Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Perception of other countries

Without consciously considering it, there are countries that strike us as more or less desirable to visit or live in. Of course, war-struck areas are not appealing to many people, but of the large number of developed, generally safe countries that are left, how do we decide which are preferable?

Culturally, we have certain alliances, for example the English tend to ally themselves with other Anglophone countries, but there may not be any reason for this apart from that we know more about these places, they are more accessible to us and are therefore deemed as nicer to visit.

There are many areas of the world that we tend to know very little about, and so we either have no concept of it, or a very generalised opinion, for example those who consider the whole continent of Africa to be more or less the same thing.

I have only ever seen this from the side of a European, however, my French class gives me more of an insight into the global perspective. People who have never been to 'Europe' outside of Belgium churn out stereotypes that they have never had the opportunity to experience, for example one man who continuously (slightly obsessively) tells the class how he absolutely loves Germany, and how it is the best country in the world, as they are so strict. When pressed for further explanations as to why it's the best country, he repeats that they as a people are strict, and they turn up on time, unlike the French.

I am quite sure that he has never been to France, either, but it makes everyone quite happy to share ideas of what they have learned about Europe, with most of them having never seen the places in question. Content-devoid responses such as 'I like that country because the culture is nice' and the unwillingness to even invent a proper reason why (i.e. beautiful countryside or scenery, interesting linguistic situation, attitude towards Y or Z, national history etc.) may be the result of a lack of ability in French, or equally the result of their opinion having been formed from something they saw on TV, but I am quite inclined to let them have that moment, for what it is worth. Many of these people have left dire situations in their home countries to come live in an area with all of the beauty of Immingham (note: irony), so I think I will let them have the satisfaction of successfully recalling that someone said that the English drink a lot of tea, or whatever other slightly vapid comment they are congratulating themselves for having remembered.

Something I find a lot more harmful is the opinion of some Belgians with regards to places overseas. I have already mentioned examples of staff saying that they would never hire a non-white person, and just a few days ago I was assured by one member of staff that Arabs are a 'dirty' race of people, and that even though nearly all of the people that I (and he) know who are of Arab origin are very pleasant to be around, I ''must not forget that the rest of them are not like that at all''. If, despite the evidence that 95% of a certain group that you know are very nice, you can still conclude that every single person of that group that you have not met is horrible, then you have an extraordinary talent for maintaining an unfounded bias in the face of social progress.

We can only hope that increasing social mobility and international relations mean that we are less able to discount a whole group of people based on a cultural bias, and that we become more willing to like or dislike a person based on their own characteristics, and not whether they are from or what we thought about them before we had even met them.

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