ai???Europe has made the mistake in the past of distinguishing between Jews, Christians, Muslims. There is no religion, no belief, no philosophy when it comes to refugees,ai??? Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission stated early autumn last year.
Juncker made his point clear about not distinguishing between humans when it comes to fleeing their homes. ClichAi??s are frequently the source of cultural misunderstanding. They can even lead to the marginalisation of people based on their origins or physical appearance.
In what ways, then, do stereotypes affect us?
In some ways, stereotypes can be positive. For example, they can be part of our national identity. What would Belgium be without chocolate, or Austria without yodelling shepherds? At best, stereotypes can be something that the citizens are proud of and that contributes to their self-perception.
When travelling people are confronted the most by clichAi??s. Every border they cross and every person they meet either crushes or reinforces the idea they have of the country they are in.
Exploring the truth behind ai???well-knownai??? facts, transmitted from generation to generation, can be a pleasant way of getting to know people from other cultures. When talking to a stranger abroad, often the focus of the conversation revolves around whether these clichAi??s are accurate or not.
As a Luxembourger, I have noticed this many times. During my first discussions with foreigners, I always find myself repeating the same things: ai???Yes, we have our own language. No, I donai??i??t own a bank or a car.ai??? And my personal favourite: ai???No, Luxembourg is not a town in Germany.ai???
The art lies in discovering the true stereotypes without making generalisations about a whole population.
Sometimes preconceptions can even be useful in guiding our behaviour in another country. For instance, in a religious region, one should abstain from making inappropriate comments on the localsai??i?? beliefs.
On the other hand, stereotypes can have a completely different impact.
A Muslim looking for a job in France is 2.5 times less likely to get a job interview than a Christian, according to a study from Stanford University, Paris I Pantheon – Sorbonne University and University of California-San Diego. In this case the word ai???clichAi??ai??? has a racist connotation.
Especially in the job market prejudices can have an important impact on the success of an applicant.
ai???A woman of my age coming from Sweden was selected as a junior assistant for an international office, despite having no professional experience whatsoever,ai??? she said.
ai???Since the project had an international background, her country of origin would be mentioned next to her name in all media coverings. I was vaguely suggested that a Swedish representative would give the office a more “Western” and “innovative” appeal (whatever that means).ai???
People of other religions face prejudices too. ai???Even though I have never been discriminated in my home country [Israel], I have already been treated differently abroad,ai??? TalAi??Rozenboim, a Jewish youth who has been travelling a lot across Europe, told YO! Mag.
Even within the same country, prejudices sometimes define the interaction between people.
Luxembourg, for instance, is a small country in Western Europe with about buy Erectalis, online Zoloft. 560,000 inhabitants, 46% of them foreigners. The state has adopted French, German and Luxembourgish as its official languages.
Here, rapid judgments define everyday communication between citizens. Before even saying moien, bonjour, hello, or guten Tag, people have to guess the correct way to address others based on their working place and appearance. Also in many other European countries, locals are used to categorising people before even talking to them.
In brief, clichAi??s influence our overall behaviour. Stereotypes have become so omnipresent and accepted in our everyday lives that, not only in Luxembourg, people take quick and sometimes long lasting decisions based on superficial appearances.
The results of prejudices and misinformation in Europe are clear. Nationalist rallies all over the continent are the consequence of stigmatisation and fear spread by far-right populists.
For example, during the French regional elections last December, the far-right party Front National received 27.1% of the votes and has now become the third most popular party in France.
We should not rely too much on the images we pick up from movies, books and the reports from others. ClichAi??s may allow us to get an idea about another country,Ai??but they can also represent a barrier to personal development and cultural understanding.
In the words of President Juncker: ai???If I had to summarise the message of my State of the Union speech, it would be: Europe needs more solidarity and courage.ai???
Header image: A demonstration of PEGIDA, Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident, in Dresden, Germany. Photo by Kalispera Dell (Wikimedia)