We’ve all heard about national stereotypes or travel stereotypes, how I like to call them. There are guns-obsessed Americans, friendly Asians, arrogant Frenchmen or lazy Greeks. And many more; it seems every region or country has a stereotype.
In a past article I talked about gender stereotypes, which clog our minds, but travel stereotypes are just as harmful. When you go to a country, you expect to see a certain type of people. For example, you expect Americans to be obsessed with guns. When these expectations are not met, which happens more than often, you become disappointed in that country.
Moreover, people around you are likely to reject you, given the fact you’ve labeled them from the moment you’ve stepped in their country. This makes traveling less rewarding and more frustrating. In time, you won’t be able to see the beauty in the people you meet, as you will be looking for the stereotypes you’ve been waiting to see.
Traveling is all about diving into different cultures and meeting new people. Someone, at some point, had a specific experience in a country, so they labeled the entire nation. This is how a stereotype is born: when you apply the features you see in a couple of people to an entire nation. It’s a faulty and negative practice, with a high potential to ruin the pleasure of traveling.
No one likes prejudice, regardless who they are and what language they speak.
Travel stereotypes can put you in danger. For example, you might believe all Asians are friendly, so when you will visit Asia you will be open to everyone. The problem is, not all Asians are friendly, which means you could be putting yourself out there for thieves. Opposed to that, if you travel to a country labeled as full of thieves you are going to act overly suspicious. This will only make the locals see you as a jerk, which can quickly turn into something dangerous.
For travelers whose physical appearance make them look like they belong to a certain nation, things can get even more complicated. A black person might be asked why Africans are violent. Given the negative perception the world has on people from Middle East, wearing a hijab might get you in trouble. Or worse, it can land you at the police department, where you will be questioned on your reasons to travel.
How you respond to these actions has a strong impact on all the people you meet. If you react with anger, you will receive a bad feedback. If you simply talk with the other one, explaining that you are only a random human, who happens to look a certain way, you might gain a lifetime friend. However, you must choose your battles wisely, as some comments are not meant to be replied. All crops have their own bad apples, so only react when you should do it.
To be able to change how you see the people around you, ditch the urge to stereotype someone and be compassionate. Maybe the lady who got before you at the waiting line is really in a rush. Maybe the man drinking vodka is celebrating something. They don’t have to be a rude French or a drunk Russian.
Resist the temptation to stereotype people you meet on your travels and ask yourself questions about them. Don’t be an ignorant! If you feel like it, just ask them why they do a certain thing. You might discover new traditions and learn new things about a foreign country. As you travel, be open to new experiences and leave behind old stereotypes. This is the only way to immerse in a new place and enjoy the spiritual reward brought to you by traveling.