I was talking to a European colleague the other day about the differences between Europeans and Americans. He blew my mind with an idea I had never thought of before: It all comes down to show and tell.
I don’t really know why we even have “show-and-tell” in preschool in the US. I should probably ask one of the teachers in the family to explain it to me at some point. At any rate, my colleague holds that show-and-tell is a reason, if not the reason, why Americans tend to be so much louder than Europeans, and why we’re so much more comfortable standing up and talking to a group. Not just comfortable, really — more like compelled.
So what’s so special about show-and-tell? At age three or so, you are required to stand up and talk about a thing you brought with you from home that you think is important. If you do it well, you are praised for it — and you watch other kids being praised for it (or heckled if they do it badly). If you like being in the spotlight, you’re going to find out at an early age, and you’re going to want to keep going back there.
Apparently this kind of thing doesn’t exist in European primary schools, according to my colleague at least. I don’t have any inside knowledge of schooling in western Europe, but all my Czech friends have told me that “standing out” in school is a great way to get singled out for abuse or worse. They say this is yet another anti-pattern from forty years of communism. Anyway, standing up and being noticed is definitely not something Czechs are into, with the required exceptions of course.
Americans’ desire to stand up and talk is not entirely a virtue, of course — to other cultures, we look boorish, self centered, and rude. We’re also impossible to miss. Kim and I used to sit in cafes in Paris and guess the Americans walking down the street — you can just about do it with your eyes closed. Just listen for the loudest people around, and if you want confirmation open your eyes and check if they’re wearing white sneakers.