The other week, en route to Alston, I was in the famous Betty’s Tea Rooms picking up some Fat Rascal scones for the team. (If you’ve never tried one, my co-director Craig would argue it’s worth taking a trip to Harrogate to do so – even if you live in Australia. But then, his love of Fat Rascals borders on obsession!)
Anyhow, as I waited for the elderly gentleman in front of me to be served, I heard him say to the young lady behind the counter: “English is not your first language, is it?”
My ears pricked up. Was it all going to kick off? In Betty’s!?
Not a bit of it. But the ensuing conversation did make me smile and grimace in equal measure.
“No, it’s not”, the young lady responded. “I’m Hungarian.”
“Oh”, said the gentleman. “I don’t know Hungary. But I do know someone who once went to Romania.”
“Well, they’re quite similar in some ways”, replied the lady smiling professionally. “It’s about minus eight degrees in both countries at the moment!”
“Yes, yes, quite” said the old man. He paused. “Hungarians of course are superb at maths.”
“Well, thank you”, said the young lady. “Though I’m afraid that’s not the case with me.”
“Yes, yes”, said the man. “Excellent mathematicians. And musicians. The two go together of course.”
The lady thanked him and again claimed to have no skill in either. (Though, obviously, since she was Hungarian, she was clearly just being modest.)
The transaction completed, the kindly old gentleman left, leaving both me and the shop assistant to exchange smiles at the huge generalisation.
But, of course, we all make generalisations all of the time – it’s our way of categorising people.
Just for a bit of fun, I went online and found descriptions people have given about the people of another country.
See if you can guess the country, by the description of the people:
“They are patient, polite, considerate and frugal with a good sense of humour.”
“They are extremely easy to please and like their pleasures small.”
“They are class-conscious and entrepreneurial.
“They are humorous; often in a sarcastic or self-depreciating manner.”
“They are conservative, but extravert.”
“They make a point of speaking quietly; to talk loudly is considered impolite.”
“Whilst they behave to a set of educational standards by day with formality and elegance, at night a complete transformation takes place. Their bars are uninhibited spaces where tensions run high and where they sometimes rely too heavily on alcohol.”
“They can seem cold when you meet and avoid physical contact – but this does not imply they are distant – it is, in fact, a sign of respect.”
To calculate your score, give yourself one point for every time you guessed ‘English’. For, yes, these are all descriptions of me, and anyone else born in this little part of a little island on the outskirts of Europe.
Aren’t we a peculiar race? I say that, of course, self-depreciatingly, just to show that some generalisations might have a grain of truth. But to put that into context, I’d say that for me, at best, around half are about half right…ish. The point is, generalisations result in stereotypes that are often unhelpful and commonly wrong.
So, unless every generalisation ever made about your ‘type’ applies to you, you might want to join me in making a note to self for 2020. Mine might say: “I do not know someone’s political beliefs by the way they look at my dog. Drivers that don’t say thank you are not necessarily parasitically evil. And a love of chocolate is not a guarantee of good taste and refinement in all aspects of life.”