We were chatting with Ms P via the wonder of FaceTime™ and got onto the subject of national stereotypes for the places we’ve visited. Not in a nasty, xenophobic way I hasten to add, but rather the cultural differences and idiosyncrasies that are fond and abiding memories.
For example, in South Africa it was the Capetonians notions of time and the concept of ‘now’.
It doesn’t exist as a single word, but has three variants. three options: right now, now now and just now. Right now means now, as in immediately, now now means soon, within an hour or two, while just now is an indeterminable point in the not too distant, but probably not today.
In Las Vegas, it was the sheer commercialism. The place pretends that it is designed with pedestrians in mind, but only if you take the walkways to cross the road on which the exit sign invariably takes you into a shopping mall rather than the way out.
Utah had an air of friendly weirdness, where a waitress would reluctantly serve you a cold beer (if you also ordered food) and then happily give you a lecture on the evils of alcohol while you drank it.
For Thailand it would be the ubiquitous tuk-tuk that whizz you around Bangkok, while in Cambodia and Vietnam it is the sight of motorbikes overloaded with anything you can think of – families, mothers riding side-saddle with a newborn baby in her arms, livestock and even an entire dining suite of very solid table and chairs.
Having spent more than a year in Japan, Ms P has had plenty of time to draw her own conclusions about the place and it seems there is an awful lot of eccentricities for the western visitor to scratch their head about.
But for her, Japan is summed up by the sight of family groups dressed the same – mum, dad and children all in identical hats, stripey tops, trousers and Converse shoes – in a way that is both endearing and odd.
If you’ve read this far, you may think that all this is by way of poking fun at other peoples, but it isn’t. All nationalities have their foibles that seem quite natural to them, but very strange to the outsider, and we wondered what memento of oddness a visitor to the UK might take away with them.
My first thoughts were that it must be our national obsessions with the weather, queueing, tea saying sorry every five seconds, but perhaps I’m blind to other eccentricities that feel normal to me. So what do you think are the defining characteristics of the stereotypical Brit?