“I, in spite of travel, 
Of years, of country, credit, every thing,
To fall into the trap I had fear’d for so long!”

I had an idea for this blog post.

I thought it was a good one, too. In a series of interviews, I would compare three similar food products, each representative of one of my defining cultures. An American friend would thus speak for peanut butter, a European friend for hazelnut chocolate paste Nutella, and a British friend for yeasty spread Marmite. The entry would then develop in function of what they had to say.

It would be fun, because my friends are hilarious. It would also be real journalism, because it would rely on three sources. A Pulitzer piece in the making.

And then I realised it was racist.

It all started in a taxicab in the Meat Packing District a few weeks ago. I sit in stunned anger as the cabbie shouts racist insults at the driver in front. The next day, I witness a hotel employee provoking a couple of workmen whose equipment happens to be in his way.

You see, these two incidents, although minor, have burst my bubble. Ten years after graduating from EF International School, I still adhere to an idealistic view of American culture. The Americans don’t get into arguments in public; they are too civilized for that. They live with a grin on their faces. They are polite. They are neighbourly.

Of course, I have heard of the so-called New York rudeness, but it’s just an urban legend. The Americans are incapable of the kind of grumbling and fighting that’s commonplace in the streets of Paris.

So what’s with all the unpleasantness? New York can’t have changed that much since my last visit in 2009. Is it my immersion into British culture that makes all others seem rude by comparison? The Brits take respect so seriously that they frown upon the idea of chewing their popcorn during a film– have they skewed my standards for politeness?

Or…could it be that the Americans do fight in public?

Upon my return to London, I begin work on my blog post. And I make my disturbing discovery while re-reading my friend Kirsty’s interview. A native of Essex, England, she provides an unexpected answer when asked which of the three spreads she would take with her to a desert island:

« If I had to choose (…), I’d go for Nutella, as the thought of warm peanut butter doesn’t fill me with joy (and would make me thirsty), and I’d rather eat my own hand than try marmite. However, if I was stranded on a desert island, I would take marmite to cover myself in – I’m pretty sure the smell of the marmite would keep potential predators at bay. Also, marmite looks as though it could be flammable, so I’d try and use it to start a fire and alert any overhead aircraft. »

Kirsty’s response, in addition to proving that my friends truly are hilarious, opened my eyes to my own conceits. Just like I had assumed that an English person would support British-made Marmite, I had held it as truth that the Americans didn’t fight in public like the French, or that the Brits were more considerate than anybody else. I had reduced my three cultures to simplistic general statements, and denied its people individuality- an attitude that made me as much of a racist as the New York cab driver.

So…openness to other cultures doesn’t always increase with Travel Points? Why didn’t anyone say?

Until next time. Don’t fight too much!

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