Daily Archives: April 15, 2006

Doubtful journalistic generalization…

A quote from this article:

Whoever came up with the waiter observation “is bang spot on,” says BMW North America President Tom Purves, a native of Scotland, a citizen of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, who lives in New York City with his Norwegian wife, Hilde, and works for a German company. That makes him qualified to speak on different cultures, and he says the waiter theory is true everywhere.

Sure, that makes him qualified. Never mind that natives of Scotland are automatically citizens of the United Kingdom. Ditto for Nothern Ireland: if you are a citizen of Northern Ireland, you are a citizen of the UK. That’s some achievement! Moreover, the author of the article does not seem to consider the fact that one can be a citizen of a country without having set foot there. I’ve known people that were considered citizens of countries only on the basis that their parents are citizens there: basically the children are considered citizens because the parents filled out some paperwork. So you could have someone having Indian citizenship without having been in the country even once. The degree to which these children of immigrants are able to absorb the culture of the distant ancestral land is highly variable. It is not rare, for instance, for people of Indian or Japanese ancestry who have been raised outside their respective ancestral land to experience just as much cultural disorientation (and sometimes shock) upon visiting their ancestral land as tourists do. Even more striking, I knew a girl that was a citizen of England only because her parents, who are Canadians, were temporarily in England when she was born and there was a rule that someone born on English land is English. Consider this: she is Canadian and English but she has spent only a relatively short time in England as a baby, her parents are only Canadian and her sister is only Canadian. Just how “multicultural” does this make this girl?

The guy has a Norwegian wife but that does not mean that he has spent any substantial time in Norway. Nor does that mean that his wife is a particularly accurate window on Norwegian culture that he can just tap. (Talking from experience, I don’t think I’m a particularly accurate window on French-Canadian culture for my wife.)

He’s the president of BMW North America so presumably he has close contacts with the German headquarters. This is the most substantial evidence provided here but even here, the degree to which this translates into a representative understanding of German culture remains unknown.

But the howler is that this guy who has some possible personal acquaintance with 4 cultures (Scottish, Northern Irish, Norwegian and German) is qualified to talk about culture “everywhere”. Yep, he’s qualified to talk about Chinese culture, Indian culture, Japanese culture, Peruvian culture, French-Canadian culture. You name it, baby!