People tend to conform unconsciously to their national stereotypes when they are abroad or when they are interacting with foreigners. The Italians behave excitedly; the Germans are stolid and efficient; the British are polite and orderly (unless they are football hooligans, who constitute a special case outside the scope of this post).
I saw a great example of this today. Mrs SG and I are on a cruise in the Baltic and this morning we went ashore in St Petersburg. We had already gone ashore in Denmark, Sweden and Finland, where immigration formalities were handled by P&O and we just tripped down the gangway clutching our cameras, but in Russia we had to go through Immigration Control. I cannot speak for all the immigration officers but ours was straight from Central Casting: she was surly, unsmiling and rude. (This is a stock photo of a male immigration officer, just to add a little atmosphere and colour.)
That may be her natural disposition of course, but I prefer to believe that she is normally sunny, charming and witty, given to practical jokes and uploading kitten videos to YouTube. It’s only when she puts on her uniform and has to represent her country to a shipload of foreigners that a voice in her head says, “Now then, Natasha, you are a Russian official. You know what people expect from you. Don’t let them down!”
I have met one immigration official who was ruder than Natasha (that’s not her real name by the way – or perhaps it is, I don’t know her real name). It happened when I crossed the border from Ukraine into Transnistria. Transnistria is a sliver of Moldovan territory occupied by rebels who, since they are of Russian ethnicity, enjoy Russian Government protection. National Stereotype Conformance Syndrome again.
Have you seen other examples of NSCS? Please share them!
PS I should add that we encountered only friendly people once we had passed through Immigration Control. There was the man at an open-air bar beside a public toilet, who didn’t want to change a dollar bill but gave us 20 roubles out of the till so we could have a pee. Three young soldiers were happy to pose for a photo with Mrs SG beside the historic warship Aurora. When we tried to blow our few remaining roubles on ice-creams outside the Hermitage our three scoops weighed more than we could afford – so the man carefully scraped some back into his tub and re-weighed. When the bill came to less than our little pile of notes and coins he insisted on giving us the proper change (which was enough for another pee-and-a-half).