Bits from the books

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Americans

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Americans
Friends without friendship
Americans are friendly because they just can't help it; they like to be neighbourly and want to be liked. However, a wise traveller realises that a few happy moments with an American do not translate into a permanent commitment of any kind. Indeed, permanent commitments are what Americans fear the most. This is a nation whose fundamental social relationship is the casual acquaintance.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Aussies

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Aussies
Appearances are deceptive
Never make the error of underestimating the Aussies. They love to portray a casual disregard for everything around them, but no-one accidentally achieves a lifestyle as relaxed as theirs.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Austrians

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Austrians
We cannot be moved
The Austrian needs lots of persuading to have his traditions tampered with in the name of modernisation and efficiency. He is attached to his sausage, his insipid beer, and the young white wine that tastes so remarkably like iron filings. He prefers the familiar, tried and tested to the novelty, the latter almost certainly being an attempt by persons unknown to make money at his expense.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Belgians

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Belgians
Practicality makes perfect
Belgians like above all to be practical, solid. They stand square and conduct conversation from the base of the neck. Courteous behaviour is expected: it is the natural product of right-mindedness. It is also practical: that is how you get on in the world.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Canadians

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Canadians
The fabric of society
The nation aspires towards a 'cultural mosaic', something like a patchwork quilt, whereas Americans have aimed for the 'melting pot'. Canadians are essentially practical, and have figured out that the bat-brained idea of a melting pot would simply never work in a country where 50% of the land never completely thaws at all. A quilt is a much more pragmatic idea: it's cold outside.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Chinese

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Chinese
Inveterate inventors
The Chinese are inordinately proud of having invented, among a whole host of other things, the compass (without which the world would have got lost), paper (without which books would not exist), the printing press (ditto), porcelain (no pretty matching chinaware), silk (no decadence), pasta (what would the Italians eat?), the wheelbarrow (how would civilisation have fared without it?) and the bristle toothbrush.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Czechs

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Czechs

All roads lead to Czechia
In the 16th century Copernicus pointed out that the Sun, not the Earth, is the centre of the solar system, a fact that seems to have passed way over the heads of the Czechs. They appear to believe to this day that the Earth is at the centre of the Universe. And that, if the Earth is the centre of the Universe, Europe is the centre of the Earth and Czechia is at the centre of Europe.


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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Danes

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Danes
Everything in moderation
Denmark is a land of modesty and moderation. This is largely a consequence of the Danes' sense of social responsibility. The touchstone of any activity or point of view is whether it is samfundsrelevant, that is, socially useful. Indoctrination concerning the individual’s responsibility begins early. Danish children are brought up with stories which feature Teddy, Chicken and Duckling. Teddy and his friends regularly face the conflict of individual needs versus the common good.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Dutch

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Dutch
Double Dutch
For the Dutch, the other side of the question is as important as the question itself. Dialogue is the lubricant of tolerance, and the essential ingredient of dialogue is 'Yes, but...'.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the English

The Xenophobe's Guide to the English
To change or not to change
Two equally fundamental but contradictory English characteristics are a love of continuity and a yearning for change. In the English character these two opposite desires vie with each other constantly, which produces some curious behaviour patterns and several characteristics most usually observed in the classic split personality.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Estonians

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Estonians

Wait and see
The roots of ‘Ootame, vaatame’ ‘Let’s wait and see’, are embedded in the deepest chasm of the Estonian psyche because, for a very long time, the people had little choice to do anything else. This philosophy is a close relation to the Spanish mañana (‘tomorrow’). The difference is that the languid Spanish are just deferring something. The pragmatic Estonians are not. They are waiting and seeing.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Finns

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Finns
A stiff remedy
These days natural remedies are viewed with a degree of suspicion, but this has not always been the case. For example, centuries before the invention of Viagra the people of Lapland were using reindeer antler powder to help out men whose stiffness was limited to their behaviour. If you are tempted to try this remedy, you should note that it is very potent. Don't overdose as you may find yourself completely hard all the way up to your neck. Don't make a brew out of it, either. The concoction will ruin your teapot by straightening its curved spout.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the French

The Xenophobe's Guide to the French
Dress for power
French politicians look smart because power itself is chic, attractive, seductive, and one should dress to look the part. The French electorate would never allow any government to intervene in their lives if it were shabbily dressed.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Germans

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Germans
Teutonic torment
In every German there is a touch of the wild-haired Beethoven striding through forests and weeping over a mountain sunset, grappling against impossible odds to express the inexpressible. This is the Great German Soul, prominent display of which is essential whenever Art, Feeling and Truth are under discussion.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Greeks

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Greeks
I am what I am
Individuality is the chief feature that characterises the Greeks – which precludes any attempt to box and label them as a people. They exhibit an extreme passion for freedom of choice – which has turned law circumvention into an art and has made them incapable of comprehending words like 'discipline', 'co-ordination' or 'system'.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Icelanders

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Icelanders
Do as you always did
Being new to the concept of town-dwelling, the Icelanders still find its rules difficult. If you have been used to riding into the nearest village and hitching your horse to a rail outside the shop you want to visit, you expect to do the same with your car.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Irish

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Irish

The couth truth
A popular perception of the Irish is that they're all fiery, freckle-faced red-heads who'll start a fight at the slightest offence (e.g., being called 'British'). The bit about the freckles is accurate enough, but the typical Irish person has brown hair and blue eyes. And while they may be descended from the Celts, a fearless people whose warriors were known to run naked into battle, most modern-day Irish people would think twice before running naked into the bathroom.


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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Israelis

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Israelis
Help is at hand
Israelis cannot resist trying to help their fellow man. This often takes the form of meddling, and can even be mistaken for rudeness. They will interfere in someone else's conversation on the street to offer some good-hearted advice; they will read the newspaper in the hands of the man sitting next to them on the bus and proceed to ask him not to turn the pages so fast; they will never allow a fellow Israeli to fix his car by himself, even against protest.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Italians

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Italians
Always look on the bright side of life
Generally speaking, the Italians tend to look on the bright side of life – a positive outlook aptly illustrated by their touching salutation: 'May the saddest days of your future be the happiest days of your past'.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Japanese

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Japanese
Group dynamics
In Japanese society, everyone is part of some group and all share the basic expectation of being cared for by, and depending upon, one another. Inside their group, everyone has more or less the same understanding and the same attitudes. ‘A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do’, says John Wayne in Stagecoach. In Japan, a man’s gotta do what his peer group gotta do and they’re not in a stagecoach, they’re all in the same boat.


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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Kiwis

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Kiwis
Straight laced and straight faced
A good Kiwi bloke plays things down and does not stand on ceremony. The rugby player who scores a try is no longer expected to look as if he is bravely accepting a death sentence but, other than in sport, emotion is not something to be shown in public, and not much in private either. A blokess is allowed more latitude. She is even expected by men to 'carry on a bit'.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Poles

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Poles
A polarised people
The Poles are either bubbling with life, or comatose; they love or they loathe. It is this total commitment to the occupation of the moment which earns them the reputation of being mercurial. As Hemar wrote in his song: 'If only Poles did systematically and economically what they do spontaneously, they would be perfect.'

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Portuguese

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Portuguese
Gone but not forgotten
For a Portuguese, being away from home is akin to a disability, one that attaches itself to the soul like glue. When he, as a grown up man in his 50s returns (and return he must) 'back home' every Sunday for lunch, he will still be regarded by his village elders as the 'poor little one who moved away'.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Russians

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Russians

Mother Russia
Power in Russia has been in the hands of women for a long time. If the husband is the head of the family, the wife is the neck, telling the head which way to look. Defeated and subdued, Russian men submissively and, it seems, almost willingly bow to the 'weaker' sex. It is not for nothing that grammatically, 'Russia' is the feminine gender. She is Mother Russia -- nobody would dream of calling her 'Father'.


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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Scots

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Scots
Cunning and clever
The Scots respect cleverness and like to feel that they possess plenty of it themselves. In Scotland there is nothing wrong with being clever, so long as you show it by words or actions, rather than by bragging. You don't have to hide it. To say of someone that 'he has a good conceit of himself' is neither praise nor blame, just a statement of fact.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Spanish

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Spanish
Fun in the sun
Anyone attempting to understand the Spanish must first of all recognise the fact that they do not consider anything important except total enjoyment. If it is not enjoyable it will be ignored.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Swedes

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Swedes
 Soulful sadness

A common trait among Swedish people is a deeply felt svårmod, a dark melancholy born out of long winters, high taxes and a sense of being stuck far out on a geo-political and socio-economic limb. They brood a lot over the meaning of life in a self-absorbed sort of way without ever arriving at satisfactory answers.


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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Swiss

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Swiss
Mountain mentality
Swiss farmers are tough, independent, hard-working, resilient, well-prepared for every kind of natural disaster and above all staunchly conservative. These characteristics have been passed on to Swiss town-dwellers, who go about their day as if they too were farming a lonely mountain cliff.

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The Xenophobe's Guide to the Welsh

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Welsh
Welsh wilfullness
The Welsh are stubborn – very, very stubborn. The Welsh themselves would probably rather say 'tenacious', but to anyone on the receiving end a better description might well be 'bloody-minded'.

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