queues combined with their marvelous ability to stonewall just like Mrs. Thatcher did when there were any IRA hecklers around: The dear just bowed her head and looked righteous and potentially pitiful.

Also, I thought the Welsh might be even less like the English than like the Scottish, who are well-known to be even more TIGHTFISTED than the English. I have NUMEROUS examples of SCOTTISH tightfistedness, including a Cambridge art historian whose ENGLISH husband divorced her in part because of what he himself described as 'OLD SCOTTISH HABITS.'

However, I do think maybe the term 'British' won't necessarily work in all cases except for state matters that concern the entire UK, which still includes Northern Ireland, and also just for the group known as 'the English.' I mean--the example of Northern Ireland probably proves it, because I don't think anybody refers to the Northern Irish as British even though they technically are, except for passports and such things.

I wonder what D. H. Lawrence could have meant about the lack of public spaces. Compared to the U.S., you have enormous public spaces--London itself has a major park or a 'quaint-english' mews every few blocks or so.

'(btw, Gaddis has a great piss-take of what you guys read: all the self-help books and "how to make friends" psycho-babble).'

One is glad you put this. This is far more demonstrative of the double-standard Britons use to judge the U.S.--you are capable of making the pronouncements, you think, you and your old fucking country. We are not. Well, E.M. Cioran may not have been right about the 'unbelievable stupidity of the British people', but he said it, and he was right about nearly everything else!

A lot of Britons of all classes are just sore about the loss of the British Empire, even when they call themselves Socialists. I'll say that RS of Lenin's Tomb is not like that, but nearly everybody else is--and it's usually sneaky and secret too. Grow up and LOVE THE QUEEN the way you secretly do anyway! Read Tina Brown's book on Diana and notice all the hilarious new reviews about the subtlety with which the sex-obsesses BROWN--and YOU sent us THAT Brown, who flooded the New Yorker with idiotic little snippets about Bill Clinton 'always in the present tense' and 'his heat' (yes, that was Ms. Brown herself, whether it was before or after she fucked Martin Amis I don't know--but I also don't know when she married Lord Harold or whatever his name is; they just won a big case for saving their town house on the Upper East Side from insensitive real estate interests they would have themselves supported if it hadn't been their house, recently...but it was wonderful when she idiotically gave up the New Yorker to Remnick and then her Talk Magazine proved her to be part-Patsy of ABFAB after all).

Vive les generalizations! Tight-fisted Scottish, Pig-Irish, Twee and Faggy English, EARTHY Welsh!!!.....

patrick j. mullins

And there are worse complications. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princess_Michael_of_Kent

You read this, and the six-foot beauty (I've seen her plummy-voiced lectures twice here), who describes herself in person as of 'Austro-Hungarian descent' may well be--but her father was a German Nazi... and even though he was unjustly accused of some Fascist misdemeanours, the whole family had to move to Australia for awhile, and you can bet 'our Val', as HM the Queen calls her, never mentions that their mother had to be a hair stylist for awhile. The wiki entry is hilarious, especially if you've seen this dame--both times Lee Radziwill came down afterwards to kiss her. Oh My God--how Proustian! It was just like Oriane de Guermantes tolerating the Princesse de Parme! How touched I was, and when Princess Michael, all sexy toughness, described the 'bad finances' of a long-dead and unresearched
'Winter Queen of Bohemia', I knew that I must immediately tend to my own. Who says Reaganomics never worked? Trickle-down all over the place. She also made ill-considered remarks to loud rappers in a restaurant. What cheek! Gawd! Minor Royalty GENERALIZED!

I can't wait till New York Magazine has a cover story called 'the New Generalization'. After all, just last night the Times ran a story on 7 new restaurants that have opened specializing in Pork Fat Dining--all this new trend is since 2003. So put that in y'all's pipe and smoke it with y'all's Harvey's Bristol Cream.

khalid mir

Patrick, if you want to diss British people go ahead.. i'm Pakistani! And if you want to diss Pakistanis (or 'Pakis' as your man Bush calls them) , go ahead, i'll be the first in line..anyway, I'm Kashmiri!

I don't know what the difference is between the Welsh and English is. I'd say the 'dark ones' are more soulful. Southerners (or Normans , as my friend likes to call them) are not very friendly.

On Empire you're about 40 years off the boil (lol). No-one talks about Empire now..er..unless it's about America!

Gaddis..lighten up, dude.
It was hilarious, though. All those self-help books and how everyone's a fucking "survivor",how to make a quick buck in ten easy steps, how to find one's inner self , the Zen of everything, The Tao of tea-making. You've gotta laugh. I'm sure the hot topic now is "fear" and the "Islamic threat". What was that Dylan song about Reds in the bed?

Public spaces: I think he was comparing it to Italy and the crab-like nature of the English. Given the crap weather I'm not surprised though! I like what dali said on being asked why there wasn't a surrealist movement in England: one only has to wake up and look outside and that's surreal!

Maybe it's that you just had much more space once you'd packed the 'Red Man' off in the reservations?
(I'm just winding you up, patrick..don't take it to heart)

jodi, I need to go back to my Hobsbawm but I think I recall him saying that the first techniques associated with mass consumption stem from America. anyway, 'the century of the self' is fantastic on how shopping was related to the subconscious. Bush saying buy your way out of fear is , perhaps, very old hat.

patrick j. mullins

'No-one talks about Empire now..er..unless it's about America!'

Of course you only talk about 'Empire' in America. It's easy to be critical about somebody else's success at Evil Empire, especially when you've lost your own. I was talking about the 'sounds of Empire' in much British English, and this is clearly true but incendiary! I probably won't explain it, because it verges on racism against White British! Anyway, of course you can't really be explicity about the British Empire anymore, what with having nothing but the Falklands, Pitcairn, and a few other rocks left...

'Maybe it's that you just had much more space once you'd packed the 'Red Man' off in the reservations?'

Yes, but that was just an English phenomenon, really. If you hadn't been ejected from your Beloved Colonies, you would hold the distinction of having packed off the Red Man yourself.

Some of my best friends are Pakistanis. They operate a really nice curry place on 9th Avenue, otherwise I liked 'Sammy and Rosie Get Laid.'

Of course, California is the land of bullshit New Age self-help books. I just think these are read in the UK too by now. As for the 'red threat' and the 'Islamic threat', I'm not going to pretend that these are not real threats, because they always were in the case of KGB infiltration and Communist attempts to take over and even risk nuclear war; and also in the case of Al Qaeda and now Iran's nuclear ambitions, which much be stopped by whatever means. I'm not a leftist like the others around here on those issues. I think the Iraq War is the most moronic think in modern history, but there is an Islamic threat and there is not a thing anybody left-leaning could say to me to make me think otherwise. Fuck the Rosenbergs and Greenglasses! Fuck Bin Laden and Musharraf! Some people don't have their guilt-strings pulled by Islamic ambitions as enunciated and propagated by the sinistral types. Anybody with half a brain knows that you have to choose sides, and on one side is the U.S.: 'Tis a rich thing, but one's own.'

khalid mir

"you have to choose sides"?
Er..sounds like Bush , Patrick!

"stopped by any means"..

er..what, you could drop a few nukes on them, perhaps?

Agree with you about Iran being a danger and the madness of its leaders.

anyone with a brain?
don't agree but then again I'm afraid I'm like the straw man..if I only had a brain!

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