This NYT piece captures in a handful of paragraphs what Kate Fox so admirably tackles in Watching the English (also a recommended read and possibly the most fun you'll have with cultural anthropology - ever). The piece addresses the fundamental cultural differences between the US and England (England is more specific and proper here than using the terms "Britain" or "the UK" because the article is speaking to English ways, not necessarily Welsh or Scottish ways. Plus, the English know, to a certainty, that there is a difference) - our penchant for talking openly and vulgarly about money; our need to know what you do (as in, for employment); our unyielding need to take ourselves and everything about ourselves deathly seriously.
Also of note: the article's gentle jibe at the American tendency to endow the English with excess credibility and intelligence based solely on their cute and sexy accents.
Sarah Lyall frames the piece on the recent dust-up over allegedly misinterpreted comments from Gwyneth Paltrow praising the Brits for being more intelligent and civilized than Americans. She probably said something fairly close - and meant it - but it loses something in translation because of her rather poor diction. Though they seemingly value leisure and non-workplace pursuits less than the rest of Europe, the English still place most things above their careers. It isn't that they don't value hard work - they just don't devalue vacations or non-career interests and subjects - a subtle, but important key to understanding the English culture. The disinterest in (or at least, disinclination to) discussing money matters is, perhaps, a mark of civility, as it implies one needn't worry about the basics of life (food, shelter, etc) and can turn one's mind to loftier concerns.
The English cultural focus outside the workplace, then, isn't a mark of intelligence per se, but it is a mark of what I'd call smarts.
Lyall's piece lauds the English penchant for furious, fun, and quick debate - citing the witty and deadly-quick House of Commons debates that mark English statesmanship, noting that Tony Blair's erudite explanation of the need for action in Iraq certainly won over uncertain Americans because of his careful, artfully articulate presentation.
I would only disagree with Lyall on two points. First, she paints the English attitude towards alcohol as more European than American. While pub culture is certainly a hallmark of Englishness (so sayeth Ms. Fox), in England, as in America, drinking is still done for a reason - celebration, marking of some event, etc - rather than consumed because you should have something at the table to wash down all that pasta, etc. Certainly, the lubricated pub discussion is a sight to behold, but I associate leisurely, mid-week, wine-soaked dinners with Europe, not England. (There, see, I split you up - happy now, my .co.uk reading friends?)
Second - she closes with a quotation urging Gwynnie P to recognize the virtue of each culture. I say: Ms. Martin, if you like the English way of doing things more, then you go with it. I'm not sure I don't like many English methods better myself (with the glaring exception of English bacon). Watering down an otherwise fun exercise in cultural comparisons with "ah, but don't we all have fine points of which to boast" is boring and anathema to the thematic underpinnings of the article itself.
To clarify your assignment: read the article and, if it piques your interest, get Kate Fox's book and try to find someone capable of conversing about more than his job or income.