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  • Writer's pictureAya

Cultural stereotype

“I thought you were a polite, punctual, and neat Japanese person!”

My dearest friend Fabi often teases me by saying this when I perform “non-typical Japanese” behavior.

When you use the idea of cultural stereotypes to have fun, it becomes an interesting way of starting a conversation and can create humor. There are many stereotypes in each country/culture. And people use them on a daily basis. Just like my friend Fabi uses the phrase to me.

Photo by Dave on Unsplash

I saw this TED Talk the other day.

In this TED Talk, the speaker who has Italian, British, and Norwegian background/cultural influenced said “If I go up (to a reception desk) and say (with his British accent) “Excuse me, it’s 30 minutes late, I’m a punctual person, I don’t like being late”, they just take you seriously.” However, he continued, if he said the exact same phrase with an Italian accent, the reaction would be totally different. Even though he was the same person and he used the same phrase, people’s reactions would be different.

My friend Fabi is from Columbia. So I expect her to show up late for dinner parties. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when I invite her and her family over, it happens more often. The other day, we decided she and her family come over for BBQ. We wanted to start around two, so instead of inviting them at 2, I asked her to come at 1. And they showed up around 2! Yay!!

But her being late constantly is acceptable because she is a Columbian! And we both agree that we use our cultural stereotypes.

Have you recognized if you have cultural stereotypes in your mind? Have you tried to understand someone’s behavior based on his/her cultural background?

I feel people see a Japanese person as punctual and neat. I like being punctual and responsible. If someone asks me something, I do my best to complete it on time. It is very important for me to show what I can do. It doesn’t have to be Japanese, but my behavior might give others thought of “a typical Japanese person”. However, I am not good at maintaining the house clean. It is not dirty, but definitely messy. I can’t keep the place tidy. So people are surprised when they see my house being messy. In that case, I feel like I’d like to excuse myself saying “I am not a typical Japanese”.

What other people perceive you with any cultural stereotypes? What do you think about them? Do they give any impact on you?

When people hear about cultural stereotypes, they know the stereotype doesn’t apply to all the people from the country/culture. However, there are stereotypes in our minds, and we use them very often.

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

What do we have to be careful about? And what can we deal with them?

First, we should keep it in our minds that we might be seeing/hearing/understanding a fact with our cultural stereotypical interpretation skills. Let’s go back to the story from the TED Talk video.

  1. Someone comes up and tells you that he is punctual (fact)

  2. He speaks English with his Italian accent (fact)

  3. Italians tend to be less punctual (cultural stereotypical interpretation)

  4. It sounds funny (result from the interpretation)

In this situation, if you can realize that you are using your interpretation skills at “3”, you don’t go to “4”. Instead, you might be able to stop using your skills.

What do you think you can do if you don’t use your interpretation skills? What would you think and do instead?

Next, if you don’t use your interpretation skills or you realize that you are about to use your interpretation skills, you can ask questions to understand the person better. If there is nothing to ask, you can rephrase the sentence you heard. This is a wonderful skill and by using this skill, the person can feel he/she was understood.

In the TED Talk scenario, what can you say to him?

Last, if you have established rapport with him/her, and if you think it is safe to do, you can tell him/her that you have recognized YOUR cultural stereotype. This disclosure can help to show your personality, start an interesting conversation, and build trust.

If you were at the counter meeting with this Italian speaking male customer, how can you create an exciting conversation with him?

Cultural differences exist and so are cultural stereotypes. So let’s understand, recognize, and use them wisely.

Enjoy intercultural communication!


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