Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Where are you from?

When abroad, the most popular opening line is: "Where are you from?"
After answering the question, provided you're not from the same country, conversation often continues about what one knows about the other's country.
Below is a list of clichés experienced travelers from various countries have to deal with and are actually fed up with.
Australia: "Put another shrimp on the barbie mate!", "Steve Irwin" 
Australians usually don't appreciate it when you try imitate their accent, especially the above sentence.
Another taboo is to tell that you like Steve Irwin, let alone try to imitate him.
Even after his death lot's of Australians feel shy about how he managed to become the 'prototype' Australian in the eyes of the world.
Generally Australians do appreciate it if you know something about their country e.g. cities and states, prime-minister etc.

USA: Simplified judgements about the US
Lots of Americans who traveled abroad found out that overseas USA or America doesn't have that good ring anymore, consequently many suffer from a slight inferiority complex about their origins.
Discussions with foreigners about the US often lead to oversimplified statements and consequent arguments.
Questions about where the're from will usually be answered by just naming their city (and state).
Besides more or less concealing the country of origin this can have several other motives:
1. Emphasizing that the US is a huge place and obviously not all Americans are the same.
2. Pointing out the fact that the're proud of their city and/or state.
3. Mentioning a city or state which you probably don't know, which will usually silence the topic all together.
I even read a story from an American blogger that people couldn't believe she was from the US and assumed she was from Canada, because she was so nice. Once I met an American expat and business man in Vietnam who was so negative about his home country, that I felt I had to remind him about the good things.
Be very specific if you talk about America. Distinguish between the government and the people since like with so many countries there's a huge difference.

Germany: "The war"
"Don't mention the war" has become a cliché ever since the episode "The Germans" from Fawlty Towers was broadcasted.
Germans are really fed up talking or being reminded of the war. Germans who actively participated in the second world war are well over 80 now, so it would be hard to talk with any wrongdoers nowadays.
Unlike for example the Japanese, Germans learn at school in every detail how bad their (great)(grand)parents were at that time.
As a result a certain number of people are so fed up with it, that some of the sickest jokes about this period are being told amongst Germans, just to compensate for the trauma.
Personally if I like to, I am able talk with most older Germans about the war. Stating that my grandfather was one of the 100,000 members of the Dutch colaborating fascist party, will usually break the ice.
If I add the conveniently forgotten fact that the Netherlands had the highest percentage of jews deported in West Europe nl. 71.4% vs. 25% in Germany, I got myself a free beer.
In general however it's not the best topic of conversation. Talks about the people, their rich culture and food score much better.

Italy: "I love Italian food", "I love Italy"
To say both of the above to an Italian is quite okay, but when being asked what food you exactly like; just mentioning spaghetti and pizza will almost be an insult to every patriotic Italian.
- The rich Italian kitchen has numerous delicacies which will need years of study just to discover.
Although habits are changing, for most spaghetti is just a starter, not a meal.
The word spaghetti is not used that often, most Italians will simply refer to it as pasta.
- Although this habit is changing as well, pizza is still widely regarded as a poor man's snack, commonly eaten by groups e.g. students, who don't have enough money to visit a 'decent' restaurant.
Some Italians show little emotion when being told you love their country.
- There's still a big difference between the 'rich' North and the 'poorer' South.
Some Italians even regret Garibaldi, unifier of modern Italy, ever existed and some North-Italians contemptuously refer to the Southeners as 'Africans'.
Having been in Milano wouldn't impress a Southener, similar to North Italians who wouldn't be much impressed about your trip to Napoli.

Netherlands: "Do you live in Amsterdam?", "Windmills, wooden shoes and tulips", "Marijuana"
-Really, I hear this question being asked 8 out of 10 times. Not only by Asians but by anybody.
No, not all Dutch people are from Amsterdam, in fact more than 95% of the population does not live there.
- Talks about windmills, wooden shoes and tulips will make one look even more naive.
Many Dutch children probably have never seen a windmill or wooden shoes and the tulip is an export product.
- Talks about the cliché of legally smoking marijuana are usually considered okay, but tend to get boring.
- Except with me, football will be a good topic of conversation for most Dutch men and some women too.
Personally, I only watch the world championships and I don't really care that much if Holland lost, they do each time anyway. Also I didn't come to S-E Asia to smoke marijuana.
Note: As of june 2011, foreigners can be banned from purchasing soft-drugs in the Netherlands.

Probably every foreigner abroad has to deal with tiresome clichés one way or another, unless you come from Palau or something.
I'm very interested to hear your stories, so feel free to comment.



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