Saturday, November 25th, 2006

Today features a great selection of cartoons from Bob Geiger.

As someone who has often moved between cultures, I would say that it is almost impossible not to get things wrong some of the time. One hopes to apologize and correct oneself as needed, and one hopes that the other parties will be gracious and forgiving if one has accidentally crossed a line. It is important to be equally gracious and forgiving when others blunder. In most cases this works, people are inclined to be generous, unfortunately not always.

Misunderstandings can also be funny.

I have recenly been reading A Great Improvisation by Stacy Schiff, about Benjamin Franklin, France, and the beginnings of the American republic. As Schiff writes in her introduction about Franklin, he was:

. . . the one man in the colonies possessed of that brand of sleek charlatanism known as social grace. . . Franklin was charged with appealing to a monarchy for assistance in establishing a republic. . . Franklin was a natural diplomat, genial and ruthless.

The French and the Americans had very little knowledge of what each other were like, and so there were incidents like this delightful little story:

The degree of misconception on both sides was staggering . . .

The citizens of Boston labored very hard to be sociable . . . Still, an American knew what he did about Frenchmen, and when Cambridge’s most successful businessman hosted a formal dinner for the foreigners he welcomed them with brimming tureens of their national dish. With his first spoonful, one of the guests fished up a full-grown, brilliantly green Massachusetts frog. “Mon Dieu! Une grenouille!” he exclaimed, holding up his catch and passing it, by a hind leg, to the gentleman at his side, who did the same, until the well-inspected creature reached d’Estaing. An examination of the bowls before them revealed that each officer had been similarly favored; the Frenchmen could not contain their mirth. “Why don’t they eat them?” wondered their crestfallen host. He had dispatched emissaries to every swamp in Cambridge. (p.170)