“We are having a jolly good time! Shall we have another cup of tea?” politely asked British Lady Margaret, sitting on the left side of a big dining table.
“Au contraire, the French prefer a glass of wine and foie gras,” replied Philippe, causing some degree of offense.
“Schnitzel and beer for all!” shouted Hans whilst checking the watch on his left wrist and thinking those people desperately need to have better time management.
Dimitris was observing the situation, shaking his head and rolling a seventh cigarette to calm his Greek personality down.
A hot blonde on his right whispered: “I don’t want to interrupt this conversation, but don’t you agree that we should discuss gender inequality at this table, with only Margaret and I the female representatives?”
“Oh shut up, crazy Swedish women. You females should be at home, in the kitchen making dinner for your husbands,” offered a Serbian, raising his voice and dressed in a white singlet.
The more I travel, the more I realize stereotypes are never completely true. Unconsciously I look for signs to prove out the perception of a nation that I have internalized, but the people I meet along the way prove me wrong most of the time. I’ve traveled in rural areas of France, around Paris and on the French Mediterranean coast and have never met a rude, impatient Frenchman. People in France have been open, have helped me whenever I asked for directions, and have been easily impressed just by the few phrases I have from their language.
When in England, I have never been invited to a tea party or found that ‘God Save The Queen’ should be the answer to all of my random questions. It might be true, that people are a bit burdened with a fear of what others may think of them, but isn’t that true of every single one of us from time to time?
I would be able to claim that Greek people are loud and they like to gossip. But so am I, and so do I. How can you otherwise prove a point, and how do you get to know what your neighbor is doing? On the other hand, whilst spending ten days on one of their islands, Kos, I had to try very hard to get some words out of the English-speaking Greek family that served me lunch and offered me a place to stay for a night. They didn’t know where the best party would be, even though according to stereotypes Greeks party constantly, and we only had one glass of Ouzo each. Expecting the drinking stereotype would be correct, I was slightly disappointed by the end of the night.
Germany was a different story. People were punctual, organized, and focused on their professions, but outside of their work time they were laughing, sharing their life stories with me and cooking me all sorts of international food. I have been treated with generosity and surprised by their liberal views when discussing all sorts of topics, which made me realize not everything is black and white.
It might be that open borders have resulted in a mix of nations, where no country is an entirely distinct entity anymore, but a mix of all the ingredients foreigners have brought with them. We have learned how to be more tolerant, and we have accepted many aspects of what has been brought to our countries while trying to stay authentic in our own way.
Looking beyond borders is the first thing to do to get rid of the stereotypes that are blurring our perceptions. The second thing we have to do is to pack our bags and travel in order to get accurate impressions. Be open to meet people from other countries and maybe even discuss stereotypes with them, just to get the impression of how much it’s actually true. Whatever you do, don’t get trapped in the habit of spreading the stereotypes, because in the future you might well have to bite your tongue on it.
Stereotyping nations implies accepting the notion that you don’t ever want to get to know the country better. It’s like telling your friends how to raise kids, even though you never had one. But maybe we create stereotypes just because we still can’t locate some countries on the map correctly.
Photos: Shutterstock / Graphic Design: Martina Advaney