Problem of national character, Humanities

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Differences between countries in history and pattern of social development leave their mark on the character and habits of their people. Nowadays, people tend to become a little nervous about the idea of ‘national character'. By it, I mean simply the largely unconscious and taken-for-granted learned assumptions and patterns of behaviour that people of a certain country tend to share. I mean, in other words, what is now fashionably referred to as ‘habitus'.

Bourdieu (1984) famously depicted the differences in habitus as re?ected in differences in the tastes of members of different classes in French society. I mean something similar in the different experiences between nations. As Norbert Elias wrote,These differences are precipitated in the language and modes of thought of nations. They manifest themselves in the way in which people are attuned to one another in social intercourse, and in how they react to personal or impersonal events. In every country the forms of perception and behaviour, in their full breadth and depth, have a pronounced national tinge. Often one only becomes aware of this in one's dealings with foreigners. In interactions with one's compatriots, individual differences usually impinge so strongly on consciousness that the common national coloration, what distinguishes them from  individuals of other nations, is often overlooked. First of all, one often expects that people everywhere will react to the same situations in the same way as people of one's own nation. When one ?nds oneself in a situation in which one is compelled to observe that members of different nations often react in a quite different way to what one is accustomed to at home, one mentally attributes this to their ‘national character' (Elias forthcoming 2008 [1962]).


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