Sunday, February 28, 2010

Stereotyping For Beginners...

We were commenting on how much more relaxing it was driving in Monte Negro; nobody honked their horn, nobody pulled straight out into our path from a side road, everybody queued politely rather than zooming to the front of any queue of cars, nobody performed death wish overtakes, did a u-turn on a dual carriageway, drove the wrong way up one way streets. It felt odd. We let our guard down.

Within 5 minutes of crossing the border back into Albania a car had pulled out of a side road, without looking, slowing down, or stopping, causing us to brake suddenly, a man in a wheel chair-bicycle contraption pedalling along the side of the road, swerved suddenly across our path in the road without looking behind him, or indicating as we were about to pass him. Didn't he hear our very noisy old banger? Within half an hour, we had nearly run over 3 street dogs, had 2 bikes cycling towards us on the wrong side of the road, a woman walking down the middle of the road, ON A ROUNDABOUT, and a car overtaking another with far too little space driving straight towards us. As for the roadworks, well cars just drove where they liked, there was no filtering etc, so we had cars coming towards us on our side of the road because the oncoming vehicles had decided we were on the 'made up' side of the rd which looked much better (& therefore faster probably). And a guy drove towards us up the hard shoulder.

Welcome back. It certainly wakes you up.

I know one is supposed to say 'not wrong just different' & I applaud Iota for managing to do this so magnanimously so often. I try, but there are some things which just don't wash. Frankly the driving in Albania is appalling. All our visitors comment on it, the accident rate is horrendous, the police enforce precious little, & many are afraid to drive here.

When we were skiing yesterday there were quite a few weekend visitors & we noticed groups of typically 8 to 10 mainly lads, who made me very nervous. Our 5 y-o had just learned this week & was doing very well, but Saturday was so much busier & these groups tended to be not very good skiers & not, let's say, very in control. (For the anxious grandparents reading this, we deliberately took the very old, very slow lift up to another part of the mountain & had runs almost entirely to ourselves.)

They tended to go way too fast, cut you up, not leave enough room for safety when overtaking, do a lot of macho posturing, have no consideration for other piste users, no cognisance of 'consequences' or realisation that skiing could be a dangerous acitvity & all in all quite selfish. It seemed very familiar. Where had I seen this sort of behaviour elsewhere? I stopped near these groups when I could, & without fail, yes, dear reader, I heard Albanian.

They skiied just like they drove.

So I started wondering whether this was a national characteristic, or was it that Albania has a very macho culture which skiing & driving lend themselves to being performed in a macho way?

When skiing in Canada, people were unfailingly courteous, careful skiers & gave lots of space & were solicitous if someone had a problem. I guess this is because the prevailing culture is a litigious one so everyone skiied considerately (even if the ulterior motive was to stay law-suit free) Maybe that is unfair, & as a nation, Canada is courteous & considerate to others, I don't know. I will ask my sister what she thinks, she lived there for 7 yrs.....

I have skiied in some countries in Europe where the queuing is non-existent, the locals pushed & shoved, but I'm not naming names.

It's hard to resist national stereotyping. People are happy to do it, it seems when it's to say 'the Italians are so extrovert', 'West Indians so laid back & easy going', 'Germans are so efficient', 'Aussies have a great sense of humour'. It's more acceptable when it's a positive I guess, but not so politically correct when it's negatives. Despite, obviously, being generalisations, can there be truth in them? How does a nation develop 'national characteristics?

They are always so much easier to see as the outsider looking in I think, but maybe that's just our effort to pigeon hole & reinforce one's identity in an alien land.
I wonder what foreigners who go & live in the UK say about British national characteristics? Would it be all the 'obvious' ones we Brits see ourselves? Reserved? Stiff upper lipped? Moaners? Obsessed with weather? Masters of understatement & irony? Expert queue-ers?

Or would there be some googlies in there that we wouldn't have identified ourselves?

And do they change with time? Could we still be described as 'tolerant', 'on the side of the underdog', 'stoic', in a country which has become very foreigner-fatigued/potential terrorist-wary, stressed, road-raged, me-centred, 'I want it now' & go-getting?

What do you think?


Iota said...

Oh, I do have my "different and wrong" moments (often to do with what is considered acceptable food for children).

I read quite a few blogs by expats in England (mostly Americans), and they do get frustrated at how reserved we are. They also find it odd that we tell self-deprecating stories about ourselves, and this is a rite of passage into a friendship. I'd never really considered that, but it's true. We do. And it IS a bit odd, if you think about it.

One thing they get very wrong, though, is that they think shop assistants are rude and uninterested, because they make eye contact and then look away. To a Brit, this is the assistant's way of saying "I've registered the fact that you're here, but don't worry, I'm not going to pester you. You know where I am if you need any help." I suppose that's quite a stretch from just meeting someone's eyes! No wonder non-Brits find it hard to interpret.

I think the "reserved" aspect can be interpreted as "rude" (as in my shop assistant example) or "cold". But I don't FEEL rude or cold and I'm a Brit!

I don't feel I've really answered your questions. Sorry.

London City Mum said...

Having lived in the UK (okay, London) for over 19 years now, I can confirm that the Brits are obsessed with the weather and with the royal family.

So for someone who lived previously in far better climes and is a die-hard republican, you can imagine my HORROR when my mother asks whether it has been raining and did I see what the Queen was wearing at whatever event ALL IN THE SAME SENTENCE!!!
And, mightI add, without the slightest trace of irony either.


p.s. you want bad driving? Try Naples (as in Italy): no seatbelts, going thru red lights, smoking cigarette and with small child perched on driver's lap... oh, and of course with mobile phone somehow glued to the ear simultaneously.

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

I'm evicting the Montenegrins from the Balkans if they drive well. Most un-Balkan trait if you ask me.

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

Iota: I wasn't expecting a definitive answer, tho it does intrigue me a lot, but u have added interestingly to the discusssion. I lik ethat thing abtthe shopp assiatnts. I never thought about THAT one.I LOVE self-deprecation. Can't cope with self-congratulation, blowing own trumpet stuff at all!
LCM:There aren't q so many royalists now I'd say espec amngst the young. They ARE g dfor tourism tho, wch , when u have weather like ours, u need all the help u can get!
Didn't wnt to moan on (albeit in a v British way) abt the driving as have doen that in sevral post sbefore, but yes driving wth no seat belt, smoking, on phone, going thru red lights, with a child on yr lap, or probably all 5 at same time, is so normal I forgot to mention it! People even say proudly "I'm a good driver, you don't need to wear a seat belt in my car!" ?? Give me strength. Oh & 12 yr olds drive here too. I'm not kidding. IN THE CAPITAL. Ok so maybe they don't smoke at the same time...
Brit: yes v unBalkan, now isn't that strange, why so different? maybe just v strict traffic police. Maybe cos v mountainous & hazardous (no tthat that stops teh Albanians)

Potty Mummy said...

I think it sounds like driving in Albania is even more of a nightmare than driving in Moscow, that's what I think... Hats off to you, Paradise!

Expat mum said...

Or you could come over to Chicago where the pedestrians scare the heck out of the drivers. They walk out wherever they want, knowing that you're not going to hit them because you'd be sued out of existence.
And as for stereotyping, we do it on a weekly basis over at Pond Parleys (dot blogspot). Come over and join in!!!

Mwa said...

I thought it was funny that you told the anxious grandparents you took "a very old lift."

I agree that people abroad see some Brits as reserved, but these days the lager-lout image is rather prevalent all over Europe. Some Brits are getting a bit of a reputation for being loud, obnoxious, drunk and oblivious to local culture. (I'm married to a Brit so very aware this is not the whole truth.)

nappy valley girl said...

The thing about stereotyping is that it's usually based on something....there's no smoke without fire in other words.

That driving does sound terrifying. You're very brave to do it. The worst driving I have ever seen was in Vietnam where there seemed to be no correct way to go round a roundabout - people went in all directions, narrowly avoiding each other. Also no pedestrian crossings, so walking across the road was like playing chicken.

Nappy Valley Housewife said...

The driving thing. ..ha. We moved back from Tokyo in September. When I say we moved back, we moved back to London but I'm originally a New Yorker.

Anyway, the Japanese are terrible drivers. You wouldn't think it,would you? Because they're so efficient and orderly and well-mannered which, I suppose, has absolutely no bearing on their driving skills. Clearly. It is dangerous to walk down the pavement next to them, to cycle near them, to ski near them and, most especially, to drive anywhere in the general proximity of the Japanese. I kid you not. And it's because they have no spatial awareness whatsoever. None. Maybe it has something to do with living in an incredibly overpopulated country where each person is only allotted a tiny bit of space, a miniscule personal bubble.

I say all this in the kindest way with no offense to the Japanese because they are lovely people. But spatially challenged. In a big way. But, hey, we all have our thing.

Anonymous said...

It's the Americans, I think, who fear litigation; Canadians poke fun at them because of it.