Tuesday, January 3, 2012

old colonials

When I was a little girl I thought British people were very strange.  Almost all of my mother's white friends were French because it was her second language, or American friends of my father; we didn't know many British people other than my teachers.  Then one day at a church social my mother and I were introduced to a British family who had just moved to Hong Kong.  My mother extended her hand and introduced herself by her first name.  The British woman told my mother that her name was Mrs. Smith.

My mother later had a laugh with my father about that.  She thought it was funny that British people were so formal.  Years later I think about this and scratch my head.  I have met plenty of British people and every single one of them, as far as I can recall, introduced themselves either by first name in informal situations or first and last name in more formal settings.  No one has ever told me to call them Mr. or Mrs. Smith. 

So now I am wondering if British people have become more relaxed over the years or if that Mrs. Smith was being condescending to my Asian mother and all these years we have incorrectly thought that British people were really formal.  Anyone care to enlighten me? 

4 comments:

smogsblog said...

Until about the 1950s or early 60s it was usual to use one's surname in the UK when being introduced in anything other than a very informal situation. People brought up in that era often continued to use it for many years after.

Some other cultures are still quite formal. For example, in Germany in a work setting the Herr Schmidt etiquette is still widely used. But, amusingly, only when speaking in German. If you are in a multinational with a working language of English then when speaking in English the Germans will often refer to each other as "Helmut" (or whatever) and then revert to calling the same person "Herr Schmidt" when speaking in German!

Michael said...

There's a great anecdote about two famous British explorers (I think it was Eric Shipton and Wilfred Thesiger) on a two-man expedition in the Himalayas in the 1950s. Sharing a tent high on the mountain, Shipton suggested that they stopped calling each other by their surnames. Thesiger replied along the lines of "Now look here Shipton, just because we're camping out doesn't mean there's any call to be over-familiar." And they remained as Shipton and Thesiger for the rest of the trip

architart said...

Herr Schmidt, who was most likely born in the mid 1940s had no worries about our family becoming overly familiar after our introduction!

Gweipo said...

My burning question is whether after the introductions Mrs. smith then proceeded to ask your mother which school she had been educated at?