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American Cultural Stereotypes and Studies Essay

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Updated: Jun 13th, 2020

Introduction

I must say, studying abroad is positively mind-shifting. My personal experience shows me that no history book or fiction film will ever let me understand another nation as well as simply talking to its people. For example, do you know what is unusual about Spanish? One Spanish man told me that when he was studying English, it felt very strange to encounter a question mark at the end of a sentence. Question marks in Spanish are like quotes: you put an inverted one at the beginning of a question and a regular one at the end of it.

To me, it seemed both hilarious and intriguing. I guess all Americans know it: after all, Spanish-Americans constitute a large portion of the population of the US. But I would not have learned about it if I had not come to the US. I will not dwell on the fact that the English and Chinese languages are even more different. The English language has been with me for many years: in China, we are quite interested in learning it. I do not think that I have grown used to all the surprises of foreign languages, but I have grown used to being surprised by them.

When I was going to the US, I was getting ready to a new level of surprises: the surprises of meeting people who look differently, walk differently, think differently and are probably just aliens from the outer space. Could I, a mere earthling, survive in their world?

Stereotypes

We all know what a stereotype is. Some of them are rather flattering: for example, it has always been nice to hear that Chinese people are considered hard-working. Are we? I guess most of us are. The rates of our economic development could probably testify to that. Still, I find it hard to believe that you cannot meet a lazy Chinese or a hard-working Irish. We also think that the merchandise from Germany is definitely good quality, but Volkswagen emission scandal is hardly a proof to that (see, for example, Kollewe’s article for more details).

We also have some stereotypes about Americans, and I have to admit that not every of them is as flattering. In fact, some of the stereotypes that Americans have about Americans are not flattering. From what I have heard, they sincerely believe that they are not curious enough to learn about other cultures. They think they are too egoistic and self-centered (the “self” in this case being their culture) to be curious. Still, I have heard so many questions about my culture that I find it difficult to believe. Perhaps, what they meant was that unless given an opportunity (my humble person), they would not search for information. Well, I was searching for the information about the US, and I did it especially vigorously as my wish to go study abroad grew: I wanted to know what to expect.

Studying the culture to get prepared

First of all, I was researching the learning opportunities, and I found out that we are quite different in this respect. I am proud of the quality of our education, but I have to admit we have much less freedom in choosing the subjects we are going to study. Americans probably do not even understand how lucky they are: their system is much more inspiring. After that, I started searching for the information about the people. I understand that higher education is primarily about studying; in fact, from what I have seen, I understand it a little bit better than my American friends. Perhaps, there are disadvantages to the freedom of choice they have. Still, I could not imagine not being able to fit in properly. People are social beings, and this cannot be changed.

What did I do for that? Please, don’t laugh. I read American books, watched American movies, and occasionally roamed websites for reviews devoted to them. I must say it was the latter that provided me with greatest insights. For example, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is positively heartbreaking, but I would not have understood it completely if I had not read about the Depression beforehand. Similarly, if I had not read the novella, I would not have been able to realize what the Depression was and especially why the word is capitalized.

The reviews helped me understand, for example, why Disney’s Pocahontas was not received too well in the US: in my opinion, it is a very decent film. It was not until later when I came across a review that I learned: American people, especially children, are all taught the story of Pocahontas until they can recall the smallest of details. They were simply not interested in watching it over and over again. Also, I learned that Pocahontas was about eight when she met Smith, which is rather disturbing.

The latest insight I got from the same reviewer was about the American flags in the Spiderman movies (and in many other movies as well). When you watch a film like this, you begin to understand why some of our stereotypes about the US are not too flattering. Patriotic ideas are a marvelous thing, but films like Spiderman have an overdose of them. I never actually came up with the idea of checking the date of the movie and realizing how close it was to the 9/11 tragedy. I remember the day. I was too young to understand what happened, but I still remember it: two great grand buildings coming down so fast, almost gracefully. It was terrifying. Some time later, as I matured, I grew to think about the people too: how they died, how many of them died, and how many were left to grief. I would say, understand the flags now. I completely understand them now.

Steinbeck and Pocahontas both led me to the discovery that Spiderman inspired in the end. I came to believe that there are three different levels, three steps of the study of country’s history and culture (and Pocahontas shows that the two are interrelated: children would not be force-fed this disturbing story if not for the equally disturbing history of colonization). First, you can read a history book. You will learn something, and you will not understand a thing. Then, you may try fiction books and films. You will start understanding something, but you will still think that those people are all alien creatures.

It is not until you talk to the people that you can deepen your understanding and, most importantly, can see the foreigners as humans. You will feel for them. The Internet is a nice opportunity of course, but my luck is many times better: I am surrounded by Americans. They are very similar to what I had imagined they would be but also very different from it. In fact, they are absolutely impossible to describe in a couple of words, but there is something common about them that I cannot quite place. I guess, it is their alien… I mean human culture.

Conclusion

I am not a culture specialist, of course, I am an economist. I do not pursue any scientific aim. But this amateur research, pretentious as it may sound, is broadening my mind. It is showing me what a human society can be like and how it is still human.

References

Kollewe, Julia. TheGuardian, 2015. Web.

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