The internet is widening horizons by highlighting the prejudices of transatlantic penpals. Michael Shaw reports
LONDON is full of bank managers and constantly shrouded in fog while every family in Los Angeles packs a gun.
At least, that is how children in the UK and the States perceive life to be like across the Atlantic.
An internet project connecting seven and eight-year-old pupils at 20 London primary schools with their counterparts in California has revealed a series of recurring stereotypes.
"Does your family have a gun?" was one of the most popular questions emailed to pupils in LA while London children were frequently asked: "Is it foggy?"
London, according to the American students, is a city where everyone walks and where the chief occupation is as a bank manager. LA, meanwhile, is a pedestrian-free zone filled with singers and actors, the English pupils believe. Further preconceptions are revealed in four-minute videos which the pupils made about each other's lives.
Nearly all the Californian pupils produced films featuring old-fashioned British bobbies, Big Ben and the Royal Family. The English pupils also made police officers key characters - but their videos tended to revolve around car chases and Hollywood stars.
The scheme, which has been running for three years, is co-ordinated by the free educational website Think.com which is regularly used by more than 1,365 schools in 11 countries.
Software giant Oracle, which runs the website, hopes that such links and e-pal schemes (the modern version of pen-pals) will promote greater international understanding.
Caroline Hook, marketing director of Think.com, said: "What was interesting was that the London and LA children kept their preconceptions for months after the project started, long after they began emailing each other.
"Their attitudes only changed when they held video conferences and could see that they were not really that different."
Think.com plans to launch a new project next term which it expects will also reveal some intriguing cultural misunderstandings. But this link will cover a shorter distance, connecting schools in Warwickshire with those in Birmingham.