Even if we have not been to a particular part of the world, we “know” exactly what the people there are like. Television shows, movies, the news and magazines portray an idea about how people from a certain culture or country behave. From listening to the media and from others who have traveled to different places, we form a stereotype about a country as a whole.Like Hafez Adel said, “…they provide a comfortable shortcut to understanding complex matters…” (Abroad View, Spring 2009, Volume 11, Issue 2, page 26-28.) To understand how a whole country works and acts in their every day life can be quite overwhelming and a hard feat to achieve. So instead, we form these stereotypes to make ourselves think we know exactly what they are like and how they live.
When coming to Australia, I thought I had them all figured out – tan beach babes with no care in the world. I never understood how people could be so laid back and not have any stress at all since I get anxiety over the smallest things. Yes, this may seem exactly how Australians are for any short-term visitor. But after being here for two months now, I have asked questions and gotten to know why these stereotypes exist. First of all, even though Australia is full of beaches, most Australians are not that tan. That was something I was very surprised about when I first arrived here. I came to find out very quickly that Australia has the highest rates for skin cancer. The Ozone layer has been destroyed from fossil fuels from America and China that it is basically non-existent. They lather on so much sunblock here in fear of getting skin cancer, which is why a lot of them actually don’t have the bronzed tan I expected them to have.
Australians are most famously known for their laid back lifestyle, which is definitely an accurate stereotype. After many über rides with very talkative older women, I have learned Australia, specifically the Gold Coast where I am located, would rather go to the beach and do other fun activities instead of sitting in class all day. To them, they do not see the point in going to University and wasting all that time. Instead, they would rather find a trade they are interested in and do that. This way, they start making money at a younger age and can go out and travel. This is so not how America is at all. We are told from a very young age the importance of going to College and that if we don’t, we won’t find a good enough job to support ourselves and a family someday. A few weeks ago in the elevator at my hotel, a housekeeper asked me what I was up to for the day. I replied that I had a midterm I had to study for. His response was, “Don’t work too hard. But if you do work hard, make sure you play even harder.” I laughed and told him to have a good day. After that conversation, it finally clicked in my head that yeah, Americans work hard in school to get the best grades we can, but we need to take on part of the lifestyle Australians have and just relax too. This is definitely a trait Australians have that I will try to bring back home with me. Another thing in particular, do not make an Australian mad! That is my biggest advice to anyone. I came here with the stereotype that Australians were the nicest people alive. A few friends warned me that that was not the case, but I ignored them anyways. But now having accidently made a few restaurant workers, staff leaders or random civilians irritated, I see what others were talking about. They speak exactly what is on their mind and are known to be hot heads. Do not take it personally because it is likely to happen.
While living on the Gold Coast I have also discovered some stereotypes here that I never knew existed. To put it as nicely as I can, men from the Gold Coast are known to be not the brightest bulbs. Apparently they are very into their looks and do not have the brains to follow. No short-term visitor would ever know that, but I have had multiple residents here give me that information. Although I have not interacted with many Australian men, I cannot help but think of that when I do. It is interesting to see the stereotypes Australians have of each other within their country compared to the ones we have of them.
Australians also have their own opinions of us and to my surprise they have all been positive. I thought Australians hated us just like the rest of the world, but apparently it is the complete opposite. One of my teacher’s was saying how Australians grow up watching American television and movies and listen to our music. They actually pick up on our behavior in attempt to be just like us, which I thought was very funny. My professor said many people in Australia idolize Americans because we go to university, so we must be really smart. When I was at a waterfall one day with my friends, a few young Australian boys were swimming in the water. They had heard our accents and were so excited because they realized we were American. One little boy blatantly said to me, “Are you rich? Because I heard America was full of rich people.” I did not know whether to take that as a compliment or not. Australia is a very expensive country and it is difficult to get ahead here. Australians see our big buildings, high-end clothes and fancy cars and think we are loaded with money. I never knew any one had that stereotype of us, so it was fascinating to see the way younger people reacted towards us. I do not think these stereotypes formed to “fill a vacuum of knowledge”. Now looking at America from an outsider’s point of view, I could see why they think we’re smart and wealthy.
Being in Australia for two months now has really allowed me to see the way they live and why. Slimbach says, “Mindful global learning aspires to narrow the gap between “us” and “them”, strengthening the bond of understanding and legitimate respect between strangers.” (pg. 87) I have dispelled some stereotypes and gained some new ones as well. A stereotype of a country as a whole definitely does not mean every individual is the same. No one can really say they know a place and the people there until they have spent time there to get to know them.
I chose this picture to describe the stereotype Americans have of my host culture, Australia. Australians are none for being very easy going, and they are this way for good reason. It is not just because they want to go to the beach every day and go out drinking at night, it’s because they want to be happy. If they are not going to be happy going to university, then they don’t go. Working and saving money to provide for a family and fun-filled life is their goal. That is a quality about Australians I highly respect.
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning (Stylus Publishing, LLC., 2010).