quarta-feira, 13 de junho de 2012

Do you think stereotypes say something about one nation?

Heaven is where the cooks are French, the police are British, the mechanics are German, the lovers are Italian and everything is organized by the Swiss.
Hell is where the cooks are British, the police are German, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss, and everything is organized by the Italians.

Stereotypes are everywhere. It may be a joke most of times, but the problem begins when it starts to be considered the truth. It is said that French people are smelly because they don’t like taking baths and they are all arrogant, American food is only fast food, Italians are bad workers, British people like tea, all Asians look the same, Spaniards don’t brush their teeth and so on. If we think about Brazil, it is said abroad that all Brazilians dance samba, like Carnival, are always late for their appointments and there are no big cities in the country, only rain forests and beaches. Despite all this, there are also good stereotypes about nations. Still about Brazil, we are known as very hospitable people and the Italians for being good lovers; it is also said that Asians and Europeans are very punctual on their appointments, French people make good food and Japanese are hard workers.

These stereotypes are propagated by media, cartoons, propaganda, popular books and others. Disputes between nations are the main responsible for the spread of this kind of jokes that end up as common sense. That’s the case, for example, about the jokes Brazilians make against Argentineans. For us, our neighbors from the south are all hairy, fools and terrible soccer players. Despite that, we also recognize they have a very good barbecue – but that’s it. There are other sources of stereotypes, though only disputes were mentioned. Lack of studying and ignorance is also responsible for propagating some lies that seem to be reality. That’s the case about many things that are said about Africa. Most people think the continent as a unique country and Africans are all the same, not considering the various tribes and ethical issues they have because the variety of ethnicities and land divisions; because this homogeneous idea about Africa, people think all Africans look the same and Egypt is not even considered an African country.

Yanko Tsvetkov is a Bulgarian designer and illustrator who took these stereotypes concepts to make jokes by his art. He created a series named Mapping Stereotypes in which several maps are made depending on the view of different nationalities. In this way, in the map according to the world seen by an American, United States is tagged as “civilized world”, Russia as “Commies” and Africa as ”AIDS”, for example. For the Vatican, on the other hand, Italy is tagged as “Papal State”, whereas Germany is tagged as “handsome blond boys” and France as “promiscuous atheists”. Some references Tsvetokov makes are difficult to understand, because they are not part of our reality, but the majority is understandable. It is also difficult to define until what point the designer is making a joke or being disrespectful. The stereotypes are part of the common sense, but shall we combat or reinforce them?

The only abroad experience I had the chance to live was the trip I made for five weeks to the United States. In this meanwhile, unfortunately, I could confirm many American stereotypes we see every day in the media, especially about consumerism: even if they wouldn’t eat so much, their plates were full of food that was going to be thrown away; because she didn’t like washing the dishes, the plates and glasses my host mother offered me were all disposable; the heater indoors are always on even if the weather is not cold, etc. I tried, however, land in the United States open-minded and I noticed that, even if there were lots of fat people, the support for sport exists and it is very good. Just another good observation: we first think United States as a country of fat people, but I could see they are not the majority as we tend to think they are (at least in the places I have been).

Asking the opinion about this issue to a friend who has gone to Argentina, I asked her the stereotype she demystified about Argentineans. She said that Brazilians call them as arrogant people, but in her opinion they are just more quiet and serious. This situation explains a lot of what I think the stereotypes say about one nation. It will just say something if you let it. In other words, the national stereotypes are something dangerous when it becomes prejudice. If someone arrives in France truly believing French people are smelly, that’s what they will smell. We need to be open-minded and be careful to not assimilate what could be inoffensive jokes to prejudice.

Answering the question I made above, I think we must neither combat nor reinforce the national stereotypes, but also not taking them too seriously. Traveling is a good and the most efficient way to go against stereotypes and prejudice. Seeing other cultures, trying new flavors, living experiences that go much beyond our routine, bring us knowledge and information. The every-day life transforms us into narrow-minded people and that’s what we must combat.  

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