Stereotypes persist to provide a shortcut, as Hafez Adel stated, towards understanding why people act the way they do. Employing stereotypes is the lazy way towards getting to know people and understanding the world. They often prevent people from sympathizing with differential cultures that are different from one’s own. Although stereotypes can be good, for example Asians being very smart or the French being healthy eaters, stereotypes are typically used in a negative light to suppress the unfavorable stereotypes that one’s own culture holds.
Prior to studying abroad, a stereotype for me was typically very general, and something that I honestly was just repeating as I had not had the chance to travel and encounter enough cultures other than my own. After studying abroad, I finally have the opportunity to look make my own opinions towards each culture I encounter. Of course, stereotypes are typically made towards certain cultures for a reason, and again, they are not always bad. However what people must refrain from doing is allowing them to feel as though they already known enough. Just like the saying that everyone learns something new each day, we have to permit that enlightenment to occur. When we buy into each stereotype and trust that it is true before we make our own judgements, of which each persons opinion mirrors their encounters and experiences through ‘their’ own life, we are indicating a lack of yearn for knowledge and self growth.
As I have lived primarily in Italy during my experience abroad, besides my weekend travels, I feel that it would only be fair to reflect on stereotypes of Italian culture as short term visits to places and people immediately making assumptions based on few encounters is how misrepresented stereotypes are created. Prior to arriving to Italy, I was told that Italians have a very relaxed lifestyle where it was okay to be late and take your time sipping your morning espresso. Extended and mandatory lunch breaks and food primarily consisting of pasta and pizza. I was also very weary about the men prior to coming to Italy as I had heard they are not very respectful, very touchy, and don’t understand the word no (considering it’s the same in English and Italian!).
To begin, yes Italians are very relaxed compared to the lifestyle that I have grown up in on the East Coast. Could I say the same if I grew up in a small southern town? I could not say. However that goes to show that a stereotype such as pace of lifestyle has a lot to do with what one has experienced themselves. Although Italians do live a more leisurely lifestyle than I had imagined, realistically, it is still not polite to show up fifteen minutes to a work interview for example. What I have noticed, is especially in regard to morning coffee of which Italians take very seriously. For one, milk after eleven in the morning is frowned upon as it can cause bad dreams and is not good for the stomach and digestion in their eyes. Secondly, baristas will take their time (much like a Starbucks in America as compared to a dunkin’) making your coffee and will always give you your morning cappuccino or espresso in a glass cup and if you’re lucky, they may have take away cups, which is a very new concept in Italy. In regard to ordering for to go, I do think that Florence is a bit more modern and have changed some of their traditional ideals more than other Italian cities (likely due to the vast numbers of Americans and tourists in Florence), however it is somewhat rare to find people eating food on the go. The only food to my memory, of which I do see at least once or twice a day, are people eating panini’s while walking. However I have never noticed an Italian eating a bag of chips or a candy bar (snacking is not as acceptable as in American culture).
One must always be aware of the time mid-day and make sure if they had any errands that need to be done by three in the afternoon, that they do so prior to at least noon. Many shops, and in some Italian cities, restaurants will close from around noon to three or four, and restaurants for dinner often will not open until seven at night. Lunch breaks are a priority for Italians. They are given very lengthy breaks in order to provide sufficient time for people to unwind, relax, and enjoy their food without scarfing it down, unlike Americans who are given a half hour lunch break if they’re lucky. However, what many people imagine when they think of Italians eating, is an abundance of pasta and pizza. Although that is not entirely wrong, it is a misconception. Each region in Italy is known for different dishes with variations in pasta, sauces, bread, pizza, meal times and all. For example, the first night that I arrived in Florence, starving after a long day of traveling, my roommate Sarah and I decided to go into a random pizza shop. I am advising one now, not to do this! Humorously, it was the worst pizza I have had to this date and since, I have only had pizza one other time in Florence. Now Naples Italy is what people are thinking of when they think of the stereotype of the amplitude and delicious pizza in Italy. Pizza from Naples I have fortunately had, however, don’t tell, but I truly like the pizza in the states more, and I even went to a very well known local pizza place in Naples. Pasta is something that I have had more of in Florence of which has all been delicious. However home-made pasta is hard to find in Florence as the grains necessary to make pasta, and pizza, are not found here, hence regional differences. Florentines typically eat unsalted bread and will start with crostini with liver, vegetables, olive oil, tomatoes, or beans on top. For a main course, florentine bistecca (steak) with a side of cannellini beans and spinach or a hearty soup with beans, vegetables, and soaked bread. Finally, I had come to Italy a bit nervous that the Italian men would harass me quite often. Truly, I have not felt anymore disrespected by some young Italians as I have Americans.
Italians generally do not look at Americans well, although in Florence I do believe that Americans are more respected and understood than other regions and cities of Italy. Italians look at Americans as very selfish and entitled. They automatically assume based off of my appearance, assuming Im American, that I cannot speak Italian and often will not even give me the chance to do so. Now Florentines do typically speak more English than other cities due to the abundance of tourism, and they are also likely doing this to be accommodating towards us, however it feels as though they expect us to not care enough to learn their language unlike themselves. I do feel that Italians have a reason to feel this way considering most Americans only know English and coming to Europe, being multilingual is very common. Italians also look at Americans poorly when it comes to alcohol which is completely fair considering Americans do binge drink often and many students are taking over Italian cities such a Florence, and acting loud, drunk, and inconsiderate to Italian culture late at night.
The image I chose depicts a stereotype towards Americans that we are selfish and rich individuals who travel for the luxury of it and ignore the idea of helping the less fortunate by vacationing on the land that they are currently struggling on. Sadly, I feel that this is rather accurate. Although that does not mean that every American holds to this as many people do give back, however frankly, more don’t. Americans must begin to try and understand other cultures and convey that to the rest of the world by learning other countries languages, affording communication, and by acknowledging other countries struggles and helping them versus ignoring them and feeling lucky that it isn’t us.