Do You Travel With Prejudice? The Story of The Basketball Player and The Jockey
WHAT ARE STEREOTYPES… and where do they come from?
When you travel, do you anticipate certain behavior based on what you’ve read or heard?Vintage WWI Dutch Map – Cartography with Global Stereotypes
Did you grow up hearing certain stereotypes?Asian View of Europe in WWI 1915 German Map with Stereotypical Rhymes By Principality
I love history. And old maps are things I love to collect, to see the stories they tell about lands that have changed names and borders.
I became fascinated by the stories in these old maps, in particular. Each cartographer and artist has something different to say about their friends and enemies. These maps show that stereotypes are nothing new. That got me to thinking about how we travel today. Do we carry our own stereotypical “maps” with us?
In my post on identity, My Secret Identity… Who Am I? I wrote about being mistaken for being Polish, Canadian, Ukrainian, and Russian at various times during my 10 years overseas. Rarely was American the first guess. I was never sure whether this was a good thing or not.
At first I thought, yes, it must be good, I’m blending in. But later, I wondered what differentiates a Canadian from a US American- why would people ask if I was Canadian? I was speaking Russian, wearing Turkish leather goods, going about my business at the local bazaars. What would have given people I met any idea that I was Canadian? (As I said before, in my best Seinfeld impression, “Not that there’s anything wrong with Canadians…)
What’s Wrong With Stereotypes?
What stereotype do you most dislike? For me, it’s when people have an attitude about Americans (the “Ugly American”) based on what they have heard or seen before. As in, if I’m from Texas, I must be dumb. That one bothers me. A lot. But am I totally blameless? Have I never approached someone with a preconceived idea about their intelligence or probable reaction? Sadly not.
I spoke with a young lady in Oregon some years ago and told her I was dating after my divorce. “What do you mean?” (I never thought that was a hard statement to decipher, but apparently she couldn’t understand how I could date so far from “home”.) She continued, “Oh, I could never date anyone from a foreign country- I don’t like foreign accents…” Seriously?
Her prejudice colored her interactions with anyone not like her. She had no desire to travel- she had been to Mexico one summer and that was plenty. I left feeling sorry for her and thankful that she didn’t want to travel- she’d not make a good ambassador for us, that’s for sure!
Sometimes expats take on a new assignment and you overhear them speaking at the local cafes about “the locals” and whatever irritated them that day. Statements something like these:
- He’s just some local… he doesn’t know anything…
- Get one of the locals to make tea for us…
- Give a couple bucks (pounds, lire, manats, etc.) to that local over there and tell her to get us some piva (beer)…
In your experience, have you ever heard about expats of some nationalities having a reputation for being provincial? In Baku, my students would often say they liked working for X but not for Y. When asked to elaborate, they responded with one of two comments: X respects us and Y does not; or, X is curious about us and wants to know us as people, but Y never cares.
Just like the maps above, prejudices and stereotypes give the impression that all people of one group are the same. When we buy into a stereotype, we close our minds to what could be discovered.
I’ve met French people in Paris who were not rude; I’ve had good conversation with Germans that were light and funny. I had a relationship with an Iranian who was one of the sweetest people I have known- yes he was stern on the outside, but he had a heart of gold inside. Based on my experience, when I now read the news about the religious fanatics in Iran, I can’t help but see a broad brush painting all Iranians in an unfortunate and unfavorable light.
Here’s an old ditty about stereotypes …
Heaven and Hell
Heaven Is Where:
The French are the chefs
The Italians are the lovers
The British are the police
The Germans are the mechanics
And the Swiss make everything run on time
Hell is Where:
The British are the chefs
The Swiss are the lovers
The French are the mechanics
The Italians make everything run on time
And the Germans are the police
Am I against this kind of humor? Of course not. People will make observations. When it becomes hurtful is the moment we take it to extremes and force people, or groups, into mental molds that aren’t real.
Tell It Like It Is…
One of the greatest T-Shirts I have ever seen was in London Heathrow Airport. A gentleman who must have been 7-1/2 feet (~2.25m) tall walked by me. He was tall- really tall– and thin. He was obviously used to getting stares and questions, and he was prepared.
On the front, his T-Shirt read, “Just because I am tall does not mean I play Basketball“. I liked it so much I watched him walk away, and that’s when I really had to smile.
I laughed at the obvious stereotypical implication of the front, but it was the back of the shirt made me want to shake his hand.
Front: Just because I am tall does not mean I play Basketball,
Back: Anymore than you being short means you are a jockey!
Bravo! One small step for man, one giant leap for tolerance.
And a Russian version…
All maps presented here for non-commercial use courtesy of GeoCurrents