I saw a headline on the BBC website this morning entitled "How to Survive the British Workplace". Apparently researchers are examining the culture of politeness. They found, for example, that the British use the word "please" nearly twice as much as their American counterparts. Advice on the BBC website said newcomers at work should "be on time, go for a pint after work with colleagues, and be polite". Not too difficult, eh?
Be that as it may, the subject made me remember my first introduction to working in London - too many years ago to tell you exactly when that was! I came from friendly Ireland, where newcomers at work are questioned about their origins, are shown where the tea and coffee are kept, where the bathroom is, the closing times of all the local shops and the best place to buy your cheese sandwich. I started off in the typing pool of a big advertising agency in Green Park where my job was to type invoices (ah, yes, in those pre-computer days, invoices were typed up and offices resounded to the friendly clack of typewriters). No one spoke to me (except the supervisor, a lovely motherly lady who had lived in Kenya). I found it hard to understand the English accents and they found it hard to understand my Irish brogue. There was a shop on the premises and everyone cleared off at lunch time and bought their sandwiches there without telling me. I thought they all hated me. To be fair, I must admit that I was very shy and completely over-awed at working in such a glamorous place in London's West End. Which didn't help!
Resigned to my fate, I crept to my desk every morning and pretended to be invisible. Then, when I had been there about a week, the girl at the desk next to mine passed some comment to me about the group Fleetwood Mac. At that time, Fleetwood Mac had a huge hit with "Albatross" and I was an out and out fan. Which I told my companion. It turned out she was dating the drummer, I think it was the drummer but can't be sure after all these years. This chance remark sealed my fate and suddenly all of the girls were chatting away and including me in their conversation and telling me their life stories. It was like being back in Dublin!
When I had changed jobs a few times, I discovered that the British are simply reserved, not to say shy, in many cases. They like to eye you up before trying to get to know you. It's just the first week that can be a bit quiet. After that they are great fun to work with and I certainly enjoyed my working years in London.