Stereotypes… “solid” impressions of others.
Traveling changes you, and stereotypes are one of the first things that are out of the window when you are exposed to different cultures. Stereotypes, what are stereotypes? They are qualities assigned to groups of people related to their race, nationalities, sexual orientation and so on. They are propagated by ignorance and are based on absolutely no physical evidence, except the fact that everyone assumes them to be true.
Now growing up in Southern Europe (Italy, Greece and Communist Albania), is a perfect recipe for making dozens of stereotypes part of your genetic makeup. My family is by no means racist, xenophobic or homophobic, as far as Europeans go. In fact, my father is the President of the Sociological association of Albania, and my mother a highly educated teacher. We’ve always regarded ourselves as part of that educated elite who are not bound by the ignorance of the masses. So to illustrate the point I’m going to name a few stereotypes running in my family, with no offense intended.
Black people can’t swim, they have a high bone density, which prevents them from floating. Chinese people can’t drive, homosexuals are sado-masochists, never get into a business transaction with a Jew, they’ll rip you off, Gypsies are thieves and dozens of others that would alienate pretty much every other human being on earth, except someone from your own cultural group. Believe you me the list goes on (the French, the British, people from the mountains, lawyers, police officers) but my personal favorite is ……African’s are lazy, they don’t like to work because they can just pick bananas on trees. How ignorant is that?
You must understand I was pretty confused growing up, watching documentaries on how young African kids had to travel 12 miles each way, to trade a crop so they could have a meal a day. Can’t they just pick bananas? So I’ve decided to go to Africa to see if the stereotype holds, and get the African point of view.. well we’re actually going to see wildlife in their habitat, since we’re not big fans of zoos and animals in captivity either. But if we can shed a stereotype or two along the way, all the better.
You must also uunderstand that moving to Canada, someone like me might have sounded a lil bit of a racist. After all, Canada is based on multi-culturalism and on the notion that everyone is accepted despite race, creed etc. And here I was carrying a bagful of stereotypes, expressing them in conversation, and getting no positive reaction in return. Again pretty confusing. It worked in the past, why doesn’t it work here?
The thing about stereotypes though, is that they ultimately come from a deep underlying human instinct of separation. Me vs. you, my family vs. yours, Us vs. Them, this neighborhood vs. that neighborhood, I’m from the city and you’re from the village, Vancouver vs. Toronto, you name it. At the end of the day whether something is a little ignorant or very ignorant, it’s still ignorant, it’s just the magnitude of ignorance that changes.
So since Canadians are human beings with human instincts, they are not immune from stereotypes and stereotyping. In fact, god forbid if someone calls a Canadian an American. We’re not Americans, don’t you know that we have universal healthcare, we’re an integrated country, Americans are segregated. Americans are the fattest people on earth, don’t you see the crap they’re eating. We’re only the second fattest people on Earth, we’re eating slightly better crap. Can’t possibly compare us to them.
So here I am flying to Texas, the epitome of Americanism, carrying a newly acquired bag of stereotypes. To name a few:
-Americans are loud and obnoxious.
-The slimmest American has a 40 inch waist.
-They’re all God Preaching Christians who have a personal relationship with Jesus.
-We’re home of the free, land of the beautiful.
Will any of these hold?