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Expat stereotypes: Do we deserve them?

Irish Pub

We are all aware of the different stereotypes attached to local groups when we are visiting or living in their country, but it seems to be less often discussed how we expats might also easily be stereotyped. Obviously the locals in a city where many other nationalities are congregating can generalize about each group, and the expats themselves can also group the others together as well.

Whether stereotyping by nationality is right or wrong isn’t really the question here. We all do it, at least if we are being honest with ourselves, and others do it to us. More interesting perhaps is whether we can learn anything helpful about ourselves or about others in this process.

We all group things together

This whole issue is brought up after reading an interesting essay, evidently written by a Scottish woman living with her husband in Majorca. She says that local shopkeepers have noticed distinctive traits among the various groups of nationals nearby, including that the French “complain about the cheeses and cold meats, and purchase very little.”

Of course it’s politically correct to assert that ‘stereotypes are wrong, hurtful, and should not exist.’ But the reality is that nearly all, if not all of the main stereotypes exist because they are (or were) grounded in reality.

I’m an American currently living in Turkey with very few other Americans around so it gives me a chance to be an outsider in most discussions. I believe I do fit most of the stereotypes of Americans, including that we try to smile and be friendly even when there is no good reason to do so.

More than that, I believe, is that I come from mostly German stock, and those tendencies are definitely with me as well. My mother was born in Germany and my father’s grandmother was as well, so I’m more than half German even in recent generations.

And you know what? I make a big point of being punctual, even to loose social occasions, and it really annoys me when other people keep me waiting because they roll on “Mediterranean time.” I also admit to placing an extremely high importance on getting good value for my money. I’m not “cheap,” but like most Germans, I really can’t stand paying more than I really need to.

Cultural differences do exist

One of the more interesting stereotypes among Europeans is that those from the Northern countries (including the UK) tend to ‘binge drink,’ which some people prefer to call ‘drinking to get drunk.’ People from the Mediterranean and other southern countries drink alcohol more often, but almost always stop after no more than 2 or 3.

Whether one style is better for both short-term and long-term happiness is up for debate, but the fact is that these styles are deeply embedded in the cultures and there is no use in denying them.

Can we learn something from this?

Wherever you are living, if you asked the locals to describe traits from your fellow nationals in a few sentences, what might they say? The Scandinavians seem to be well regarded pretty much everywhere they go, but most of the rest of us are the subject of various complaints. I’m going to ask some locals and other expats about these stereotypes and see if there is anything interesting to be learned from them.

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