Stereotypes: The Picture In Our Heads

By Neelima Ravindran:

I had accompanied my husband to US in the early years of the last decade. At one of the gatherings I was asked by an American friend, if Indians eat monkey brains. He had apparently seen it in the new Indiana Jones movie and wanted to confirm that it was indeed factual. I finally managed to convince him that “Tandoori Monkey Brains” was not one of our delicacies.

Many notions about the culture of the foreign countries stemming from comics, or more popularly the silver screen, are seriously outdated or are considerably exaggerated. Thus India was looked upon until very recently by many in the West as a poor, dusty, spiritual land of snake charmers and fakirs who kept elephants as pets. Of course, the IT revolution and the huge outflow of Indians to nations across the globe have made the perceptions better. We are now the narrow-minded curry-loving techies.

And for the rest of the world the Americans are bullies; they are lazy, rich and they own guns, while the British are snobbish tea-lovers. The Chinese are rigid, know kung fu and bite into anything that moves, the French arrogant, the Australians party animals, the Irish drunkards and the Latin Americans drug traffickers. Not to forget the Japanese tourist with a camera who photographs everything in his sight or the Italian mom who cooks pasta, pizza and ravioli for her good-looking Mafia sons. As a popular joke goes, “The happiest man on earth lives in a British house, gets an American salary, has a Chinese wife, and eats Japanese food. The saddest man on earth lives in a Japanese house, gets a Chinese salary, has an American wife, and eats British food”.

The impressions are changing though. As the world shrinks, the exposure to diverse cultures is amplified. The new generation is attuned to the affairs of the world and the various ethnic traditions. It should be kept in mind that any nation is a mix of heterogeneous individuals and painting them all in a single stroke could be erroneous and offensive. Most of the stereotypes are caricatures emanating from a basic behavioural pattern due to similarity in the socio-cultural environment. But until the jokes wane, let me savour my spicy curry and ride my pet elephant.

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