Marco Polo, one of the greatest explorers of any century, is well-known for having written about stereotypes. He was one of the first recorded explorers to write the stereotypes that today we know so well – that the Spanish are exuberant and passionate, say, and that the Parisians are snobs. And indeed, even today, in our ‘enlightened society’, we still often embrace these stereotypes. I have often had perfectly cultured and sensible people say to me, “Well, the Parisians hated us, you know, because we’re American”, or other people say, “He just doesn’t show emotion, he’s German, you know.” Always there’s the insertion of ‘you know’, and we do know, because these sorts of stereotypes are ingrained in our thoughts.
But how true are these stereotypes? Stereotypes do, sometimes, occur for a reason- because there is a repeatedly observed characteristic, commented on by many, but just as often those stereotypes are rubbish. From my own travels I would observe that the Spanish are indeed exuberant, friendly, and suave. My very first night in Madrid our waiter approached us and had his arm around one of the Spanish girls at our table, and the two were calling each other ‘love’ and ‘dear’ as though they were not strangers, rather long lost loves finally reunited. This continually happened in Spain, with everyone, literally everyone, acting as though we were the best thing to have ever come into their lives.
Another stereotype that I’ve found to be correct on the surface but fundamentally flawed is that of Dutch/Germanic/Scandinavian people being cold and unapproachable. I certainly will agree that on the whole they seem a little aloof, but I would say that they are in reality the kindest, most friendly people you could possibly meet. I have never been met with such genuine kindness, interest, and warmth as when I was in Amsterdam. People will tell you (again, the stereotype) that Amsterdam locals hate tourists and make such hatred obvious, but again, I would support that the way in which they behave depends entirely on the attitude you approach them with. If you, as a tourist, act rambunctious, frivolous, and obnoxious, people of any country will tend to dislike you.
And finally, one stereotype that I personally find totally wrong is that of Parisians being snobby and rude. Every single Parisian I’ve met, on every trip I’ve travelled to Paris, has been more than friendly and kind. Even when I speak the sort of French that should by rights have me thrown out of the country, they are patient, warm, and humorous. This goes to show, again, that travelling is about attitude, and that people from any country, no matter the country, will treat you the way you treat them. Hence, why I can’t help but think that those people who say “the French hate Americans” probably have done something to provoke them.
In truth, travelling stereotypes hold a grain of truth but are by no means a hard and fast rule. To be honest, there were plenty of people in Madrid who treated us normally, neither kindly or unkindly, and there are plenty of exuberant Dutch people, like a boy I met with fantastic hair who asked me more questions than I had breath to answer. I suppose the moral of all this, and what I’ve learned from travelling, is that you should never be put off by stereotypes. Go into a country or a city with no expectations, and you’ll never be displeased. That’s it, simply put.