Sunday, November 7, 2010

Stereotypes: The American

Saturday is our busiest day at work. We are totally filled with lessons all day long. I really enjoy one of my morning lessons, an adult student "Julie." She's very friendly and talkative, and we usually just talk about different things. I'll correct her grammar and explain new words that I use or ones that she's heard during the week. She's also very interested in slang, so I've been compiling a list for her.

Anyway, during the last lesson the word "stereotype" came up. I told her what it was and then gave a few examples of different stereotypes (Americans are fat, Asians are hard on their kids, Germans are rude, etc.). After discussing it fairly thoroughly, we moved on.

At the end of our lesson, she told me, "When we first met, I thought you were a British girl." I asked her why she had thought that, and she said, "You are so nice and polite. All the American women on TV are very rude and selfish."

I wasn't quite sure what to say to that. I told her that TV isn't a very realistic because they want to have interesting characters. If all the TV shows were full of nice, normal people, who would want to watch it? They wouldn't have much for drama or intrigue. I mean, look at reality television. Yeah, it's "reality," but how many people actually act like that in real life? We're always intrigued and a bit horrified by their behavior. Did she really say that to him? Are they seriously in a fight? Producers tend to try to get volatile characters so that the show will be more interesting. It's "reality," but a hand-picked one.

It's kind of funny because I've talked with numerous Americans worrying about this very thing. We've always said that if others around the world judge us by movies and TV shows (especially TV shows) they would think we're awful people. They would think that us younger ones are obsessed with sex, drugs, and partying while the older ones are having affairs. Most families are broken, and dads are usually mean, stupid, or absent. We're also materialistic, cocky, and full of back-stabbing drama.

Of course, we are all those things. But not all the way. Yes, we are a very sexed society. Yes, divorce is rampant. Yes, we can be cocky. But that is not all of who we are. The problem with these shows and movies is that they often amplify our faults. We don't care because we say, "It's just TV; it's not supposed to be real." What about those people who have never met an American before? They have nothing to compare it to. Great.

In Julie's case, she developed a negative image of a whole people group. And this is Hong Kong, an international city! If she got the wrong idea living here, I can't image what others in more isolated countries think. Well, I guess I do know of one more example that was pretty awful. A friend of mine had a sister who was in Nepal with her husband. She said that she was constantly being groped when walking down the street. Apparently the guys there thought that all American girls were sluts so it would be ok. That's just awesome. Not.

It's no secret that Americans aren't exactly popular around the world. A lot goes into that. History, politics, wars, international business, lack of knowledge, and cultural differences are all contributors, and Hollywood certainly isn't helping matters. I don't really have a solution to this. It's not like I think we should force all directors to only make nice TV shows about us. Not only would that be wrong and propogandistic, it also would make for some boring and even more un-realistic TV. Yeah, I've got nothing.

All I know is that this sucks.


  1. Ewww! If there's one thing in the world that even sluts don't deserve, it's groping. I wonder how men would feel if they got groped, ogled, and leered at all the time. Ugh.

    It's always good to be reminded not to approach people based off of what you think their culture is like on TV. We Americans have stereotypes about europeans and asians and even Australians. Took me a little while not to see Aussies as a buffoonish, backwoods, perpetually drunk people.

  2. Laura, I've been following your blog for a while now and your thoughts/experiences are so interesting! I'm living in Germany for a few months and I haven't had any negative experiences in that way. Everyone that I've come across has been so kind to me! Anyway, stereotyping just stinks, all the way across the board!

  3. Kendra: I totally agree that we have our own stereotypes that aren't great either. Down with stereotypes!
    Molly: Yeah Germany! That's really awesome. I'm glad you've never run across any problems. My dad and others have told me stories about Germans telling them to their face that all Americans fat, stupid, and lazy on a fairly regular basis. That's not cool, but it's never happened to me. My theory is that there's probably a difference between the older generation and the younger. At least they wouldn't say it to our faces. :)


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