There is something odd and, I would say, rather offensive about one particular trait of the native Britons. That is, with few exceptions, they find it painfully difficult to greet other people, be they neighbours, "friends" or colleagues.
The other day an aquaintance of ours telephoned and asked for my wife. I didn't instantly recognize her voice but she knew who I was. It was a straightforward request to speak to my wife. "Hello," she said. "May I speak to [name]?" I asked her who she was and she replied with her name in a matter-of-fact way, as if I had never met her before. Not being British, I greeted her and enquired about her health, then I called my wife to come and speak to her.
In case you wonder, there is no personal animosity between me and the woman in question. Nor is her coldness racially motivated. On the contrary, she is as far removed from racism as anyone can be.
In fact, the native Britons rarely ever greet or acknowlege each other's existance. Take, for example, the case of a colleague at my work. He is a well-educated, highly competent man in his late 40s or early 50s. But he would go to great lengths to avoid greeting anyone, irrespective of race, colour or creed. For instance, if he notices another colleague walking towards him, he would swerve sharply so that he would not come face to face and, God forbid, have to say hello or nod in acknowldgement of that other person's existence. And, if one should share a table with him at the Staff Restaurant, he would sit in complete silence, unless spoken to, and then he would give the shortest possible answers.
It's the same story with neighbours. With few exceptions, one can spend many years without knowing one's neighbours. In our street, apart from one Englishwoman, the politest and friendliest people are either foreign or of non-English origin. The remainder vary in degrees of coldness or indifference, from the outright rude (an uncouth middle-aged yob who reminds me of one of our senior "managers"), to the superficially polite (you can see the pain on their faces as they struggle to say or wave hello), to the automatons who inhabit a twilight zone separating humans and machines (and not very good machines at that).
This asocial trait – let's call it "the British syndrome" – extends to families as well. For example, it's quite common to observe family members who have been apart for years ignore one another completely upon reuniting and not exchange a word – no hugs, kisses, handshakes or even hellos – and when they do finally speak it would be as if they had just parted for a day or so: "You're alright?" or "How's it been?" I have seen it with friends of mine and observed it with strangers alike. It's unbelievably weird and I don't think it can be found anywhere but in the British wilderness.
So, what is it about the native Britons that makes them so asocial? How did the British syndrome come about?
I have thought about this for many years but I still have no answer. It's clearly a fundamental part of their culture, a defining aspect of "Britishness" into which every native Briton is socialized and passes on from generation to generation.
There are, of course, exceptions but there will always be exceptions to everything. I suppose these exceptions are the non-conformists; in the British context, they are the social "deviants", the people who – dare I say it – say "hello", "good morning" and "good evening" when they encounter other humans.