There are two things about me that never fail to elicit surprise from people. The first is the ability to speak Spanish. Native speakers from Latin America or Spain always (and I mean literally every time) do a double take when they first hear me speak their language fluently. The second thing is my love for English soccer. When I express my disgust with Tottenham’s treatment of Harry Redknapp with English friends, they invariably look at me as if they’ve just found a unicorn in their driveway.
As a fifth-generation Texan, I’m generally expected to wear cowboy boots, speak only English (preferably with a Ross Perot-like drawl), carry a handgun, kill forest animals, drag Jesus into all political discourse, and have an upper-quartile body mass index score. If that’s what you were expecting, sorry to disappoint you.
Stereotypes blow. They’re a linguistic and intellectual trap we all fall into more than we should, pre-shaped thoughts that allow us to conveniently attach an easy-to-read label on someone, or a whole nation of someones, so we don’t have bother with the more time-consuming, contemplative, personal approach to knowing and understanding others.
And stereotypes are sticky. It’s hard to free ourselves of them. But there are cures. In my case, for example, I’ve been lucky enough to develop deep, meaningful relationships outside of my home culture and country, and for me this has been a continuous, lifelong stereotype-shattering experience. What I’ve found is that no matter where you go, there are people you can trust and people you shouldn’t. There are introverts and extroverts, the bawdy and the bashful, the generous and the selfish, the frighteningly intelligent and the unforgivably stupid. There’s no place (at least no place I know) where you don’t find the complete spectrum of human qualities, good and bad, in abundance. And no country or culture has a monopoly on ignorance or the tendency to stereotype others — this human failure, sadly, abounds everywhere, from the least educated emerging countries to the most progressive of European nations.
So take it from a fifth-generation Texan who talks with Argentinians about Manchester United’s midfielder problems — don’t believe the hype. We are all — me, you, everyone — more than a label, more than the place we come from, more than what, at first glance, you might think. Take some time to connect with someone you think you don’t have anything in common with, and I promise you, almost every time you’ll find a friend where you least expect it.