Country Stereotypes

July 31, 2012
sa cameron

I wish I could get rid of the way people judge and place labels – i.e: stereotype. This is not about individual stereotypes, but rather country stereotypes. I’ll talk about race and personality stereotypes on another day.

I’m South African so people automatically assume life in SA is a certain way, when 9 times out of 10 they are wrong. To add, I’m Indian, so my some of my fellow South Africans find the need to judge and draw up assumptions of what Indians are like.
I’m not too sure which is worse, the South African stereotypes or the Indian ones? Though, the Indian ones can be pretty offensive and borderline racist actually.
But, today I want to clear up some of the stereotypes in SA,
People Think That South Africans:
Live in huts: people get shacks and huts confused. Huts are the traditional home structures for the Zulu clan and shacks are the informal structures in rural townships – know the difference. Yes, there are still traditional Zulu clans, and these people live in huts but it’s a small percentage and they do not live in the suburbs.
Have elephants for pets and lions roam the streets: it’s so sad that people believe this. What even makes foreigners think this? Possibly those silly American documentaries. I’m not even sure, but no… we do not have random wildlife roaming our streets.
We don’t have proper infrastructure or technology: This is so stupid. I’m not even going to get in to this, but if we can host a soccer world cup, I’m pretty sure we have internet and proper buildings.
That it is full of crime: Yes, there is a lot of crime. There is a lot of very sad and very horrific crime, but that can happen anywhere in the world. I’ve never been affected by crime (touch wood) except that I had my cellphone stolen when I was 15 years old. Not every square inch is dangerous.
That we don’t speak English: there are 11 official languages (sign language included!), but English is wildly spoken followed by Afrikaans and Zulu. My first language is English and I can hold a conversation in Afrikaans (it is like Dutch and I learned it at school) and I know the very, very basics of Zulu.
That we are all one race: why do we call ourselves the rainbow nation then? Obviously, the majority nationality is traditional Africans but there are many whites, Indians, Coloureds and Asians. Did you know, SA has like the most Indians out of India or something? Being South African is a nationality – just like being American, British or Canadian… those are not races.
That we are a poor country: we’re a divided nation when it comes to money. There are very, very, very poor parts of SA… but the same can be said about America, London, India and China.

How do people stereotype your country – and how annoying do you find it? … Or do you not care?

P.S: The top photo is of Olympic 2012 Gold medalist Cameron van der Burgh – SA is proud of our Golden Boy swimmer!

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  • Reply Liv July 31, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    Amanda Seyfried – that is a completely great usage of a gif. Not many people do that.

    I must admit when I was a little kid I thought all people living in Africa are black. But believing in stereotypes at that age is okay! It is not okay for people in their teens to think all those things about South Africa unless they are fed up shallow. A few years ago I was told South Africa was a white-dominant country because of Charlize Theron and one of my white friends who is South African. I don’t think that’s true.

    Americans do see a lot of documentaries about Africa that contain lions, elephants, etc, but none of them are actually about human society. As someone stuck in American education, I’ve never learned one thing about modern Africa.

    I care about people stereotyping China, because they automatically assume stuff about me. The stereotype of China is farming, undeveloped, dirty, etc. That might be true for a huge part of the country, but I am from Beijing and that city is more modernized than any American place that is not New York.

  • Reply tiff July 31, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    There are A LOT of misconceptions about South Africa and it makes me sad that we’re that dumb to make assumptions on them based on the entire continent.

    Like Liv, I also thought only black people lived in Africa but I was a very young child and American public education isn’t really that great when it comes to geography.

    The one thing that bothers me is that not a lot of ADULTS know which continent Egypt belongs to because I’m a jerk who has asked that question to my friends. Nobody knows, and I really think that since the average-looking Egyptian is not black, then surely, they can’t believe in Africa because Africa is only for black people! Ah silly people…

  • Reply Stephanie August 1, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Like Liv and Tiff, I thought that all Africans were black when I was younger. But when I got older, I learned a bit of geography in school and learned about European imperialism and apartheid, and about all the revolutions that have occurred in Africa, so perhaps I’m one of the few Americans who wasn’t surprised by your post. (Also, I’m pretty sure that only royalty, if your country has ever had it/has it, can properly afford to keep elephants and zebras as pets.)

    I am not sure what American stereotypes are – and I guess it’s hard for me to know because I’ve lived in America all my life. But I can say that America is extremely difficult to stereotype because it is big. The family that lives on a farm in Kansas is worlds apart from the family that lives in a major city. There is quite a bit of the culture difference between the east and west coasts, and Alaska and Hawaii. But since America is divided into states, people in America seem to stereotype different regions/states of the country that are more similar. *sigh, people!*

    Nationality and ethnicity are two different, but somewhat-related things. It’s too bad that they get mixed up all the time! I am ethnically Chinese, but identify as American because that’s where I was born and have always lived, and this has confused people…

  • Reply cantaloupe August 1, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    I have a friend from South Africa who’s Muslim and Indian. While I knew that South Africa had white people (apartheid doesn’t really make sense unless you know that…) but in my head I tended to minimize the other types of people besides black and white.

    I’m American… everything they say about us is true, as long as your source is a variety of media. And boy is there a lot of media about us!

  • Reply Sue August 1, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    I didn’t learn much about African countries in school, but I did learn that Europeans went to Africa to colonize it and that they divided the African continent into the countries they are now, disregarding the different tribes and where their natural borders were. I know that like other continents it’s pretty diverse since we live in a day and age where traveling anywhere on the globe isn’t too difficult. I really like the images you provided for this post. They really go well together and with the entry.

    I don’t take stereotypes seriously but I’ve heard Americans stereotype Asians and Chinese people and Chinese people stereotyping Americans since I have friends who are American and friends who are Chinese (nationality wise). My cousin for instance, thought most Americans were fat, but when she came here, she was surprised that a lot of the people she sees are not so. I’ve been called American by Chinese people and Chinese by American people.

    Yeah I saw the race where Cameron van der Burgh beat Michael Phelps in the 200 fly. That was intense.

  • Reply Carla August 2, 2012 at 1:35 am

    We, Americans, are so guilt of making comments like this. I am surrounded by so many who make ignorant and racial comments that it’s sad. When I can, I try to correct certain statements but some people accept being ignorant.

  • Reply Nancy August 2, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    Hello Michelle :)

    Stereotypes can come in categories by age, ethnicity, country, lifestyle, and other things. The media also contributes to some of the stereotypes.

    It’s hard to believe that huts still dominate the way of living in today’s world. I saw some amazing pictures of South Africa around the coast and there are a lot of beautiful buildings and structures.

    Documentaries out there only film the wildlife of Africa in the first place. It’s a bummer since they’re brainwashing everyone into believing that’s how everything is when it isn’t in reality.

    When I come to think of it, those “stereotypes” can easily apply anywhere. I mean even in Los Angeles, there are sections being devided by wealth- as the “rich” lives in Beverly Hills while the “poor” lives in South LA. That’s not entirely true…

    The stereotypes about America… Everyone is obese? My weight is pretty well maintained so I beat that stereotype. The only stereotype that gets to me are the stereotypes about my race. Apparently, Asians are known to be horrible drivers. I have my drvier’s license and those morons that accuse me of “being a horrible driver” don’t even have a license themselves. It’s annoying sometimes, but beating the stereotype is pretty awesome. But I try not to care.

    Thank you for your wonderful comment, Michelle :). It means a lot to me that you love reading my posts! Life is only interesting if you make it interesting yourself.

    Take care :)?

  • Reply Gillian August 3, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    Steoreotypes are definitely annoying. A lot of it results from just a lack of knowledge.

    LOL at the gif. Very appropriate usage. I suppose when people think of Africa, they think black people. So they don’t expect white folks. I thought much the same. I gotta admit.

    I feel like people have come up with all those stereotypes cause they’ve associated their judgements directly with the “Africa” label. Everyone thinks that the entirety of Africa is poverty stricken and underdeveloped cause of how the media perceives it on TV all the time.

    Steoreotypes of Canada, where I’m from, are basically that we’re really nice and say “eh” a lot. Don’t have much of a problem with those. :P

  • Reply Soriya August 4, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    I couldn’t agree more to this post! It really is important to understand the difference and although I’m American I still don’t understand how people have misconceptions as to be so ignorant and inevitably borderline racist.

    It’s so annoying at times.

  • Reply Mi_Mi August 8, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    i love this post and very interesting wow…such a great and interesting post..

  • Reply Liza August 9, 2012 at 3:38 am

    To help explain this, one major thing you might want to consider is the commercials. Commercials about kids from Africa and people needing to reach out to Africa, etc. Schools don’t teach anything except for the fact that “we need to help Africa because they’re poor”, yet (got side tracked and clicked your Mish Informed TV links… I only got to see Nicki Minaj deletes her Twitter, not the Kim one :( Gr. Anyway… ILOVEYOURACCENT,OMG.) I’ve seen/heard people go and say it’s NOT what history books, commercials, etc. say. “They have buildings and stuff…” And then they show pictures. They also said that the poverty seems similar to what we have here.

    Aside from what Cantaloupe said, not all Americans are like they’re described. You can find some really genuine ones (even those, like me, who think that this country is just in it for a popularity contest/whatever) who AREN’T like the stereotypes. I’m not into labels. “Whites”, “Blacks”, etc… I see people as clear. I actually don’t even realize the color of someone, yet people are all like, “The white lady or the black lady?” And I’m like, “I don’t know?” It’s the personality that matters; what’s under one’s skin is the most important factor when it comes to who someone really is. Because if you know what’s under their skin, you could possibly even get to know everything about them.

  • Reply Raisy August 11, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    Ah, my favorite subject!

    I personally think Americans have such an ignorant view of Africa (and really, the rest of the world) because we’re raised to believe ours is the only “melting pot” country where people come from all over the world to live. The idea that Africa is a diverse continent and actually populated with Arabs, whites, blacks, Chinese, Indians, etc., probably would not be understood well here. After all, immigrants supposedly only come to America. We don’t really learn about immigration in other parts of the world.

    As a first-generation American I myself know too well the tragedy and reality of stereotypes. It’s sad but all the more reason to combat them, right?

  • Reply I am American, dammit! | The Adventurous Ocarina December 18, 2013 at 6:13 am

    […] Michelle recently pointed out that one of South Africa’s Olympic Gold Medalists is white, and that “South African” is a nationality as well as an ethnicity. Most of the commentators said that they understood the difference between nationality and ethnicity, and I believe that they genuinely do. However, given the way people I come across on the streets behave sometime, I would say that a lot of them are either making lots of assumptions that they shouldn’t be making, or that they don’t quite understand the difference between nationality and ethnicity. Ethnicity is your race. Your nationality is the country or countries of which you are a citizen. […]

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