I know that this blog is mainly focused on China, but my aunt suggested that I write a little about returning to England after a year away. This is one of my weird observations…
There is a phrase ‘mad dogs and Englishmen’, which I never quite understood until now. It’s not the dogs that are mad, it’s the Englishmen that are mad about dogs! Actually, China is probably more mad about dogs: there are 27 million dogs in China according to this statistic, but they’re not really dogs – they’re babies… Along the beach today, I saw 9 out of 10 people were walking their dogs, and not a single one was being pushed in a pram or smacked if it barked too loudly.
We had a lot of lovely conversations with people out on the beach. We spoke about where their dogs were from, how old their dogs were, what their dogs liked, what their dogs did in their free time… Plenty of interesting things about their…dogs. I have no idea what the old lady with the rescue puppy did for a living, nor how long the two men with the Alsatian had been in Worthing, but I knew all about the puppy’s eating habits and the Alsatian’s favourite pee spot.
Families with four or five children dashing through the sand would invariably be followed by a tottering, skidding, bouncing or sprinting dog. ‘Come on, Coco!’ would be the most frequent utterance. Children would interact with their parents like this ‘Look what Shep can do, Mummy!’
If we hadn’t had a dog with us ourselves, those strangers would never have felt comfortable speaking to us. The dog was a starting point, a bridge of communication between us, and when the dog trotted away, it usually took the conversation with it.
It seems like we converse best with some excuse, a topic to interact with, to avoid those unbearable awkward silences. This is English culture, I think. In China, people don’t worry so much about initiating conversations: ‘Where are you from?’ or the simple ‘Hello’ will suffice for an introduction. The dog in England provides a link between family members, between friends, and between strangers. Just like the inevitable ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’