Getting Unstuffy


I’m attending the COBIS  (Council of British Overseas schools) conference in London on Sunday and Monday, for the first time in about 10 years.

I attended many years ago, but stopped going because I found it unhelpful…. and because it was painfully stuffy, bordering on pompous and I felt distinctly unwelcome.  You see, as a born and bred American, even though I’ve lived in the UK for 12 years, I don’t do stuffy or pompous very well. Probably because I don’t know where I sit in the hierarchy of pompousity – I can’t see the rungs on the ladder. I’m somehow selectively blind to them by birth and rearing in American society which aspires to be the self made man with humble roots rather than to be the entitled son of a Baronet. Don’t get me wrong- I don’t talk loudly on trains or in public and don’t switch knife and fork when eating (anymore)   – I’ve assimilated somewhat. But one can only go so far in a decade.  I draw the line at stuffy.

This unfortunate blind spot of mine makes for very awkward social situations where I’m sure I’m doing something wrong or at least not what’s expected of me, but I don’t know what that thing is so there’s no way to correct it.  Alas, this is the life of an expatriate abroad. Always stumbling around like Mr Magoo but hopefully, like him,   landing upright and with my martini intact.

Now I’ve been told on good authority that COBIS has changed and become more informational and less painful under its new leader, so I’m giving it another go with high hopes.  Indeed, many formerly stuffy British institutions are letting their stuff hang out a bit more nowadays because that’s what the situation demands.  An article in the Economist HERE, featuring a friend of mine, Simon Lucas from EC Harris, points out that in the race to open up overseas schools many veddy veddy British schools such as Dulwich and Harrow have had to temper their stuffy Britishness to an extent in order to comply with overseas customs and, in some cases, laws.

Don’t get me wrong – I  really admire the British with their love of order, tradition and history.  I now know how to properly say Southwark (Suth-Ark)  and oregano (OR-eh-GAAAH-no) and can queue like nobody’s business.  But I’m glad they are leaving the downsides of tradition behind when it’s appropriate and opening their lovely doors to half-blind Mr Magoo’s like me.


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