I recently spent a night on the town with a group of friends, several of whom are European graduate students. Most are Spanish. One is French, one Italian. All are close-talkers and endearingly oblivious to personal space.
I waited for them to join us at the bar with a friend who is originally from Florida. She is of almost pure German descent and always very prompt. She arrived early, and was annoyed by the Romance linguists’ tardiness. I am of Irish descent and didn’t mind spending some surplus time near the alcohol.
The Euro girls tumbled in 45 minutes late with their scarves and their hair and huddled close together like fledglings and caressed us and chirped with musical accents.
A German man at my elbow bought a drink and the hipster bartender asked if he wanted to “keep it open or close it out?” The tourist was severely confused. So the hipster repeated the phrase several times over, making no effort to clarify what the jargon meant. Instead of nodding politely and retreating, as I and several other awkward Brits would have done, the German stood his ground unflustered and frowned, determined to make logical sense of the situation. I finally explained to him the process. He understood and was satisfied and stood stiffly by with his beer.
We moseyed down the street, arm in arm, to a friendly diner and sat at another bar to have milkshakes. The couple already seated there moved down politely so we’d have more room to sit together. They struck up a conversation with me, who was sitting closest, and were warm and friendly and Southern. They were there to watch and cheer on UNC’s basketball team. The charming lady to my left, smartly dressed, drawled about her children and how, being a Yankee, I must be used to the cold.
On the subway ride home, my American friend bumped me with her arm and apologized. The Europeans leaned against each other and hugged us goodbye.
Cultural differences still exist, and their stereotypes still hold true.
It takes all kinds to make a world, or, as the Spanish would say, “de todos ha de haber en el mundo.”
And it’s a beautiful thing.