In my time in the UK, I have found many different stereotypes that I had previously known have been myths, but I have also discovered new ones that tend to be true. Not all stereotypes are bad, they are meant to be a common perception of a population. Generally, when we talk about them, they end in a negative context, however some are endearing and accurate.
One stereotype that I have found is inaccurate is with British accents. As it turns out, saying that I love a ‘British’ accent is vague since there are over 20 different ones throughout the UK. If I really wanted to identify my preferences, I would have to get a lot more specific, however I do find them all charming. Another one that is very inaccurate is that Britain has bland and bad food. Really I have never seen so much diversity in one city before. I know I am limited in the fact that I am in a city, however walking down one street in London I see a number of different places to eat that I would never encounter in New York city, and each is delicious. Lastly I was completely under the impression that Brits drank tea all of the time, however I have noticed that they are quite addicted to coffee! Even when you go out for Britain’s greatest pastime, afternoon tea, they ask you if you would like tea or coffee with your meal. Now I have personally decided to stick to tea for the time I am here since I get my regular coffee fix at home and I will say that they do have a wide, complex variety of tea and that everyone has their own way of making it.
There are some British stereotypes that I have found to be accurate. First of all, Brits are very polite. Most of the people I have encountered are very courteous and are willing to have a chat or help you when they can. And yes, saying ‘sorry’ when you bump into someone or when someone bumps into you is a natural response here. In addition, queueing is very common whereas back home I can easily expect people to crowd and try to nudge their way forward, here even their chaos turns orderly. In a big crowd where people are moving in all directions, you can expect people to eventually form lines moving in specific directions.
One stereotype that I was not expecting but now am consciously aware of is that British people often are less revealing in conversation. I often find in my flat’s kitchen when my flat mates are there that I will start to talk about classes or friends or family but my flat mates will talk very vaguely about anecdotes to relate or will reference something they read. At first I thought they didn’t trust me knowing details of their personal life, but really it is just as way of life here that if you don’t know someone for that long, you simply don’t share that sort of information. It has made me very conscious of the things I say. Slimbach says “Travel allows us to distance ourselves from our homespun social standing and experiment with new identities and life directions” (2010, pg. 29). This makes me really think about the traits that I will gain here that I want to bring back with me to capture the best of my two homes.
There are times when I have heard some stereotypes of Americans from some local people who I was completely unaware of. I remember once when someone said Americans were careless with their time and lavish in their spending. I was so confused by this one but remembered that the person had only ever encountered American tourists or study abroad students, but never had actually been to America. I have to think that the people they have encountered were pretty much on vacation, so of course they are going to spend a little more than usual or are going to use their time for fun instead of for work. Meanwhile back home, people in my opinion are very frugal and hardworking. To me that has always been my stereotype of Americans being hardworking because it reflects the iconic American Dream that with equal opportunity and hard work, one can achieve their dreams. However, one stereotype that my British roommate had about Americans however is spot-on: we love peanut butter. They don’t seem to understand it but after having the peanut butter here, I can understand why.
This photo shows the American aisle of a supermarket in London. As you can see, it is all sugar and junk food, which is where most people get their assumption of the American diet. However, I really don’t believe this accurately reflects the actual diet of many Americans. Sure, we do have a problem with obesity but this is the selection of food because this is the only food that is going to keep well when traveling by plane or boat. It’s not as if we are going to transport fresh fruit and vegetables, or meat and fish overseas. The rest of the store is going to have that, but they can’t simply label that as American, it’s just food!
On contrast, in a recent trip to Iceland, I was lucky enough to come across this rift. As the North American and European plates collide, they created Iceland and here is the point where the two plates can be seen coming together and pulling apart. To me it was the perfect metaphor for the relationship between the two worlds. They are just that- my two worlds that will be in constant conflict but harmony. In my life they will live together but they will always find a way to contradict each other.
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Pub., LLC, 2010. Kindle for Mac.