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Monday, January 14, 2013

Missionaries in the United Kingdom: A Cultural Guide

by ldsbishop (bio)

During the October 2012 General Conference, we all cheered the announcement by President Monson that the age at which both male and female missionaries can serve was being lowered. Due to the anticipated increase in the number of missionaries serving, the amount of time they spend in the MTC will be reduced. This could mean that a greater number of young people will be set loose on the streets of the world with little knowledge of the cultural idiosyncrasies of the people they are supposed to teach.

After working with a number of full-time missionaries here in the UK during my years of Priesthood leadership, I have observed a number of pitfalls and mistakes they make due to their lack of knowledge of British culture. Below is my handy guide for potential missionaries that may end up serving over here in Blighty.
  1. If you are called to serve in Britain, spend as much time as you can learning about the British way of life. The best way to do this is to buy the boxset of Downton Abbey. All British people are either landed gentry or serve them in some way. We also like getting it on with our cousins (this makes family history work easier to pursue, since we're all related very closely).
  2. Following on from number 1, when tracting, you must never just walk up and knock on the front door. As the Lord's servants, you must enter the house via the servant's quarters. No matter how humble-looking their house might be, all British people have at least a butler and a maid, who you must pass first before you gain entrance to the house. The servant's quarters are normally found at the rear of the house. Upon knocking, ask the butler or maid if you "Might request an audience with his Lordship or her Ladyship."
  3. Hollywood has depicted all British people to either be evil villains or cheerful Cockney chimney sweeps. Obviously, those are untrue stereotypes. Thankfully, since the release of Harry Potter, we are now shown in a more accurate light, inasmuch that we all have some kind of magic power. If the discussions are going well, why not ask the man of the house to "Whip out your wand so I can compare it the ones I've seen in the movies."
  4. Brits and Americans are often said to be separated by a common language. Some words that might be perfectly innocent in the USA will cause offence in the UK. Among them are: fanny, sod, soccer, spunk, Mitt Romney, pants.
  5. During World War II, American servicemen charmed lonely British women with presents such as pantyhose and gum. While the things they got up to might be against mission rules, commodities such as pantyhose are still in short supply. To gain the trust of British women always carry some pantyhose with you and offer them to the ladies at the earliest possible opportunity. This small gesture almost always guarantees you an invitation to teach them the discussions.
  6. All cars drive on the left in the United Kingdom, but that's not the only thing you need to do on the left. It is a cultural requirement that you must also dress on the left (if male), vote on the left and only make left-turns when walking the streets.
  7. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is our head of state. Since she is also head of the Church of England, all convert baptisms need to be authorised by her. Do this by writing her a letter requesting that one of her subjects be allowed to leave the Church of England to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Don't forget to be polite and address your letter to "Dear Sister The Queen." Requests are normally granted within 18-24 months. She's a busy lady, you know.
  8. British people employ heavy use of sarcasm and irony in their humour. They will be telling you things and it might be difficult to know if they are joking with you or not. The best thing to do is laugh out loud at everything they say, no matter how serious they might be sounding at the time.
The points above are certainly not an exhaustive guide. Why not add some of your knowledge of British people and culture below, or give us some insight into your own country. The more information we have, the better we can train our prospective missionaries, allowing them to concentrate on what really matters - preaching the gospel and getting sick on obscure foreign foods.

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