Unique National Characteristics

Why are Russians so good at chess?

What are Italians so into art?

If you look carefully at a lot of cultures you’ll find that many, if not all of them have their own distinctive areas of excellence.

Italian Renaissance Art

Moroccan mosaics

Persian rugs

Russian chess set

Societies with a rich and long history develop in their own unique direction.  Why is it that Italy has for centuries produced extraordinary visual artists and even today when “art” doesn’t seem as focal as once it might have been Italian design steps in to fill the national void.  It makes perfect sense that life should be thus.

This is not a matter of manipulation; it is a function of the culture itself. Whether or not it’s influenced by the language spoken in that country might be questioned.

A breakdown of “Romance” Languages

There’s a reason that some languages are called “Romance” languages, the speaking of the language makes possible a specific range of ideas.  That terms is much less used than it was in the days when I grew up and (for example, European) languages were simply divided into English, Romance, and Germanic.  Today there are dozens of language families; each of which has their own impact on the way speakers make themselves understood in the world.

The development of a national, or cultural personality is not a thing of a few years.  And one of the things about language is that the most fundamental aspects of a society — those that don’t need to be expressed in words because they are that universally understood simply do not have words by which to be expressed.  Thus, it becomes impossible to discuss those most basic aspects of a society because no one in the society ever does, and hence no language has ever been developed to express feelings, emotions, attitudes, prejudices.

I’ve been reading lately about Italian culture and the prevalence of art, and consequently laughter and conviviality has been an interesting experience.  While on the one hand it has opened my eyes to what I have known (in my heart though never talked about) about Italy and by extention other countries, it also has had me wondering what national/cultural traits are most common in the U.S.?

I’m not sure I’ve answered the question to even myself.

I remember as a 20-something youth visiting Canada and thinking that a visit to Canada was pretty much like visiting the U.S. ten or more years earlier.  As I have aged I have sort of adopted that idea — though to be honest I have not been back across the border in (now) over 10 years.

I made several extended trips to France and found that in spite of poor language skills that I loved the people and the culture I found there.  As long as I tried to communicate in their language I was welcomed with if-not-open-arms, at least cordially!  It’s true that the French spend more money on food than any other 1st World country and food is part of what makes the Frenchman who he/she is.  What’s more, regional differences seem remarkably well preserved, making the ‘typical’ Frenchman far less typical than one might think.

I have visted the U.K. numerous times as well, and there nothing stood out as much to me as the amazing diversity of dialect.  From Dorset to London to East Anglia, to Birmingham, to the Geordies near New Castle the differences in speech were utterly mindblowing — and strong enough that not many would understand the speech patterns of a Geordy miner — the hardest dialect I ever had to try understanding.  There are reasons each of those areas developed differently, just as there’s a reason that art is important in Italy, and the Russians are killers at chess; there is a culture that nurtures and supports what makes them unique.

A lot of things go into forming a cultural identity.  I have to think that feeling safe about your health has a huge impact on how people look at the world and life — something like Universal Healthcare impacts who you are as a people. I have to think that street crime has an impact on who you are as a people.  I have traveled a lot in Europe and the U.K as well as Canada and Australia and I have to say that foolishly or not I rarely ever gave a thought to my personal safety while traveling.  Now, I admit, that when I was younger I was tall and husky and perhaps not a lot of folk would choose to take their chances with me — but they had no idea who I was, neither did I have any idea who they might be.  I saw that world as a place that was safe for me to be.  I would be lying if I said there aren’t places in the U.S. that I actively avoid.  Personal safety isn’t quite the same thing — for me — here.

Seriously though… I wonder what an alien would make of U.S. culture.  We’re known around the world for our entertainment industry; I’m not sure what that says about us.  There is the dream of everyone getting rich in the U.S.; that too is a message that might not be the one you want to send considering how many homeless exist in reality. I can’t see an art gallery being the social hub of a U.S. town — though that can happen in other parts of the world.  And we can’t say that whole communities come to a halt at prayer times either.  There are sports.  And there is the fact that we can’t seem to keep our nose out of other countries — particularly not if we can bring our guns and tanks and bombs.  We seem to like that — bombing other countries.

I don’t know what character of this country is.  I’m not sure we know who we are as a people.  We build houses that look like houses in other parts of the worlds, but we don’t build them that way, we just build them to LOOK like houses in other parts of the world. I’m not sure if we are culturally bankrupt.



2 thoughts on “Unique National Characteristics

  1. Oh man! Why do I read your posts right before absolutely having to go to bed? Sigh. I have so much to say, but it will have to wait – work beckons far too soon.Absolutely promise to come back but work demands it might take a few days. 🙂


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