Travel and Stereotypes

As an American abroad, I am often faced with being stereotyped, due in part to the misconceptions that are exhibited whether through Hollywood or the antics of a SMALL number of tourists. Here is a list of the top five stereotypes I have faced as an American when traveling in other countries:

-I’m an American therefore I must own a gun and be a proud member of the NRA (National Rifle Association)
No and no. This is a perfect instance in which many Americans are grossly stereotyped, lumped into an ideological belief system they don’t agree with. I have never held or fired a gun (i.e. target practice) and honestly have no desire to ever do so.

-I’m an American therefore my diet consists of nothing but hamburgers, fries, and soda (carbonated drinks)
I love the above mentioned things, don’t get me wrong. But if my diet consisted of nothing but these items I would be obese. And yes, while the United States enjoys the less than stellar distinction of being one of the most obese nations on the planet, plenty of people in my country are not overweight and eat healthy. I am definitely included in this group.

-I’m an American woman therefore I love being promiscuous. I just adore the attention foreign men bestow upon me. 
This is probably one of the worst ways in which the American female tourist is stereotyped thanks to Hollywood movies and television shows depicting American women as sleeping around, having multiple partners, or indulging in one night stands. People, let’s be honest-that type of woman (and definitely man!) exists in any culture. You’re ignorant and oblivious to think otherwise. When I have traveled alone, especially in locales where I stand out, I want NO attention bestowed upon me, especially by the male gender. I love Latin America but I do not love the rude and degrading antics of many of its men towards female visitors.

-I’m an American therefore I agree with everything my government has ever said or done
Of course not. I’m a grown woman, I make my own informed decisions and believe in and adhere to what I want to. Don’t ever generalize from a person’s nationality that they are automatically political thinking minions of that country’s government. You do that person and every person a disservice. (I encountered this a TON when living in Spain as a student.)

-I’m an American therefore I’m loud
This stereotype that annoys me the most because it is completely baseless. For any person who has ever said Americans are the loudest and brashest group when abroad, you’re so far off it’s not even funny. I hate it even more when American expatriates make the claim themselves, saying they are “so embarrassed when they see their countrymen behaving this way.” I have been to more than 15 countries on five continents and in each of those countries I have seen scores of LOUD and brash people who weren’t American, not to mention many not exhibiting manners that are universal. Rude and obnoxious behavior exists in any culture or nationality-at least in that facet, don’t slight the American people.

And here is a list of things I have observed in my travels. I could make stereotypes out of them but wouldn’t they be unfair and untrue?

-When I visited the Sears Tower, there was a large group of South Asians (10+ people, half of them children).  On the top floor of the tower, some of this group sat down, brought out Tupperware containers from bags, and started eating. And by eating I mean full fledged entrees, not snacks. While I love Indian food, to have to smell someone else’s very distinct smelling meal in a tourist venue that did not feature tables and chairs was gross and very inappropriate. Is it correct to say all South Asian tourists travel with their country’s food in Tupperware and just start eating it anywhere?

-Based on news reports in the United States, one would think all Mexicans are members of the drug cartels. Is it correct to assume this even though millions of its people are hard working individuals who abhor these groups?

Don’t ever stereotype a country or its people based on the actions that you see displayed by one individual or even a small group. They’re false, inaccurate, and even sometimes hurtful. While a person is in many ways a representation of his or her country, their individual actions are the representation only of themselves.

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  • Reply
    July 15, 2013 at 1:54 am

    I couldn’t agree more with your words here. I have encountered these stereotypes against me on my travels too. It is so important to see people as people.

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    July 15, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    Beautifully put-to see people as people and not by what race, nationality, or gender they are.

  • Reply
    December 12, 2013 at 12:34 am

    I’ve been on the receiving end of these stereotypes too. I’m Indian, and we generally don’t eat with our left hand because it’s used for ‘wiping’, and is considered unclean. Recently at a hostel in Bulgaria, I was eating dinner- lentils with the spoon in my right hand, and I had some bread in my left… And this Japanese guy looks totally mortifies and is like… ‘But Indians are not supposed to eat like that!!!’
    Maybe he meant well :/ But he made a lot of comments like that- pointing out stereotypes, not just to me but a bunch of other nationalities as well. Just seemed silly.

    • Reply
      Julie Tulba
      December 12, 2013 at 2:34 am

      Thanks for commenting! I can see the guy thinking his comment as “innocent” and not meaning anything by it, but generalizing and assuming are not always innocent. I agree, definitely silly for this traveler to do that instead of getting to know the actual person and not going by the stereotypes that are often hyped up and misleading.

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