My time in Switzerland has taught me to be more open-minded. Coming into studying abroad I had preconceived notions about my host country and Europe in general. Many of the stereotypes I held about Swiss people, although not negative as the word stereotype is often associated with, have affected my interactions with locals.
Coming to an Italian speaking area I expected to find a boisterous and loud bunch that would come up and greet you with a kiss on the cheek. This may be commonplace in Southern Italy, but that could not be further from the way people behave in Switzerland. They are very reserved and often don’t make eye contact when you pass on the street. I made assumptions that they were less friendly, without learning about their cultural norms and truly getting to know them. Simply because of the language they speak, I grouped an entire culture into one group. If someone tried to group the characteristic of all of the United States into one group, they would be laughed at. Each area, even from one village to the next, is different and has their own traditions and way of life.
I have found there to be numerous stereotypes about Americans all throughout Europe. Many of them are the common ones that we have heard before. Americans are sloppy dressers; they are loud and inconsiderate, unaware of their surroundings, and unwilling to integrate into a new culture. As a young person we often face even more stereotypes of simply wanting to party, being obsessed with media and technology and self absorbed. I can even admit to holding many of these stereotypes against Americans. There is a reason for these stereotypes; they are the actions of some Americans. Even though it may be a minority, it gets projected to the masses because of the poor image that these individuals set. I asked my friend, who lives in Switzerland to discuss some of her thoughts on Americans and many of the stereotypes. She talked about how, depending on the region in Europe, there are different opinions, but for the most part most will see some positive and negative aspects. Throughout this conversation, I learned that I many have amplified the negative opinion of Americans more than many people here do. The one thing that stood out to me most in the conversation was her response to my question, “in general, how do Europeans feel about Americans.” Her answer was, “not that much.” We can often be self absorbed and think that many people spend all this time thinking about us. It put into perspective the idea that we are only a small part of the world and many people don’t don’t spend as much time analyzing us as we might think. The picture I selected is meant to show that we are just a small fraction of the world.
This plays into Adel’s point of “providing a comfortable shortcut to understanding complex matters.” Since we don’t have the opportunity or sometimes even the desire to get to know all the people on a deeper level it is easy for us to group them all together. It is unfortunate that stereotypes are so rampant and are often negative, but it is a reality that we all have to live with. They key is to not let the stereotypes affect your interactions. Ed Koch voiced his opinion on stereotypes; “stereotypes lose their power when the world is found to be more complex than the stereotype would suggest, when we learn that not all individuals fit the group it all begins to fall apart.” One of the best ways to break these stereotypes is to truly get to know people. When you learn that each of these individuals is unique, you develop a deeper understanding for the culture and break your preconceived notions.