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II. Character and Personality


A Intellectual ability

Ability: intelligent bright clever sharp shrewd able gifted talented brainy (colloquial)

Lacking ability: stupid foolish half-witted simple silly brainless daft dumb dim (the last four are colloquial)

Clever, in a negative way, using brains to trick or deceive: cunning crafty sly

B Attitudes towards life

Amal is pessimistic while Nita is optimistic – he always expects the worst to happen while she looks on the bright side.

It is strange that one of the twins is so extroverted while the other is so introverted – Ben loves being the focus of attention while Bill would far rather be alone with his thoughts.

I feel very tense (or wound-up / stressed-out) after a very busy day at work but, after a hot bath and a nice cup of tea, I’ll soon feel relaxed.

Jane is very sensible – she’d never do anything stupid. In other words, she’s very practical and down-to-earth.

Rupert is very sensitive – he gets very upset (or worked-up, more colloquial), if he feels people are criticizing him.

C Attitude towards other people

Enjoying others’ company: sociable gregarious (in written English)

Disagreeing with others: quarrelsome argumentative

Taking pleasure in others’ pain: cruel sadistic

Relaxed in attitude to self and others: easy-going even-tempered laid-back

Not polite to others: impolite rude ill-mannered discourteous

Telling the truth to others: honest trustworthy reliable sincere

Unhappy if others have what one does not have oneself: jealous envious

Sympathetic: a person who understands other people’s problems

D One person’s meat is another person’s poison

Some characteristics can be either positive or negative depending on your point of view. The words in the right-hand column mean roughly the same as the words in the left-hand column except that they have negative rather than positive connotations.

Determined - obstinate stubborn pig-headed

Thrifty/economical - stingy mean tight-fisted miserly

Self-assured/confident - self-important arrogant full of oneself

Unconventional/original - eccentric odd peculiar weird

Frank/direct/open - blunt abrupt brusque curt

Broad-minded - unprincipled permissive

Inquiring - inquisitive nosy

Generous - extravagant

Innocent - naïve

Ambitious - pushy

Assertive - aggressive bossy

Vocabulary Tasks

1 Fill in the gaps below with an appropriate adjective from the box. There are five odd adjectives in the box.

aggressive powerful nervous cunning proud agile shy easy-going

selfish stubborn independent unpleasant emotional

1. She was very ________. She had a relaxed attitude to life.

2. It’s very difficult to make him change his mind once he’s made a decision. He’s _______.

3. That was a _______ trick they played – very devious indeed.

4. She’s 90, you know, but she still has an extremely ________ mind.

5. I know it sounds ________, but today I’m determined to do what I want. I don’t care what anyone else wants to do.

6. It’s perfectly normal to feel ________ before an exam. Most people do.

7. He appears to be very outgoing and confident but in fact he’s quite _______.

8. It’s not like her to be so ________. She’s usually very calm and placid.

2 How would you describe the person in each of these descriptions?

1. He never bought me a drink all the time we were together.

2. I have to tell her what to do every minute of the working day. She wouldn't even open a window without someone's permission.

3. He often promises to do things but half the time he forgets.

4. She's always here on time.

5. I don't think he's done any work since he's been here.

6. She finds it difficult to meet people and talk to strangers.

7. He could work in any of the departments, and it doesn't matter to him if he's on his own or part of a team.

8. One of the great things about her is that she is so aware of what other people think or feel.

9. Bob, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. He is always making people angry or upset because he just doesn't consider their feelings.

10. The other thing about Bob is that he really wants to get the supervisor's job and then become boss for the whole department.

Text 1


1) Which of the following statements do you agree with? Why?

  1. The character differences between different nationalities can help cause wars.

  2. In any nation, the same variety of character types is represented.

  3. There’s no such thing as “national character”.

2) Which factor do you think most influences national character (if you believe there is such a thing)? - climate; history; food; geography (mountain, desert, jungle…)


The ways of tourists are strange, and one afternoon as I sat in the Plaza Mayor, I heard some Frenchmen at the next table tearing Americans apart. To the first barrage of criticism, I could not logically protest: Americans were uncultured, lacked historical sense, were concerned only with business, had no sensitivity and ought to stay at home. The second echelon of abuse I did want to interrupt, because I felt that some of it was wide of the mark: Americans were all loud, had no manners, no education, no sense of proportion, and were offensively vulgar in dress, speech, eating habits and general comportment, but I restrained myself because, after all, this was a litany one heard throughout Europe, here expressed rather more succinctly than elsewhere.

Sitting as quietly as my French companions would permit, I tried to discover what my true feelings were in this matter of honest description. In my travels, I had never met any single Americans as noisy and crude as certain Germans, none so downright mean as one or two Frenchmen, none so ridiculous as an occasional Englishman, and none so arrogant as some Swedes.

But in each of the national examples cited I am speaking only of a few horrible specimens. If one compares all English tourists with all Americans, I would have to admit that taken in the large the American is worse. If some European wanted to argue that seventy percent of all American tourists are regrettable, I would agree. If claimed ninety, I suppose I wouldn’t argue too much. But when like the Frenchman on my left he states that one hundred percent are that way, then I must accuse him of being false to the facts.

James Michener Iberia 2

Comprehension check

1) What does the author dislike most about the way people talk about other nationalities?

2) What does the author seem to think about the concept of “national character”?

3) What nationality do you think the author is? Why?

4) What does the author feel about the following:

a) Americans as tourists;

b) the way others describe American tourists.

d) Have you ever seen American tourists visiting a place? If so, do you agree with the Frenchman’s opinion?

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