Thinking about stereotypes is something I do pretty often while traveling. I am constantly seeing different types of people doing different things in different ways. The usually leads to loss of whatever stereotype I had previously. What I have found is that it is unfair, and practically impossible to generalize people and do it successfully. People are all different and where they are from, while it may influence their actions and decisions, it certainly does not solidify them. Now this doesn’t mean there aren’t trends and patterns that I can’t help but notice everyday, but to expect a person to act a certain way because of the way they look or where they are from will lead to some serious surprises.
There have been many surprising stereotypes that are perpetuated on Americans. The one I encounter the most from the Swiss are that we are either dumb, lazy, or entitled. I know I am about to stereotype but, this is most often expressed from elderly people or waiters and waitresses. I think they have developed the stereotype from the American tourists that come and do act that way but as I mentioned above, it isn’t fair to generalize people, especially in such a negative light.
The stereotype toward Americans that most surprised me came from my professors at Franklin who all tend to consider American students extremely hardworking and diligent. I think the stereotype developed for two different reasons. Number one is that the kind of student that leaves their home in America to study for four years at Franklin is usually “Type A” and they quickly become extremely independent. The professor I am travelling through Italy and Slovenia with said that he typically gets students in his office wanting to understand why they got an A- and not an A on an assignment. The second reason why I think this stereotype developed is in relation to the first one. People generally do not like to be left behind by their peers so when they see their friends trying to do their best they will also do their best. One of the things I really commend Franklin on is their ability to generate that kind of environment.
One of the big stereotypes I had about all European people was that they are extremely nice and friendly, and while many people are, the majority of people in Lugano really keep to themselves. It is rare that I get a smile back while I am out on a run and people typically keep their heads down when walking around alone which is unfathomable to me because it is absolutely gorgeous. I also believed Europeans were bad drivers but they only thing I have noticed is that they have a heavy foot when it comes to accelerating and braking. Besides that I’ve seen one car accident since I have been here and accidents do happen. One stereotype that is absolutely true is that the roads in Italy are terrifying, the roads are thin, they are on top of cliffs, and are rarely lit. I don’t mind driving in Switzerland at all but I will never be behind the wheel in Italy again.
Overall I think stereotypes are detrimental to people while they are traveling abroad. I understand that they can fill a knowledge void but they can also skew out perceptions in an extremely unhealthy way. If people moved toward being more understanding and not assuming things about people it would make the world a genuinely more happy place.