Conversations and the cultural stereotypes within them

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth.

One student’s observations about the “French” and “Canadian” ways of discussing

Have you ever heard the phrase “the British are too polite to be honest and the Germans are too honest to be polite?” I really get a kick out of cultural stereotypes. Not the nasty ones that pigeon-hole people into a category to exclude or ostracise them. Quite the opposite. I enjoy cultural stereotypes that bring us together by showing us there are patterns in human behaviour and many of us are creatures of habit. These cultural habits provide some humour to the process of being human and give us something to relate to each other with. Unless those generalities don’t work well together—then there can be trouble.

All that just to ask, which culture doesn’t like to chat? I know that, growing up in rural Manitoba, the kitchen table is the centre of discussion in the home, and as a Française, my partner will agree. But that’s where our similarities on the topic end. I often get the impression that I don’t “discuss” the way she expects me to, and my partner’s method of discussion is one that invariably leads to a fight. So, I am wondering about the whole process of discussion because I’m sure most of us enjoy sitting with friends and gossiping about work or even the banal observations from the day. This is what makes us people; this is what we do, and this is how we exchange our thoughts and ideas. But I’ve noticed I may be going about it wrong. So, what does this have to do with how people exchange ideas? I think it depends who you ask.

As someone from the countryside, this is how I discuss: I make a statement of observation within a group of friends, and it’s either accepted without much pause or it is received in silence. Obviously, the former is the most desired outcome, and this essentially means your observation was met with no real opposition and requires no further discussion. The latter means it was not agreed with, but the other participants feel no need to take it any further nor create a big stink over it. Nice and neat. It doesn’t require the barrage of questioning and scrutinizing that my partner expects from her listeners. Perhaps this is why I get corralled into being called passive or even naïve.

From my observations, this is the “French way” of discussing: Propose an idea and let it be subjected to a hammering of questions and critiques by all within earshot, whether they’re at the table, standing nearby, or even just walking past the café where the “discussion” is taking place.

The end goal being that, even if your observational statement is not true, it has survived countless rounds of interrogation, and you can rest easily knowing you have convinced everyone involved that this is just one perspective of many available to the situation.

Despite my way of discussing and hers, I cannot help but be attracted to those with strong opinions who challenge every goddamn thing I say. As much as it pisses me off, I respect that. I respect people who balk at a theory and take things to task to see just who’s who and what’s what. I love her very much but, even after nearly seven years of “discussing” with her, my Canadian-ness still struggles to adapt.

At the same time, I know that Canadians are not innocent, and we have our assumptions. We are just as guilty of possessing our own silly stereotypes about others. And for that, I’d like to apologize.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth 

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