I like British television. It often has petty scenery and if I stick to dramas and mysteries it’s often not terribly loud or flashy.
Watching British television has made me more aware of just how far from British culture Americans are in some ways. I often don’t understand motivations and conversations between characters.
Insults are the difference that I most often realize that I’m missing. I just can’t tell when a character is being sarcastic or insulting. Often characters will say things that I would assume are complementary, only to be surprised by the strong negative reactions of other characters.
For example in one Foyle’s War, Foyle’s son tells Samantha shes beautiful (I don’t remember the exact phrasing) and she practically slaps him. I believe she told him to sod off. She was really upset. It seemed to me to be a complement but apparently it was not.
Another example was on Midsomer Murder when Tom Barnaby and Troy are in the car and Troy has a sandwich. Barnaby makes what a remark about the sandwich (again I wish I remembered the exact phrasing) and Troy looked as close to punching out a superior officer as I’ve ever seen him. He was mad. The remark seemed perfectly innocuous to me.
There have been other times were people on the same shows will say completely outrageous things, name calling and what not where everyone takes it as a huge joke. I often wish I could ask a native to explain. After all it might not be a cultural difference. It could just be that what is acceptable among friends is not acceptable in the work place or some other similar situation.
I think it would really help with writing foreign characters as well.