Stereotypes seem to be an aspect of everyday life despite our best efforts to disregard them. Whether in our own culture or a foreign one, we are constantly confronted with these prejudices in both our conscious and unconscious. After considering my own stereotypes towards others I began to realize many of them surround groups of people I am relatively unfamiliar with but have had some exposure to. In other words, my strongest stereotypes are of people I have seen from afar but never interacted with on a deeper level. When considering countries such as France, Spain, China, Japan, or Mexico it is easy to come up with a long list of stereotypes because these are the countries we learn about in school, hear about on the news, and talk about with friends. There are 196 countries in the world today; yet it seems we only talk about the top ten or fifteen and ignore the other 180. For example if I asked someone on the street what stereotypes they have of the Republic of Chad, most would probably ask “what’s Chad?” Studying abroad has not only made me realize the stereotypes I have but has also highlighted the stereotypes I lack. This begs the question, are stereotypes a good or bad thing?
While trying to come up with stereotypes I had of Kiwi’s I realized that Americans really only have one well-known stereotype for them. Many Americans seem to expect Kiwi’s to be supper fit and wildly adventurous. In reality, most Kiwi’s have never been bungee jumping or sky diving as the stereotype suggests. Those who know a bit more about New Zealand may mention the stereotype of sheep sheering, Lord of the Rings enthusiasts, or Rugby. But even then not everyone in New Zealand participates in these activities. The lack of stereotypes Americans have for Kiwi’s made me realize how irrelevant we unconsciously believe they are, thus creating little to no stereotypes about them.
From the perspective of an American, Kiwi’s are merely crazy adventurist, living on an island somewhere in the pacific. Yet to Kiwi’s the politics and events surrounding American culture is an everyday topic. As a result, many Kiwi’s have a long list of stereotypes about Americans but Americans have little understanding or care for Kiwi’s. This interesting dynamic has created a strange structure of stereotypes. Studying in New Zealand has prompted me to reconsider everyday stereotypes as well as the effects and hardships a country may face by lacking stereotypes.
In order to investigate the stereotypes of Americans further I decided to use skills from Travel Log 5:Conversations, and talk to my Kiwi friend Abbie. When I asked Abbie what her stereotypes about American’s are she immediately, and without any hesitation responded “fat and stupid.” She then elaborated more and said; “we think Americans are basically the people in the Disney movie Wall-e.”
This is not just a stereotype of Abbie’s, I would bet that most none Americans (not just Kiwi’s) would have a similar response. After listing off many more American stereotypes, my conversation with Abbie began to move away from the superficial stereotypes we both had and began to focus on the underlying effects abundant American stereotypes, and few New Zealand stereotypes had on both countries. To an American looking at foreign politics, New Zealand is entirely irrelevant. Many New Zealand soldiers died in both world wars but the country is hardly ever recognized for this sacrifice in the same way more commanding nations are. This again brings up the question; are stereotypes good or bad? Is it better to have an abundance of stereotypes and be recognized or none at all and be irrelevant?
The lack of knowledge Americans have about New Zealand has caused Kiwi’s to believe that we do not care about their country in the slightest. Abbie mentioned a time a number of years ago following the 911 terrorist attacks when New Zealand was threatened in response to the events in the US. She remembers this being a scary time for New Zealand because many truly believe that the US would not care if New Zealand was bombed. This stereotype, of not caring, is one that aggravated me the most. If New Zealand were threatened today would the US do anything to stop it? I would say probably not, we would likely claim we need to focus on our own country- supporting the Kiwi stereotype. However, if New Zealand were bombed, news reports of American politicians support would flourish. So is it true? Do Americans really not care about other nations like the stereotype suggests? Maybe if we knew more, i.e. created more stereotypes and investigated them, our support and attitudes towards other nations would change. And maybe by exploring other cultures their stereotype towards Americans would also change.
Charlotte Bronte once said, “ Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones” Bronte is saying that without education stereotypes do not change. I would expand upon her ideas by saying that without education stereotypes do not exist at all, and New Zealand is the perfect example. In the US we are so uneducated about the culture in New Zealand that we lack an array of Kiwi stereotypes. Through education stereotypes are created. They may then evolve and change through further experience. This is why mindful-travel is vital to our existence. We must create but also break stereotypes in order to become cultured individuals.