National character, stereotypes and the sinking ship

Category: Human Interest


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. sink / sɪŋk / (v.) – to go down below the water or any liquid surface

    I accidentally dropped my phone into the pool, and it sank all the way to the bottom.

  2. iceberg / ˈaɪs bɜrg / (n.) – a very large piece of ice that floats in the sea

    I saw a video about how fast icebergs are melting because of climate change.

  3. appeal to (someone’s) (something) / əˈpil tʊ / (phrasal v.) – to make someone do something or accept an idea by convincing him/her that it’s sensible or fair

    I appealed to my sister’s good sense and convinced her not to buy the $5,000 bag.

  4. rational / ˈræʃ ə nl / (adj.) – reasonable; making sense

    If you want to make a rational decision, I recommend making a list of pros and cons.

  5. reverse psychology / rɪˈvɜrs saɪˈkɒl ə dʒi / (n.) – a way to make someone do something by suggesting that he/she do the opposite

    Reverse psychology always works on Brett. I told him that he shouldn’t start a new hobby, and the next day he signed up for tennis lessons!


Read the text below.

The countries of the world are quite different! Each nation has its own values, attitudes and customs. One famous story that illustrates these differences is the “sinking ship” joke. Here’s how it goes.

An international cruise ship was sailing across the ocean. Suddenly, it struck an iceberg and began to sink. The captain put the women and children in lifeboats. But there weren’t enough boats, so he had to convince the men to jump into the water.

One by one, the captain called up each national group, said something to them, then they jumped. Later, a reporter asked him, “How did you persuade each nationality to jump?” “It was easy,” explained the captain.

“I told the Americans that, if they jumped, they’d be heroes. For the British, I appealed to their sense of fair play and told them a true gentleman would jump. For the French, I appealed to their sense of reason and told them it was the most rational thing to do.

Germans are trained to obey commands, so I ordered them to jump. The Italians, in contrast, don’t like to obey rules. So, instead, I used reverse psychology and told them it was forbidden to jump. Finally, for the Japanese, I appealed to their sense of conformity. Everyone else has jumped, I told them, so they jumped, too.”

Of course, these are all cultural stereotypes. But they do hint at differences in national character!

This article was provided by The Japan Times Alpha.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • Did you find the sinking ship joke funny? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • Did any of the stereotypes in the sinking ship joke surprise you? Why or why not? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • Some people say that stereotypes always have a bit of truth in them. Do you agree? What stereotypes about your country do you know? How do you feel about them? Discuss.
  • Do you think positive stereotypes are just as bad as negative stereotypes? Why or why not? Discuss.