Another Little Culture Shock | Dominican University College

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Another Little Culture Shock

Thursday, October 16, 2014

By Louis Roy O.P.



In a previous blog, I described a little culture shock among academics. This time, the other little culture shock I will introduce involved ordinary people. It took place, in Cambridge, at the Dominican priory, whose name is ‘Blackfriars.’ This is how the British Dominicans are named, after the black cappa they wear in winter. We in Canada display it on special occasions, such as at Commencement.

            One summer, for a few weeks we had as a guest at Blackfriars an adolescent, aged sixteen, the daughter of a German doctor who was a close friend of our prior. Almost as soon as she settled among us, young Dorothea was taken aback by the eccentricities of the English. Being a teenager, she was slightly impatient with regard to their oddities, which she used to question in a tone that was – unwittingly of course – a bit self-righteous and reprimanding. She may have assumed that the Germans did things in a way that was more natural and efficient than the strange, awkward British.

            Her reaction was characteristically summed up by her question, ‘why?’. Given that her voice was still rather childish, her succession of ‘whys’ sounded like a small dog’s barking. In face of her perplexity at what she was observing in British mores, the latter, somewhat at a loss on how to explain and after unsuccessfully trying to do so, could only respond by saying: “It’s odd, you know, but it works!” This is what they would exclaim, almost in desperation, whenever foreigners would insinuate they could not make sense of the weird habits of proud Albion’s inhabitants.

            The bottom line was: “it works!” And having repeatedly heard this assertion, it dawned on me that it was typical of a staunchly empirical and pragmatic culture, which endlessly produced practical fruits, owing to its roots deeply set in a very long experience. It was indeed the common sense of a nation of great mariners, explorers, traders, politicians, scientists, writers and artists. They had run a vast empire, which lasted three centuries precisely because “it worked!” The remarkable thing – probably a mixed blessing – is that those insulars have now managed to export their pragmatism worldwide. It has by and large dislodged and replaced the idealistic view of life held by the Germans, the French and the Spaniards.