Saturday, September 25, 2010

Stereotypes are a Real Time Saver. Sometimes.

One of the greatest lessons that I learned while living abroad was that stereotypes are i) useful and ii) often based in fact. I know that we are not supposed to make generalizations about people from other countries but, really, there's a reason that stereotypes exist. Once you accept them, your interactions with people abroad and your interpretation of their actions improve. Accepting stereotypes means not being disappointed when your Italian friend shows up two hours late for your dinner. It means not being offended when your dutch date asks you to cover half of the bill. It means not taking it personally when your Lebanese flatmate wants to negotiate everything.

Of course, there are some exceptions.

I knew from experience and from stereotypes, that Cypriots were a crazy bunch. So, when I came here for the weekend to attend my Cypriot friend's wedding, I expected some wild times.
I wasn't surprised when my rental bicycle resembled Napoleon Dynamite's sledgehammer (no, I did not attempt any sweet jumps).
I wasn't surprised by the gigantic pre-wedding bridal ceremony.
I wasn't surprised by the procession of honking cars that followed the bride through town for more than half an hour.
I wasn't surprised by the bottles of hard liquor that appeared at every table (some old fashioned fun!).
What I was surprised by, was a dude on the dance floor with a handgun. We cleared the dance floor thinking that maybe this was some sort of crazy Cypriot tradition, but it turns out it was just a crazy guy. It was on account of stereotypes that we did not clear the building, but perhaps that would have been the more logical course of action. I'm not saying that I'm not going to use stereotypes anymore, I'm just acknowledging that they may have some limitations.


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