On Reaching Beyond Stereotypes

Nic Ilijne

Track Two collaborator Nic Iljine wrote this thoughtful piece on stereotypes, with a focus on Russian-American national misperceptions, in preparation for our visit to European University in St. Petersburg.

As Nic explained, "the general aim of the current Track Two St. Petersburg project is to hear out educated Russian & American young people (School kids 12-18 & graduate students 18-30)," in a special Forum to take place in the fall of 2018.

The Track Two St. Petersburg project will explore how young Russians & Americans form opinions about the other country:

  • What are the factors that influence one’s opinion on the characteristics of the other country and its people?

  • What factors form the image of another country?

The current plan is to provide the participants with a series of questions before their discussions, and then form moderated panels on some of the themes listed below. The results should be summarized after each session and recorded for later publication.

American students studying Russian in St. Petersburg

1 How are national stereotypes built up ?

National stereotypes have been the subject of many jokes for centuries. Even today when the international community promotes diversity and encourages tolerance, certain people are still tagged according to their nationalities. This is best exemplified in caricatures we see in the media. To give a more serious definition: “National Stereotype is a system of culture-specific beliefs connected with the nationality of a person. This system includes beliefs concerning those properties of human beings that may vary across nations, such as appearance, language, food, habits, psychological traits, attitudes, values etc.”

Stereotype of Americans – arrogant; assertive; open-minded; materialistic; ambitious; progressive; efficient; straight-forward; alert; practical; US-centered world view; egoistic; anxious; fast food eaters; war mongers; God is with us!

Stereotype of Russians – aggressive; rude; good tippers, big spenders; generally generous; open-minded; agreeable; love their “babushkas” and the last Czar; either spys or communists; alcoholics (primarily Stolichnaya vodka); mainly poor – with a few shiny billionaires; buy football clubs around the world (mainly in England); love ice hockey, gymnastics, wrestling, weight lifting; organized crime (the Russian Mafia) is everywhere; overweight; have deep hearty laughs; threatening nuclear war; want to invade with MIG fighter jets; ultra-orthodox Christians; love to secretly poison their enemies with uranium injections; warmongering similar to Americans

2 What did Grandpa & Dad say - or my school friends?

A child or adolescent is unconsciously receptive to the often voiced opinions of its family members, schoolmates and friends and only gradually forms an individual opinion.