Thursday, April 7, 2016

Childhood culture

Years ago, when I was starting to collaborate regularly with French software engineers, I discovered that so-called "Anglo-Saxon" culture is not universal. As a typical young Australian, I wrongly assumed that my French colleagues would have a similar everyday culture to me. One day, in the IBM office in Paris, I said: "That reminds me of the story about George Washington and his father's cherry tree." My colleagues told me immediately that they'd never heard this tale, so they asked me to tell them the story. I explained: "Mindlessly, young George grabbed an axe and chopped down his father's cherry tree. That evening, the father was most unhappy, because he had loved the young tree, and he asked his children to tell him who had committed the silly act. Young George, ashamed of his stupidity, and aware that he deserved punishment, made a solemn declaration: Father, I cannot tell a lie; it was I who cut down your cherry tree."

Now, it's possible that American kids, hearing this tale, break down in tears. The reaction of my French IBM colleagues was different, totally down to earth: "So what the hell?" I realized instantly that my alleged story about little George Washington and his father's cherry tree was a total flop. For them, it wasn't really a genuine story.

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