“People are much deeper than stereotypes. That’s the first place our minds go. Then you get to know them and you hear their stories, and you say, ‘I’d have never guessed.’” – Carson Kressley
This quote basically exemplifies the entirety of all the stereotypes I had about English people before I moved here. Some of the stereotypes I carried about English people were that they all eat tea and crumpets, they’re very proper, and they’re snobby. I don’t really know how I came to have these stereotypes, but I must have acquired them over the course of my general life. These stereotypes were quickly broken for me, as I saw counterexamples of these almost every day. For one, during my program orientation, they had us guess the national food of England. As you can imagine, many people guessed tea or crumpets. The national food of England is actually curry, believe it or not. Of course, people still drink tea and eat crumpets, but you don’t walk into a room and see every single person drinking tea and eating crumpets, which is kind of what I was expecting to happen. Also, everyone I’ve met has been incredibly nice. I haven’t encountered a single English person who was rude or condescending to me at all, which I was kind of surprised about. And, as I mentioned in one of my earlier travel logs, the people here are not nearly as proper as I expected. They are more proper than the average American, but not as proper as I imagined.
I completely agree with the quote, that, “…stereotypes endure because they provide a comfortable shortcut to understanding complex matters and that they usually emerge to fill a vacuum of knowledge” (Abroad View). I used my stereotypes of the way English people would be to fill the void in my knowledge of what they would actually be like. Now that I’ve lived here for about 2 months, I have knowledge of this culture, so I don’t need those stereotypes to fill the gap anymore. A very prominent stereotype of Americans that I’ve encountered is that we eat a lot/all are fat. I’ve received so many comments on the portion sizes in American restaurants. A lot of people here have actually been to America, which I was surprised about. But, by far, that was the most frequent reaction I got – that the portion sizes are massive, and that one serving could feed 2 or 3 people. This is understandable, considering all of the media surrounding that aspect of America – like the documentary SuperSize Me or the concept of people getting so fat in the future that everyone has to ride around in chairs (as shown in the movie Wall-E). However, a stereotype that surprised me was that Americans are ignorant, and that we don’t know that much about the world. Something I have noticed here is that people are much more open to talking about politics, whereas in America, people tend to hold back their opinions. Maybe this is why people here think Americans are ignorant, because a lot of people generally don’t voice their opinions. The English people here talk more about the upcoming Presidential election than the Americans do! For this reason, I think they have some valid reason to thinking Americans are ignorant. But I also think this stereotype exists “to fill a vacuum” because they clearly have very limited knowledge of what Americans know, so they infer a common theme based on what they’ve observed, which is exactly what Adel says is what happens. We talked a lot about challenges within the liminal phase of a rite of passage, and I think that breaking stereotypes/living with stereotypes against you is a major challenge faced by students who study abroad.
I saw this picture in a lecture by one of my professors. He used it to discuss stereotypes, as well, and I think that it is a very accurate representation of the general stereotypes about Americans. Like I mentioned before, all people here in London really know about Americans is what they’ve seen from the news or online or on social media. You can see in this picture that in the space where New Jersey should be, there is the word “Snooki.” Of course, not everyone who lives in New Jersey is like Snooki or anyone on Jersey Shore, and surely hardly anyone actually lives like they do. But since this is the only knowledge people have, they use this to make a generalization about that whole area of people. I think it’s kind of an honor to be able to be the first true American experience that people have and to have a chance to break the stereotypes, whether it be about ignorance, wealth, or obesity.