Okay. I don't know if this belongs in this category. Some of it has to do with work and some has to do with daily life, so I put it here. If it's in the wrong place, feel free to move it and if you think it's offensive, feel free to remove it altogether. I'll try to be delicate.
I'm not going to start by saying "I'm not prejudiced" because I know I am, as I know most people, despite their protests, are. My particular prejudice of choice is "stupid people" and that's a description I have found to cut clean across race, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, political party and choice of religious belief. I've lived long enough to meet people who did not "look like" me who thought like me and people who look like me whose mind sets are so alien I couldn't begin to imagine how their mind works. I've lived long enough to know that stereotypes exist to be broken.
That said, two experiences cropped up in conversation (with family and at work) that make me wonder what the people involved were thinking:
First up is a social engagement.
When my brother and his first wife bought their home, they had an open house party. He invited several people from his job. The party was set to be from two to six. He and his wife had to be somewhere else by seven. At six o clock, the guests were ushered out and he and the wife took off.
The next day, he met up with an invited co worker who never showed up. Coworker is from Z Country. (a place known for a certain type of e-mail scam) Co worker was highly insulted. "My wife and I came to your party, but you weren't even there," said coworker. My brother asked him "When did you come? We had to leave to be elsewhere." "Well, we were there at 8:30. We knocked and knocked and walked around and looked in your windows, but YOU weren't home. Why did you invite us if you weren't going to be home?" My brother finally said "The invitations said two to six. Why didn't you come then?" Co worker said something about Z Country being a place where people take their time and don't race around and everyone KNOWS that if an invitation gives hours, it just means it's a suggested time. My brother, apparently, should have known all this, should have stayed home and waited because "Everyone knows we don't show up on time. It's not our nature." My brother smiled politely and bit his tongue to keep from suggesting that Coworker was certainly perpetuating a stereotype about his people. He did not invite them to future functions and allowed Coworker to think what he liked.
The second incident involves me, a colleague and a seminar we attended on "Library Outreach to Foreign Language Speakers." That's how it was billed, but it soon became clear that it was only one set of foreign language speakers we were talking about. Not a problem...a lot of the excellent common sense advice could be applied to all languages and cultures.
But at the beginning of the workshop, we were asked to discuss stereotypes about this particular group (here after designated as "FLS") that the speaker--herself a member of FLS--brought up. We laughed at the outmoded concepts and grinned at the way she took down one stereotype after another ("We talk too loud," she said "we're all illegal,we're slow and lazy, we're flashy, we breed like bunnies.") She was SO right. She made us laugh at the foolishness of the stereotypes while getting a flavor of the culture and the language. That was in the first half.
In the afternoon, though, we were all given sheets detailing the differences between "European-American" culture and the culture of the FSL. And here is where my jaw began to drop.
"American culture has a set concept of time and values a rigid punctuality" "FLS sees time as elastic and the desire to savor the moment is more important than the need to be on time." "American culture places an emphasis on decorum, quiet and a societal concept of manners." "FLS values the embracing of the moment and celebration over the artificial concepts of decorum."
A few hands went up "But didn't you just say that this was a STEREOTYPE?" Apparently not. She honestly could not see that this was a complete contradiction of what she had said in the morning. In fact, she went further to talk about how those of us who were responsible for story hour programs should not take it amiss if FLS mothers did not show up until half the program was over. "They aren't being rude," she said "It's simply that their time frame is different than yours." My colleague beat me to the punch by raising her hand and saying "So, what, the people from other cultures who don't make it on time ARE rude?" "Oh NO," said the speaker "I'm sure there's a whole other set of governing values that cover them."
At this point, my colleague and I, I am ashamed to say, kind of stopped listening because it sounded less like a program on how to reach your patrons of foreign culture and more like an exercise in excusing the bad behavior of some irresponsible and stupid people by couching the stereotype in positive language.
Which leaves me wondering if I can use my Swedish and Portuguese background to validate and excuse my many moments of being obtuse and my other too many moments of jumping the gun and getting into a fight before I get all the facts. My parents used to claim these stereotypes as their very own.
Lily "I'm not STUPID, I'm just SWEDISH" Such