Stereotypes exist in every country, in every culture and can be applied to every group of people; yet it is no secret that many stereotypes will be discredited after learning about a culture or talking with someone from this culture for only a few minutes. However, stereotypes usually do sprout from some little kernel of truth. Stereotypes alone can be interpreted differently by different people; what I view as a positive attribute, someone else may not. This often depends on one’s home culture because these characteristics are applied through comparison to one’s native culture to determine what creates the distance between the two cultures.
I am most familiar with the way Americans stereotype Italians. Some of the first aspects of Italian culture that come to many Americans’ minds are big families, good food and fashion. Some of the more negative stereotypes include the mafia and the idea of a mammoni- a momma’s boy. As an Italian-American I can attest that many of these are in fact true. In addition, after living in Italy for two months I can also attest that many of these stereotypes are true, especially about good food! Growing up my closer friends would attend my birthday parties and were always astonished at how many people were there. I would always be asked, “these are ALL of your cousins?” To which I would reply, “well yeah.” I didn’t understand that there were other kinds of families, I was used to running around on holidays weaving my way through the crowd that occupied my house, occasionally stopping to receive the dreading cheek pinching.
I knew there were stereotypes about Americans but I never fully realized how many or what they were. It wasn’t something I thought much of because I lived there and many vacations weren’t out of the country to places that had serious stereotypes about Americans. Within the states is where I really recognized the stereotypes among Americans about Americans. Growing up in New England, specifically Rhode Island, I became used to traveling everywhere in less than 10 minutes, summers by the ocean, cold winters with snow that stood taller than I do, and bringing an iced Dunkin’ coffee in a hot cup wherever I went. Of course I grew up with a strong pride in New England sports. I was promptly told from the age of five until now that my only option was to be a Patriots fan or I could find a new place to live and now I will defend my beloved Boston Sports until the day I die. Then came freshman year and my roommate, who grew up just two hours away thought my accent was the funniest thing she’d ever heard. I never realized it before because everyone spoke like I do and even three years later she still thinks it’s funny every time my accent bursts out stronger after a weekend at home.
I’m sure many other areas of the country have stereotypes about New England, maybe some of the same traits, maybe that we walk too fast or maybe that we’re rude. New Englandahs have conceptions about southerners, mainly about their accent and the fried food they eat, about people from the Midwest being cowboys or farmers and people from the west coast being surfers and having a very unique style. I have no doubt that these ideas are false but that happens most of the time with stereotypes. Just as we have stereotypes among out own country, Italy is the same way, primarily between the north and south.
Thus far my greatest learning experiences about stereotypes have come from traveling outside of Italy. I don’t look like many of the people from these countries and so I am often treated that way, but in Italy before I open my mouth to muster up my best Italian, I am usually mistaken for an Italian when I confidently walk throughout Florence and again I am treated as such. The most important lesson about stereotypes I have learned so far is that learning and disproving the stereotypes about one’s own culture is important. Europeans as a whole have a very negative view of Americans, about our arrogance and rudeness and although I travel through Europe and do my best as one person to discredit these notions, although I wish these stereotypes don’t exist I completely understand where these stereotypes come from.
The photo I chose to share is a picture of pizza from a famous pizzeria in Florence- Gusta Pizza. The line is usually out the door from the time they open and more of the people in the line are Americans. I chose this picture because food is the simplest and also one of the more complex stereotypes Americans place upon Italians. Although Americans think about pizza, spaghetti and meatballs and imitate a terrible fake Italian accent, all the while waving their fists in the air, it goes so much deeper than that for Italians. Studying abroad in Italy and taking a food culture class has taught me many things about the food “rules” in Italy. Italians have a very strict list of rules about food and it is imperative that food keep to tradition as it is one of the most important parts of Italian culture and is often very misunderstood by Americans.