Thursday, 9 March 2006

As others see us

I've been unable to trace this back to its origin, it is reported in numerous blogs as being from a Swiss e-mail to The Telegraph in January 2006 but seems to appear in others, e.g. this one (sidebar), as far back as August 2005:
"Being British is about driving in a German car to an Irish pub for a Belgian beer, then travelling home - grabbing an Indian curry or a Turkish kebab on the way - to sit on Swedish furniture and watch American shows on a Japanese TV.
And the most British thing of all? Suspicion of anything foreign."

As it happens, the first part could describe life in many places in these days of globalisation, with the exception of relying on takeaway food rather than cooking at home, which is singularly British, especially combined with this being non-British food (although it might just as often be fish and chips as, say, Chinese food). However, I'm not convinced that "suspicion of anything foreign" is either particularly or peculiarly British. Yes, the British would rather not be members of any club they don't run themselves - hence British attitudes to the EU - and yes, xenophobia is hardly unknown in the UK, but to say that it is the most striking feature of what it means to be British is pushing it more than somewhat.

Here in Belgium, those expats who want to integrate into Belgian life often find themselves unable to break into social circles which are not just based on but often limited to family, neighbourhood/region (= language) and politics/religion. Unless they actually marry into a Belgian family, when they become co-opted into this network, foreigners will often find Belgians easy to get on with at work but unwilling to socialize outside it - partly, of course, because they may be commuting further to work, given (they claim) that foreigners have priced them out of their own capital city, but also it seems to me, as a matter of choice. They don't mind trading or working with foreigners and are certainly more inclined to learn their languages than the British are, but when it comes to it, I'm not sure they are fundamentally any less suspicious of foreigners than the frequently monolingual British.

I find the question of "national character" both very interesting and highly dangerous as most of us have strong stereotypical images of specific nationalities - including our own - that colour our perception of them. Rabbie Burns may have said,
"Oh wad some power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!"
But we also need to see others as they really are and not as the images we have built up from books, movies and received knowledge cause us to expect them to be!


At 11/3/06 18:13, Blogger Mridula said...

A friend of mine who went to Germany for part of her studies went crazy in the after work hours because she hardly knew anyone socially. I think it is common to many countries.


Post a Comment

<< Home