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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Europe and its stereotypes

Faithful readers will recall that I promised in an earlier post to divulge more details on what happened at the SSE's welcome dinner for exchange students. (Now, I'm not an exchange student at the SSE, but H is, so I at least get a place at the table.) The exchange students, grouped by nationality, were obliged to present to one another--and lord help us, to the rest of us as well--little skits, PowerPoint presentations, movies, and/or whatever else took their fancy in order to introduce their nation's culture. While there were attempts to address (and even to debunk!) entrenched stereotypes, most groups were true to form. The Americans were friendly and eager to please; the Canadians were crushed by the weight of the chip on their shoulder; the Asian women were polite, deferential, and difficult to hear from the back (where I was seated); and the Austrians were deliciously earnest.

The Italian--there was only one--was completely unprepared, but gallantly agreed to improvise a speech. Upon realizing that the PowerPoint projector cast his stereotypically fluid and emphatic hand gestures into grand shadows on the screen behind him, he predictably hammed it up.

Grazie. Grazie. Yes, question. ... Hand gestures? What hand gestures?

And the French applied the cruel lash of their legendary wit against, well, almost everyone. Take, for instance, this mildly offensive, breathtakingly stupid, and devastatingly funny map which they prepared.

Recipe for getting attacked: Get right in the middle of a big group and insult all of them.

Honestly, it's been a long time since I laughed so hard. It's not so much that the stereotypes are true, or even that they're indicative. What's so funny is how they touch on each nationality's own notion of its own failings. Somehow, watching the Brits (for example) get worked up about their flirtations with booze and football hooliganism--because we all know it's not universally true--is terribly funny. Trust the French to spare no one, and I should note that they did not spare themselves, in flourishing their big, bad wits. Funny, funny, funny night.


HLMP said...

Disclaimer: I thought the Canadians did a fine job of making fun of themselves and have chided J for his implications about "the chip." I reminded him that there may be a fair number of Canadians that read these posts, and he says that he can handle the heat. Bring it.

jph.b said...

Ahh, go eat freedom fries Powers.

Jaya said...

I might have to appropriate that map.