Hiding behind cultural stereotypes: from entropy to order
Estimated reading time: 2 minutes
Human beings have a natural tendency to try and make sense of things. When we are faced with a situation that we find to be foreign or incomprehensible, we tend to try and endow it with some sort of meaning. How do we do this? By categorizing and simplifying; in other words, we chew things up, keep what is easy to digest and discard the rest.
When living abroad, we are constantly faced with situations that fall outside of our “comfort zone,” in terms of our beliefs, of what is appropriate or expectable in terms of social interactions as well as of how we expect to carry out and deliver day-to-day tasks and responsibilities.
When our expectations come into contact with these foreign realities, we tend to make sense of it by turning to (cultural) stereotypes.
The purpose of this post, however, is not to morally judge this use of stereotypes – in fact, we all do this. However, in my daily practice, I notice how this use of stereotypes migrates from a tool for understanding chaos to a shield behind which to hide when feeling vulnerable or frustrated.
What are the long-term effects of hiding behind cultural stereotypes? That I may not try to understand the factors behind what makes a “tramite” chaotic if I assume that the system is generally broken, for example. Or I may not ask my Argentine boyfriend/girlfriend for something that I need and value because, instead of stating that what he/she is doing is hurtful, I chalk it up to “how things work here.”
Although cultural stereotypes may provide a fast track to comprehension (and perhaps a detour from frustration), they also hinder our ability to understand processes in a more complex manner. And, even more importantly, they may also short-circuit our ability to pinpoint what it is we need and ask for it.