Photo: John O’Nolan
1. The “Cuppa”
Tea is an Englishman’s kryptonite. Just its mention will stop him in full flight, even if he doesn’t like tea. Conviviality is the aim. It is the cornerstone of any agreement. A cup of tea bridges all genetic and cultural influences. It is breaking bread, offering hospitality, sustenance. It says, if we must disagree, let us at least be civil. If your Englishman takes tea with you then your path to victory will be much eased.
If, however, he rejects the offer, suggest coffee; if that fails, propose a fruit brew or hot chocolate. If these are dismissed, then all is not lost, because the Englishman (some might say he no longer warrants the title) will be agitated by your ongoing offers—a glass of water? Lemonade? Freshly squeezed—while you remain collected, ready to dodge any verbal lunges like a Tai Chi master waiting for an opponent to topple himself with an angry punch. On that note, I strongly suggest avoiding alcohol at this point in the argument.
2. The Weather
Cuppa in hand, now mention how cool it is for the time of year, or say it looks like rain (even if you are in New Mexico). Your “Type 1” Englishman (the hot beverage drinker) will respond on reflex with the forecast for tomorrow and thus, you’re already establishing a dialogue.
Your “Type 2” Englishman (the dry-throated one) will start to fizz at this further delay. His impatience is your strength. Move swiftly onto Step 3.
3. The Silent Treatment
Your Type 1 will relish the silence, because by now, he no longer wants an argument any more than you do. But if principles are at stake, it is good to have this pause before you butt antlers. It is a time for both of you to assess what is important, so neither of you lose blood defending a point you don’t give a hoot about.
This is the turning point for your Type 2. He is so frustrated by the delays that he will agree to anything just so long as you bloody well start. So for both Types you wait for them to speak first; to invite the discussion, to ask for it, even if you were the one who originally requested the head to head. The Type 1 will ask to satisfy his curiosity; the Type 2, to relieve his impatience.
4. The Apology
Whatever they say, apologize immediately. This is not the sign of weakness it is in many cultures. Often a “Sorry” carries no more weight for an Englishman than a “Hello”, or “Goodbye.” It will be taken as manners and politeness for any inconvenience you have caused, either for the delay in getting started, for interrupting him when he came at you or for starting the argument in the first place. It’s a softener and will make even the cantankerous Type 2 more amiable by validating his feelings of frustration. It will offer relief, because essentially the Englishman abhors confrontation. Subconsciously, your Englishman will feel he has already scored a victory.
5. The Fan
Next, fan his victory with a compliment. He has been force-fed glory from an early age and reminded of its merits in every town and city right to London’s core, where the legendary warrior, Lord Nelson, towers over the namesake of his greatest battle, Trafalgar Square. Even your most peace-loving Type 1 cannot help responding to a compliment about how you admire their fortitude. Do not become scrapping or servile. Dish up the compliment man-to-man. The stronger the enemy, the more the Englishman respects him.
6. The Confession
Your preparation is almost complete. You are close to beginning or returning to the argument. But first, what the Englishman hates most is arrogance and aloofness — his forbears spent too long doffing their forelocks to such men. On a Monday, the Englishman will applaud a man’s success. On the Tuesday he will revel in bringing that same hero down to size. He is very un-American in this respect. Cut him off at the pass by admitting a fault. If you have committed a wrong along the way, confess it. He will respect your honesty and humility and find it harder to argue with someone he respects.
7. Spill It
Now that you have created conviviality, or at least respect, show your strength. Start or resume the argument. State your case succinctly–freedom runs in the very marrow of an Englishman, he does not respond well to being lectured and has a keen nose for bullshit. Do not pull punches, but do not insult. Your integrity will be recognised beyond any point you are trying to make. Regardless of whether your Englishman’s self-perception errs towards the Gentleman or the Peoplesman, integrity is your best weapon to bridge gulfs in principles.
8. Mind Your P’s and Q’s
Even in the roughest of arguments an Englishman still expects politeness. If he interrupts you, respond with, “Please, I’ll finish on this.” And wrap up quick–you can always make more points in a Round 2.
When you have finished, thank him for listening. If you have made a knockout point, great, well done: victory is yours! If, however, he still fails to agree with you and you do not have a “just” point, then give up. You do not deserve to win. But if your position is genuinely just, keep going.
9. It’s Not Cricket
Appeal to his sense of fair play. Prick his honour. Tap into the Nelson-Trafalgar-Square factor or his pride in the equality of institutions such as the National Health Service. Whether on an international cricket pitch or in a bar-room darts game, fair play matters (The 1933 Ashes “Bodyline” Tour was the exception which proved the rule).
Begin by asking him if, in his heart, he really believes his argument is reasonable. If that fails, invoke his peer group; what would his mates say, his mother, his girlfriend, his sister? These are desperate measures: tread carefully, and don’t make them sound like threats, because then all bets will be off and the argument lost.
If he doesn’t give a monkeys about his mates’, girlfriend’s, mum’s or sister’s opinions, then offer him out for an arm-wrestle, even if it is obvious he will beat you. It’s possible he will be magnanimous in victory, especially in front of a crowd of other Englishmen who love a plucky underdog. You may rescue a compromise from the jaws of defeat. So good luck, and if you are an Englishman who disagrees with anything I’ve said above, let’s start the argument with a nice cup of tea.