Not sure exactly how to classify someone as a foreigner, since I’ve lived in quite a few places, and I’m currently living in a place where I wasn’t born (so I guess I’m more or less the foreigner), but it seems largely to be a question not of race or culture but economics. I often find that people of any stripe tend to be quieter the more they’ve bought into the notion that life should be a quest for economic achievement. It’s not a hard and fast rule, by any means – some of the most accomplished people in the world are also loudmouths – but in general, people who study hard, work hard and are ambitious tend to be quieter. People who generally believe or accept that their life consists of job, supper, pub tend to be louder. And I’m fairly convinced this cuts across most cultural and racial lines.
I lived for a while in a very multicultural area of Paris. About a third of the population was Parisian, a third European (non-French, mostly from poorer Euro countries) and one-third North African. In general, there was no racial or cultural delimiter for behavior. There were people, like me, who got home from work every evening around seven, head down, lost in thought, scurrying busily and getting ready for all of the serious “home” stuff they had to accomplish and all of the projects they were involved in. On the other hand, there were people who got off work at five or earlier, had supper and got into the bars as quickly as possible to have fun, converse into the wee hours and make noise.
It would be tempting to try to attach racial designations to each group, and it might even be doable, but ultimately, it’s misleading, because it’s really just a question of how much anyone from any group buys into the notion that their life is supposed to be an unending socio-economic record of achievement, accomplishments and improvements. The black North African chap in the apartment above me sure bought into it, and wouldn’t be living in the 20th arrondissement for long. He was the most buttoned-down guy I ever knew, and rarely arrived home from work before eight. He spoke several languages fluently. The Spanish family that ran the laundromat on the main floor sure bought into it (they also owned two apartments in the building and rented one out) and I bought into it too. We were all very quiet. Other people in the building didn’t buy into it. They wanted to live in the here and now, and have fun before they shuffled off. They were a noisy crew.
I suppose you can say that certain cultures/countries/races have that emphasis on serious, studious achievement, but I have a feeling it’s just a question of economics. Once you toss up the promise of the stereotypical good life and make it a reasonable possibility through education and economic opportunity, most people in the group will go for it and leave behind the stereotypically simple, raucous (and probably more enjoyable) life they once led.
I had somewhat similar experience in Tunisia (in the late 90s). I was always with a group of French citizens, and the locals assumed that I too was French and always spoke to me in that language. They were a fun-loving, very friendly and open group. When they learned that I was a native English speaker, they were all over me, hungry for knowledge about America. They were desperate to have me teach them English. They became very serious and attentive when I spoke English to them. The transformation was shocking. They seemed to equate English with… the key that opens the door to the promised land. Getting ahead, in blunt terms, seems to inspire seriousness in many people.
Anyway, I’m boring myself to tears, and indulging in both generalization and anecdotal evidence, but I guess I’m just saying I’m not sure behavior is a question of race or “foreigners” but a very slippery question of economic opportunity as well as attitudes toward economic opportunity and achievement.