Magazine topic: 
Life around the world

Stereotypes ... true or false?

by : 
LouiseH

I have just returned to the UK after a year living abroad in France. Something that really struck me while I was away from home was the fact that very often the people I met would talk about ‘stereotypes’. It is inevitable when you meet someone who comes from a foreign country that your mind evokes associations and compares that person with the stereotypes connected with their country and culture. Many believe that there’s no smoke without fire and so if a stereotype exists, it must be based on truth. I feel that thinking about ‘stereotypes’ is an interesting way to look at differences between different cultures and countries, but of course many should be taken with a pinch of salt! Here are my top 5 favourite stereotypes about British people and whether or not I think they are true or false!

1) British people drink a lot of tea
TRUE! I have to say that this stereotype, in my experience, is definitely based on reality. Although I myself am not a fanatical tea-drinker, my sister has been known to drink around 6 mugs of tea per day! British people tend to offer a cup of tea (or a ‘cuppa’) whenever a guest arrives regardless of the time of day; and always if someone is upset or needs cheering up. With a mug of steaming tea in their hands, a British person can’t help but feel at home.

2) British people have a ‘stiff upper lip’
This is a common conception that British people traditionally do not express emotions or talk about how they feel openly. However, I have found that, as is the case in most cultures, it is a question of individuals. Some people are naturally at ease discussing their feelings, and others prefer to keep their personal life private. In my experience wherever you live it takes time to build up a friendship in which people feel confident about confiding in each other.

3) British people like to talk about the weather
TRUE! In the town where I grew up most conversations would start with a comment about the weather, especially if you did not know the person very well. This is called ‘small talk’. Frequent comments about the weather include, “It’s a beautiful day today isn’t it?! Make sure you make the most of it!” or “It has been raining cats and dogs all morning!” British people, in my experience, could make complaining about the weather into an Olympic sport!

4) British food is not good
During my year abroad I met many people who often cited this stereotype about British food. My opinion is that it is simply a case of what you are used to and personal taste. Traditionally, British food is very warming comfort food. Good examples are steak and ale pie, toad in the hole (this is a dish of sausages served in a baked batter) and, of course, fish and chips. Now however visitors to the UK will find a wide range of different cuisines available on the high streets of British cities from Indian restaurants to Japanese sushi bars.

5) British people are very polite
My French friends would often find it funny how often I would apologise for myself or the fact that I would repeat ‘please’ and ‘thank yous’ in a conversation. Even I described myself as 'very British'. However I find that in every country you will come across very polite people and less polite people. A lot of the time there are simply different perceptions of what is ‘polite’ and what is ‘rude’ across cultures but this (although sometimes embarrassing!) can be a fascinating journey of discovery!

Discussion

What are some stereotypes of your culture?  Do you think they are true or false?