Travel Log 9: “Stereotypes” by Kait Shortell; Paris, France

Studying abroad has caused me to reconsider several stereotypes, and how stereotypes form in the first place. In the beginning of Slimbach’s Becoming World Wise he wrote, “But what happens if you are the kind of person, culture, or nation that doesn’t “flatten” so easily?” (Slimbach 16). I thought that this was such a great way to word this question. Because that is, in fact, what a stereotype does. It tries in confine all the people of one place into a simple definition because its just easier to understand the differences that way. When in reality, we are just making it more difficult, by closing our mind to something we don’t understand with ease.

I have spent most of my time pulling apart the French and American stereotypes of each other. One stereotype I found interesting and on more then one occasion, was a French stereotype of Americans. I talked with a stranger at a café and the conversation eventually evolved to his view and the general French opinion of Americans. He said that he sees and experienced most Americans, particularly the girls, as being very shallow. This of course was a very blunt statement considering he was talking face to face with, in fact, an American girl. I, surprisingly, wasn’t offended by the comment at all. I knew the French had their opinions, and that was ok, I had mine. This man had also never spent any extended time in America. I further questioned what brought on this stereotype. He stated that most Americans he encountered could never hold a deep conversation. He said that Americans struggle with such conversations due to our materialistic culture, which was something I expected to hear. By the end of a very long conversation he told me he was pleasantly surprised with my ability to have a deep and serious conversation, that he never would have expected it from me. I guess that was a good thing. Interestingly enough, my home-stay said the same thing. That Americans were shallow. She quickly apologized but said she was telling me the honest French opinion. Again, unoffended, I questioned why. She said that she believes that Americans do not spend enough time reflecting, on themselves, and their lives. I thought it was ironic considering the major part of this course that values the importance of reflection. I cannot say for sure why this particular stereotype has come to be. I think it may be mostly due to just the differences in culture. The lifestyle here is much slower, and laid back. Where as at home, it’s go, go, go. I don’t necessarily think it makes Americans “shallow”. We just hold different values. The French value their time off, and work a lot less vigorously then Americans, who value their work and accomplishments more then the French. After being in France for almost two months now, I also have come to the realization that “culture” is a thing that develops over a very long, long time. France is around 2,000 years old, and there are some European countries that are even older. America is so incredibly young compared to them. We haven’t been around long enough to have even close to as strong and deep-rooted of a culture as they do, we don’t have as much to hold as they do, and I think that is so important to recognize.

As far as French stereotypes from the Americans point of view, I would say the biggest and most common is the idea that the French are rude, and dislike Americans. I haven’t found that to be very true. I will explain with an example that may be relatable. Lets say we are at work (whatever your work is), and someone comes up to us, and speaks only Spanish, and is clearly a foreigner. You have no idea what
they are asking you and the language barrier quickly becomes frustrating, and you may say to yourself, “we are in America, why don’t you speak English?” The same concept applies in France. Their language is French, and while visiting (or living) in their country, we sh
uld make a conscious effort to speak their language. I have noticed such a huge difference in the response to someone who will make an effort to ask a question in French versus when they walk up to someone and begin speaking English, which I personally feel that I understand to an extent. I think it’s just a polite gesture to make the effort, and it goes a long way

All in all, I struggle with the topic of stereotypes. I don’t like the word “stereotypes” I feel it comes with a very negative connotation, and most of the time, there is not enough evidence to back up a stereotype. Every culture has their own way of living life, and that is what maimages
kes each one so unique, and exciting to dive into. We cannot say that one is better then the other. And we cannot view anothe
r culture, using ours as a frame of reference, because then the culture is being compared to our own, and it will never be “right” because it’s not “ours”.  Unfortunately, it’s very hard for people to distinguish that mindset, and that is when we see these negative opinions of one another become apparent, as I have seen between the French and Americans.

I chose this photo because I think its one of those types of pictures that speaks for itself. We are all individually unique, when you look past stereotypes, yet we are all the same, in that we are all human. Its a very fine line, but worth taking the time to understand.

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2 thoughts on “Travel Log 9: “Stereotypes” by Kait Shortell; Paris, France

  1. I really enjoyed reading your log, it was very insightful and expressed understanding that most people don’t have. I thought that your approach to the topic of stereotypes and breaching past its barrier was very well thought out. Most people would go into a conversation with the intentions of taking offense and protecting their people pride, but you went into those conversations open minded and with the intention to learn from the experience. Not only did the conversations you had change the stereotypes that you thought of the French, but the same can be said for about how the French thought of Americans. You are absolutely right about taking the time to understand that very fine line between us and them.

    Keep up the good work! I’m looking forward to your next log and have fun in France!

    Like

  2. Kait, this was a very interesting post. I found it funny that the French people said that Americans are typically shallow. This seems a little unfair, since they probably have not had much experience with Americans. After reading a slightly offensive stereotype about Americans, it makes me realize how important it is to not generalize thing about cultures which you do not know much about. I also liked what you said about speaking French. You make an interesting point that in America we expect everyone to speak English, so why should we go to other countries and expect any different?

    Like

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