Cultural Differences

Written by Roy Hall


When my kids were small, we rented a house in Provence, France for a couple of weeks. It was a lovely Old Provencal style house, which was once a mill, thus the name, “Moulin de Ribas.” It was perfect for our needs with a big kitchen, lots of rooms, a lovely garden with a large outdoor table under the trees and a stream that ran through the grounds. Unfortunately the water was rather overgrown with weeds and unsuitable for swimming. Provence in August is hot – very hot. As the house did not have air conditioning, not having access to a pool was a pain.

There was a solution. Nearby was a municipal pool, which we visited daily. One day while exiting the water, my big toe caught on a broken tile on the side of the pool. It was a deep cut and started to bleed profusely. I limped to the front desk and was given first aid. Then the ‘pompiers’, fire fighters and medical responders were called. They came quickly and drove me to the hospital where the wound was stitched and dressed. It was also x-rayed (just in case). I was told to return a few days later to have the stiches removed. As I was leaving the hospital, I saw a cash desk; expecting to pay, I asked how much I owed them. They looked at me in astonishment and explained (as if to an idiot) that the desk was there to give you cash in case you needed a ride home or other basic essentials.

A week later, healed, I returned to the hospital. My kids were with me and, as normal, were acting like animals. They were noisy, climbing everywhere and making a real nuisance of themselves. Sitting opposite me was a mother with 2 children. The girl was about 7 and the boy, 10. What caught my attention was the fact that both of them were not only well dressed and polished clean, but that they sat quietly next to their mother while she waited. The contrast between them and my 2 brats was startling.

I remarked to my wife that I never understood how the French always seem to have well-behaved children. No matter what we tried, our kids were monsters. At one point the mother said something to the kids, stood up and walked out of the room. The boy, on checking his mother had left, balled up his fist and whacked his sister so hard, she screamed and went flying across the floor. I smiled and felt reassured. On the other hand, my kids, stunned by what they had just witnessed, quietly joined us and sat silently until we left.


On a recent trip to China, David, my friend and business associate, and I drove north from Shenzhen, then west across the Pearl River to visit a factory in Daliang, near Foshan in Guangdong province. It was a brutally hot day and the traffic was worse than normal making the 60-mile trip endlessly long. We finally arrived at the factory and on entering the compound we saw a large tree with lots of shade under it. David parked the car and just as we were about to leave the car the guard rushed over to us and started yelling. David looked bewildered and said to me, “I have no idea what he is talking about. He’s yelling in Cantonese, and I only speak Mandarin.” I remarked that it must be something about the parking space. The guard walked away and immediately returned holding a large mango in his hands. Speaking a wordless common language he pointed up to the tree, which was bursting with huge mangoes each weighing about 3-4 pounds.

We understood.


My friend Ivor, from Linn Products in Glasgow, Scotland, invited us to his oldest son’s wedding in London. We happened to be vacationing in France, so we hopped on a plane to attend what turned out to be quite a lavish affair. It was held in a function hall fairly close to Piccadilly Circus. Natan, the groom, was marrying a London girl, so the crowd was half Scottish and half English. At one point during the meal, I approached the top table set on a dais overlooking the guests. As I was talking to Ivor, I surveyed the room. On the left, the English guests were sitting quietly at their tables neatly eating with knives and forks.

On the right, the Scots were incredibly raucous. Some were arguing among themselves, one group was singing Jewish liturgical music to Scottish melodies. Others were dancing. Most were drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Overwhelmed by the contrast between these two groups of British Jews who live less than 400 miles apart, I immediately returned to the Scottish side—and glass in hand, joined in the singing.

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