What is it with the British and making Silence so Awkward?

Since I moved to New Zealand, I have realised how awkward it is for us Brits to experience group silence. Growing up in a very sociable household I’ve never really had to experience that moment when you’re in full conversational swing and then Boom! it crash bangs in to an awkward wall of silence where only the harmonic sound of drink sips can be heard.

As the sounds of sips gets louder, eyes are averted to the crevices in the room and we sit uncomfortably searching the walls, floor, table, out of the window, for something, anything, to talk about, because sitting there in silence can be that uncomfortable.

This is when I usually open my mouth and either something peculiar comes out that the group has a “did she just say that?” kind of smile on their face, or, in my more successful moments, it sparks some equally peculiar remarks, which means we can be friends.


Let me give you a recent example of my silent awkwardness:

Luis took me to an event as his guest hosted by his work and naturally, like a good wife, I mingled. At one point, the conversation I was in the midst of nearly jumped off a cliff to an early death but I saved it with “so I heard you went snorkelling last year?” Why? Why…oh why? The nice man is in construction. It’s not easy for those with an intelligent, engineering brain to join me in an abrupt conversational U-turn. It’s not surprising that his reply was, “err, no?”

About 3 minutes later, he said, “ah, yes, that’s right, I did”. The poor man. It took him all of 3 minutes to catch up with my awkward silence navigator. I had just regurgitated a snippet of information that I had been told two years ago, which must have been planted back then in preparation for this very day at the back of my very British brain.

Instead of smoothly planting it into the conversation as one had hoped back then (I imagine) it was planted as comfortably as a punch in the face.

The other guy kindly tried to keep up with my thought pattern, which I thought was sweet. He had lived in London for a good 5 years and so he was obviously used to this awkward attempt at a silence saver.

Or, I like to think, he just enjoys a good British conversation – one that tends to be related to weather, holidays, weather, more weather, or the state of Brexit, and can take a turn onto either subject at any given moment when even a glimpse of silence creeps upon us.

I looked around and spotted a couple of chaps who had reached the end of their chat, and were quite comfortable saying nothing. I really wondered how that felt.

When I asked my friends, my dedicated research group, why they think the British are the worst at awkward silences, the majority replied:

“because you guys talk about everything – ‘how did you sleep? Have you seen the weather? Wasn’t the weather terrible for our long weekend? Cor, it’s chilly out today…you said that yesterday…must be getting colder. The temperature in July is set to be like an Indian summer! Did you see Margaret leave the house the other day? Terrible.’ So, for you Brits, the awkward silence is unfamiliar territory”

I really do love this trait about the British, though. I love that we can talk about sandwiches fillers, the weather, and have strong opinions on pot holes. I feel warm inside than when Luis gives me my morning weather update on route to work and uses his steering wheel as a map of New Zealand, because I have no idea what he’s talking about, or I hear from someone in England who tells me it’s been a sunny day. I love that my Grandma tells me about her daily mile long walk and starts her letter with the outside temperature, the time, and how her Baileys tasted in her coffee. I also love how my Nanny went to Russia, but instead tells me in great detail about how her team lost the bowls tournament, but they did supply a lovely spread of sandwiches.


6 thoughts on “What is it with the British and making Silence so Awkward?

  1. Hi Chloe. This is a sweeping generalisation but I find the Kiwis to be really quite poor conversationalists. They seem incapable of making small talk if it strays into anything personal as a rule…and I have found you can spend hours in their company at times and they are incapable of asking you a question or showing an interest…yes perhaps we Brits are uncomfortable with silence but at least we know how to hold a decent two way conversation, even if it is about the weather.


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