Thoughts on stereotypes

December, 2014

  1. Thoughts on stereotypes

    December 2, 2014 by Christopher Buxton

    Let us pause to consider the English.

    Who when they pause to consider themselves they get all reticently thrilled and tinglish,

    Because every Englishman is convinced of one thing, viz:

    That to be an Englishman is to belong to the most exclusive club there is:”

    Ogden Nash

    This is a playful charitable start to considering the national stereotype of self-deprecating superiority, which all English living abroad should be wary of. The moment an English person presumes to judge aspects of life in another country they lay themselves open to accusations of an assumed superiority – “treating the natives as if they were aborigines,” (in the words of my Russophile former student).

    Worse below the surface of strained conviviality there is a whole shoal of poison barbed puffer fish, that represent the memories of every wrong committed by the English nation in its imperial history. It would be hard to find any nation that does not bear justifiable historic grudges.

    Iran, Iraq, Palestine, the Kurds, the Irish, the Kenyans, the Greeks post WW2 and the Bulgarians (the Bulgarians?) have felt themselves the wrong side of “Perfidious Albion”.

    The following extract is taken from the longest story in Lyudmil Popov’s excellent collection of short stories Gypsy Stories, published by Smart Books. In this story set in a provincial private school, the Headteacher and pupils are getting extremely frustrated with an Englishman, called Michael, whom they have taken under their wing in return for his native speaker input. Michael turns out to be a freeloader, taking Bulgarian charity and hospitality for granted, particularly after he loses his credit card.

    “If someone tells me that English people are clean,” Paul declared. “Well, I’ll spit on them and march them off to see Michael. There’s nobody dirtier than the Englishman”

    They convinced Michael that the souls of the English are equally dirty – they’ve always played dirty tricks on Bulgaria and the rest of the world. The slogan of their great statesman has coloured all their politics: “we don’t have friends, we have interests!” Mikho (that’s what we’d begun to call him recently) “hadn’t heard” of this slogan – just fancy that. England is Bulgaria’s greatest enemy through all time – this we managed to prove to him with historical examples – tragedies for Bulgaria.  Well they’re dirty dogs everywhere these gentlemen. And it was according to the above slogan that Michael lived without realising it.

    It is ironic in a book that sets out to eschew racial stereotyping and to set the balance regarding gypsies straight, that the author shares a suspicion that Michael is an English gypsy.

    But hey, members of dominant cultures need to take stereotyping on the chin.