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15 December 2011

About People Perpetuating Stereotypes

Have you ever met in some travel with some compatriot who seems to be entirely devoted in body and soul to perpetuate the stereotypes of your country when they are abroad? I mean those who won’t miss a chance to trap someone in a conversation and then dedicate themselves with special emphasis to “instruct” them on –in my case my country is Spain- how special Spaniards are, of course insisting every 5 seconds en each and every stereotype and cliché, specially those that don’t seem very flattering.

Because, just by listening to them, one would say that this is a country where absolutely everyone, no matter which region we are from, go out every night to party, flamenco party of course, we don’t stop drinking wine and cocktails, we never sleep and just get to work directly from partying the morning after –I guess we must be all addicted to some kind of drug in order to follow this rhythm- we have lunch for two and a half hours, then have siesta for another two –perhaps that is the explanation to those sleepless night- we have dinner at 11 at the earliest –nobody understands then why we are in general slim people- we never ever have breakfast, we are always late no matter where we go, we are very passionate, open, unorganised, fun, noisy and cunning –if we can get a profit of something, we don’t hesitate to do it- we speak very loudly, we dance sevillanas since we are born –it must be in our genes- we attend  every bullfighting “corrida” and of course, we are all very short, very dark, and what else?? Oh, yes, we all have dark eyes –in fact, if you ever find a Spaniard who does not fit in this description it would seem he/she must have a foreign origin, because, as these experts who have never opened a book will quickly tell you, apparently we are almost an isolated race, and no, never ever in history have there been any different peoples with their different features in the Iberian peninsula.

Sometimes I have a feeling that I am listening to a strange update in the 21st century of those travel diaries from the 19th one that other travellers wrote. Indeed, they used to highlight and idealise all those aspects that were strange or foreign to them, without insisting in what was common. Of course, it is logic since we are talking of diaries with the Romantic taste of the time, when there was an interest in finding out or “rescuing” popular folklore and those popular characteristics that would define a people or a nation.

Well, it seems that these people I am talking about would have decided to dive deep into every possible cliché and started to believe in them more than anyone else. Sometimes I feel pity, sometimes anger. It is clear that we can not know everything and everywhere in the world and that in our vision of other countries we will always be at least a bit influenced by the ideas we have received over the years, but when you are talking about your own country, it is hard to understand that someone can be so interested in being perceived in a specific way by others, at least for me. I sometimes feel that others might take us for small representatives of our own country when we are abroad. When you meet someone it is usually unavoidable to wonder if their costumes and the way they behave, talk, think, etc. are just their own ways or if they are more or less common in their countries. Just as sometimes and unfortunately, we tend to associate a person’s behaviour with the one of everyone in the country, specially if we don’t know much about the country or if we are not open-minded in general ;)

Regardless of this, and in the Spanish case, I think it is very important to convey abroad how diverse the country is, how many and how different are the regions and places to visit, languages, customes, etc. Many times I have been surprised by the large interest the country raises and also by how many clichés still persist in general culture- just like, we must say, almost every country. There are always people that don’t want to go any deeper into what they think they already know and are not willing to let anyone shatter their preconceptions, but for most of the people –perhaps this is what I think because I tend to talk to people who also like travelling- love to be able to know what is less known and less publicised and get their own impression of the reality of a specific place.

What do you think? Have you also met or put up with someone like this from your countries?


  1. This is very interesting... I am always torn in my views about this. On one hand, there really are differences in different countries. On the other hand, you can't work backwards from these differences to say anything about an individual.

    So, you cannot say "Spanish people do XYZ, this person is Spanish, therefore they do XYZ".

    For example, I think Spanish people eat really late at night compared with English people. You know, pub kitchens in England usually close at 9 pm and after that you can't order food.

    But, for me to say that YOU eat late - that's crazy. You are Spanish, but there's no rule that you have to eat at 11 pm if you don't want to!

    These stereotypes are very irritating when they are applied to ourselves personally.

    But it can help to be aware of certain national characteristics sometimes, because then you know how to deal with people acting in a so called "typical" way. For instance, many British people get really angry at people who do not stand in line at the bank, etc. They think that person is being unfair to everyone else who has been waiting. So that might be why they could be unpleasant to someone who does not stand in line.

    (Mind you, since I am English I don't really know what is thought to be "typical" behaviour for us. )

    Personally I'm glad that there are differences between countries. It makes life more interesting. But your post is interesting because it made me think about it.

  2. Thank you very much for your comment, Jenny. I agree with you. I love that cultures differ everywhere and I do think that diversity makes our lifes much richer. When I travel I love to find out what the local customs are and I try to pick the ones I like, bring them back home with me and try to apply them whenever it is possible in my daily life -be it food, be it habits, etc.
    And it is true that what people understand by politeness can be completely different depending on where you are, even the opposite!

    But I hate stereotypes, they minimize so much the way people are. I also feel it is not contradictory with what I was saying before. I hate when someone gives it for granted that someone else will be doing XYZ, as you were saying, just because he is Spanish/English/French or any other nationality. And what is harder for me to understand is how someone, in this case Spanish, can have an interest in promoting sterotypes that perhaps were true some time ago for the whole country, or perhaps have never been true, or they have been true but only for a small part of the country, etc. That is very strange to me and it inspired me to write this post, because I have met quite a number of them by now. I was also wondering if people from other nationalities have also met someone "in this style".

  3. I have the same issue but after fighting it for long I just don't care any more. Anyone telling you all that about Spaniards are just too ignorant to see the differences. Definitely not worth your time. I will just let them think that all Colombians are drug dealers and that all hispanics in the US are dark. Im tired of the stereotypes. Hopefully I can also stop caring about all the (male) engineers that think I'm a secretary. Machistas!!!! En que parte de Espana vives? Feliz ano nuevo!

  4. :) Thanks for commenting! You are right, some people don't really deserve any of your time, but I can't help it, it makes me mad..
    Feliz año! Vivo en Madrid

  5. Q chevere! Me encantaria regresar a España! Solo conoci Madrid y Barcelona. Me falta mucho x conocer