Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

CULTURAL DIFFERENCES

Susie and I live in a large, relatively new development in Chapel Hill called Meadowmont, with perhaps a thousand homes [and even an elementary school for the children.] One small part of the development consists of a complex of three-story brick buildings called Meadowmont Village, with shops and restaurants on the ground floor and condominiums on the second and third floors of three of the buildings. We live in a third floor condo in the same building that houses the very popular Carolina Cafe, where people have breakfasts and lunches, and stop by for coffee.

One Sunday a month, the manager of the condo association organizes something he calls "The Brunch Bunch," at which Meadowmont residents can get free coffee and muffins at the Carolina cafe and sit around chatting with their neighbors. Some of the people who attend these things [they tend to be the older residents] know one another, many do not. The idea seems to be to foster a community spirit.

We also have an apartment in Paris, in the 5th arrondissment, just outside Place Maubert. Le Metro cafe, in Place Maubert, is our local cafe, and when we are in Paris, we spend a good deal of time sitting at the open air tables, having a Kir Sancerre or an espresso or a chocolat chaud a l'ancienne, and watching people walk by.

Parisians, generally speaking, devote a great deal of time and money to activities in the public spaces of the city. The most striking of these is fete de la musique, on the first day of summer, when all Paris comes out into the streets and plays musical instruments or listens to others playing, promenading until after midnight. It is the most wonderful collective celebration I have ever taken part in.

And yet: Parisians would rather die than attend a French version of a "Brunch Bunch," at which they were expected to talk with neighbors whom they do not know and with whom they have not made a formal social engagement. It would be easy to conclude that Americans are friendlier than the French, but it is the Americans, not the French, who hide themselves in gated communities, if they can afford to do so, and devote almost nothing to the public life of the community.

The differences are quite striking. It would be impossible to imagine, in Meadowmont, the sort of cafe that seemingly occupies every street corner in Paris.

5 comments:

Clare Priest said...

I believe the English are much the same as the Parisians then and that community spirit is dying out quickly there and an Englishman would rather die than attend such an occasion.

When we first moved to the US, we lived in an apartment complex and there were many of these 'forced' community social events going on. Being English and generally frosty and suspicious of people I don't know, I avoided these gathering like the plague, imagining them to be awkward, ill-attended, purposeless events. The one I did attend (aimed at young mothers just like me) ended up with me meeting two great new friends I now see every week. Silly me, I guess.

In every way I believe Americans to be friendlier and more welcoming than the British and the French (especially here in South Carolina; I can't vouch for the rest of the country). It will be one of the lasting qualities I have gleaned from living here.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Thanks for the observations. I did a little web snooping, and seem to have come up with the remarkable conclusion that you are Nigel Wooliscroft's daughter. Is that true? He will be staying in my Paris apartment next month. What an extraordinary world the web is!

Clare Priest said...

Yes this is true! He put me on to your site thinking I would enjoy it, which I do. It is a scarily small web world, maybe even smaller than the real world?!

formerly a wage slave said...

Living as I currently do in a desert dominated by trucks, I miss the trams and U-bahn of Central Europe (Vienna and Bratislava). An English friend who heard me say such things was put in mind of the London underground and must have thought me a bit crazy to talk that way. But, I do miss the accidental meetings with friends on public transport in Europe. (Yes you may also see someone you'd prefer not to, but it is oh so easy to not have a conversation.) There were opportunities for conversations that just don't exist when everyone travels to an event in their individually piloted vehicle, and also departs in the same..... (Yes, you may draw the conclusion that I want more than anything else to return to the land of crowded trams and u-bahns....there are worse things than a crowded tram--even a crowded tram in summer......)

Debbylee said...

As ever, I laughed out loud at your observations...I also take heart from the comments. I went to countless "mother's teas in England and also managed to make good friends. It is, however, also awkward for me here in Masachusetts to do the forced gatherings.