Thursday, 23 August 2012

Only Here For the Beer - Intercultural Stereotypes

Recently somebody said to me: "What? You're from Munich, and you don't like beer??!!" Eyebrows raised skywards.  Faced with such a verbal full-frontal, it's quite a challenge to come up with a polite and patient reply. You could say "Well, I'm not actually from Munich, I 'm just living here for the time being" - But that would imply that everybody who is actually from Munich, does like beer. In the end I opted for : "Well two years ago I was living in Edinburgh, and I don't actually like whisky." I thought that made my point quite clear (in an ironic and educational way).

There is something more than just a little backward in remarks like that, even though they obviously try to come over as worldy-wise and informed. But this sort of cultural cliché just takes an intellectual  short-cut by classifying people into geographic cut-out figures. "From the North of England? - So, you probably like warm beer in the pub, whilst disucussing the miners strike with your mates, huh?" "From Paris? Oh là là, Mademoiselle!"

And whilst these examples are harmless, and just show the simple-mindedness of this approach, it's easy to extrapolate how it can quickly degenerate into xenophobic and racial compartmentilisation. "Brazilians - ah they got music in their blood!", "Africans are more in touch with their feelings", "Arabs? Bit fanatical, aren't they?" "Yes, Jews are very good with money" And so on, and so on...

Let's just  remind yourselves that not every Finn is taciturn and likes the dark, not every American is monolingual, or all Spaniards like bullfights and paella. Let's celebrate individuality and diversity. That people are not the embodiment of a cliché associated with a country or place. That people move about and have to come to grips with different cultural surroundings. That everybody is their own person, made up of a myriad of cultural fragments and influences. And that there are people from Munich who prefer wine to beer ...

Any comments? Share them on twitter, @Margit11

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