Most broad ideas of the characteristics which identify people from other races and cultures contain a grain of truth as well as a dollop of unfairness. The excitable French, stoic Britons and [supply your own words here] Irish turn up in a story in the Sunday Times travel supplement.
An Aer Lingus plane is approaching Paris on a flight from London. An announcement is made in French and in English. The French get into a tremendous flap with (I embellish here somewhat) much “Zut alors!”, “Sacred blue!”, “Where is the pen of my aunt?”and all the other expressions of excitement which we associate with the Gallic nature. The Britons, meanwhile, sit calmly, with what appears to the French as a degree of sang-froid quite inappropriate to the circumstances, whatever they had heard about British stoicism.
It transpires that the cabin crew have got the tapes muddled up. English-speaking passengers were merely advised to return to their seats and fasten their safety belts. The French, however, were told to prepare for an emergency landing, to note where the emergency exits were, and to await instructions from the captain.
Stories of such mutual incomprehension and cultural stereotypes turn up from time to time in the context of foreign data collections (where the standard advice, of course, includes the suggestion that you refrain from calling your hosts’ language “foreign”). Data collection experts instructed by a US law firm went to a subsidiary company abroad to collect evidence for litigation, with the understanding that the culture of the country was that staff were immensely loyal. The collectors were puzzled to find that they were obstructed at every turn, and it took a long time to discover that whatever they had said on their arrival had been interpreted as meaning that the subsidiary’s senior management was under investigation. The employees were just being immensely loyal – exactly as the lawyers had been told they would be.