Hating my neighbours is something that I first learnt about in school. I think it’s an unofficial lesson sometime in between learning your seven times table and your first foreign language class. In an environment where anything different would be picked apart, examined and determined as inferior, especially if they had a strange accent or just didn’t speak English, this fact is hardly surprising.
After a good bit of colonialism the English have managed to find a stereotype for people from just about every country. You don’t have to be close neighbours to be the focus of this racism, although it helps. In my school the Irish were quickly stereotyped as being either potential members of the IRA, or charmers who would go on to join an all male boy band and start knocking up underage screaming fans. The Welsh of course loved their sheep too much and the French were just bastards (after a couple of hundreds of years of fighting each other, we have a lot of different ways of saying this).
Leaving England with the words ‘travel opens up your mind,’ I was ready to explore a world that might think a bit differently than where I came from. Here is what I learnt:
In Peru, casual hatred of their neighbours has been refined to such a point that it is actually something that you’ll probably hear two Peruvians talk about when they first meet each other. A conversation will normally go something like this:
Peruvian 1: Hi, my name’s Eduardo, what’s yours?
Peruvian 2: My name’s Javier. So where do you come from?
Peruvian 1: Lima. You?
Peruvian 2: Same.
Awkward pause and shuffling of feet.
Peruvian 1: So who do you hate the most, Bolivians of Chileans?
It’s like British people talking about the weather; it’s a point of conversation. After the question has been asked, both people know they’re guaranteed to have something to talk about for the next ten minutes. They might talk about how the Chileans stole their Pisco or why the Bolivians are still bitter about being landlocked. You can guarantee there won’t be any awkward pauses for a while.
For the most part, people normally drop the stereotypes when they actually meet someone from another country. Last week for example, after listening to five minutes of a “we hate all things Western,” rant at a local mosque; I ended up having a five minute conversation about Chelsea with one of the people leaving the building (the bad things about Western civilisation obviously doesn’t include football).
Although it would be nice if all this casual racism mixed with nationalism would disappear, I’m not so optimistic that it will happen anytime soon. I have a feeling that the more countries I visit the more stereotypes I’ll learn about.
I have to say i’ve come across this myself in the past 2 1/2 years or so.. Travelling has opened my eyes, to how others see us (Westerners) and often how they see each other. It’s not always negative, but truthfully, it ain’t always positive either… Sigh.. Such is the world, but I still want to see it.
Luckily I find there are far more positive than negative things that I discover while travelling.