It seems that some national caricatures are allowable... if they're complimentary

 

Share

In the wake of a scandal, Pope Francis has dismissed the five Italians who oversaw the Vatican's financial watchdog, replacing them with a new board comprising only one Italian. Announcing the news on the Today programme James Naughtie put a subtle yet distinct emphasis on the word "Italians". He then interviewed the BBC's revered, earnest Rome correspondent, Alan Johnston, about the story. "They," Naughtie repeated, in reference to the five Italians, "were all Italian, and the replacements were not all Italian." If Johnston was considering saying, "We seem to be lumbering towards a national caricature here,"... he avoided the impulse. Instead, he coyly remarked, "Yes … interesting to note the nationalities involved." Still time to retreat from the brink? Apparently not. "It's part of this effort we're seeing," said Mr Johnston, "to break with this Italian business culture… which can be less than transparent."

I personally tend to think of Italian business culture as being less than transparent, but that's because I've watched The Godfather parts one, two and three. If called to discuss the subject on the radio, I'd have wondered whether it might be racist to suggest that Italians are not transparent. But there has been no outcry, so it is apparently not racist. Some national caricatures are allowable, usually if they're compliments.

I've never heard a Briton in a foreign bar spluttering, "So I have a strong sense of fair play, do I? We'll take this outside." It's also OK to say Brazilians are good at football, and many people are saying it right now. Admittedly some of those doing so will scotch the "myth" of Brazilians having honed innate skills while playing in a joyfully unconstrained way on the beach or the streets. Then again, some of those lauding the Brazilians will attribute part of their skill to the fact that they can all dance the samba. This surely comes close to saying that black people have a natural sense of rhythm, which is only a compliment in the minds of the most retrograde Blimp.

I believe it is permissible to say not only that Swiss trains run on time, but also that the Swiss set their watches by their trains rather than the other way around. There's only a very slight echo there of that business about Mussolini making the trains run on time, and as far as I know, no Swiss person has found it worth his or her while to deny that Swiss trains run on time.

This is perhaps what allows these outcroppings of possible racism to survive. No one has mounted a head of steam against them. Take this, from Radio 5's 606 football forum: "Jose Mourinho is acting slightly unhinged, but to be fair that's just his Latin temperament"? I think the phrase "to be unfair" could be equally well substituted there, but "Latin temperament" is apparently also permissible. At least it is for now, but I suspect the tolerance of the Latins for the phrase is going to be tested severely in the coming weeks.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
Harvey Proctor's home was raided by the Met under a warrant investigating historical child sexual abuse  

Harvey Proctor: A gay sex ring in Westminster? I don't believe it

Harvey Proctor
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk