I was speaking to a friend yesterday who hails from the sandy shores of South America. While discussing various adventures he brought up the point that whenever people had had difficulties or differences with him (which would be rare as he is a standup fellow) that they would often discount the nature of the issue by simply claiming it was ‘cultural differences’ that were at the heart. This got me thinking at how the British can often blind themselves to the idea of manners, emotions, or alternative ideas by boxing them up in the safe realms of ‘well, he’s from Spain, of course he’ll think like that’.
Sadly it can imbue us with a sense of superiority as we take pity on our poor friends from foreign climes who are at the mercy of their national identities, whereas we Brits are of course above all that. In essence we’re normal. It’s a strange thing that each nation is stereotyped into very definite behavioral quirks, when of course the individuals who exist there will display quite different qualities. For example the British maintain that Germans are unemotional and lack a sense of humour. But having spent a bit of time in Deutschland my experience was of a warm, friendly people who knew how to prepare good food. The men were giants, the women unquestionably some of the most beautiful I’d ever seen, and the beer was really quite wonderful. One day I hope to return and maybe stay a little longer.
The French of course are meant to be unwashed, arrogant, and rude. Not entirely sure were this comes from, but the Anglo/French divide goes back centuries to a time when we quite regularly attacked each other with ships, soldiers, and the occasional vicious quip about smelling of garlic. In fact the French have been a constant figure of fun to bad British comedians, public speakers looking for a cheap laugh, and the team at Top Gear. The thing pointed out most is that for a small, quite insignificant nation they demand a seat at the table in world affairs and refuse to speak any language other than their own. Hmmmm, sounds a bit familiar.
Others to suffer similar fates are the Dutch (argumentative), Americans (self absorbed), Spanish (bullfighters and flamenco dancers), Nigerians (loud), Australians (drunks), Irish (stupid drunks), Argentinians (cheats), Italians (sex mad cheats), and Belgians (do they even exist?). Which is a pretty sizable pile of judgment and xenophobia, and of course it’s only the tip of the iceberg. But on careful reflection, having weighed up the pros and cons and conducting exhaustive research I’ve come to a conclusion. It’s all a load of bollocks.
I’ve met people who conform quite closely to all of the above and some who conform to none. In the end people will do the most extraordinary things and can constantly surprise you – this is what makes life interesting. Plus the fact that the world has changed so much since these archaic ideas where put in place. London, the place I call home, is made up of so many different nationalities that it would be churlish to try and enforce a behavioral model that fitted all Londoners. The interaction between these cultures is doing exactly what it should be, that is creating a new culture, a diverse people who can shrug off the national proclivities and go back to the the idea of individuals defining themselves rather than conforming to historical society mores. I for one welcome this new being.
Viva la difference! As our Gallic neighbours say. Let’s talk to each other as people, not ambassadors for long diminished ideas of nationality. Maybe then we might understand each other a little better…