Cultural generalizations and Ethnocentrism
All of us are aware on how we get judgmental when we meet people for the first time. We often make judgments about a person’s capability by looking at the way she/he dresses.
I have had many experiences during my travels when people who meet me often exclaim “You speak very good English”. My very Indian way of dressing (a sari/ Salwar kameez) makes them conclude that I am an uneducated person from rural India, and don’t know English.
On my first trip to the US we were in New York and visiting the United nations Building. The tour guide asked me in slow and deliberate language whether I knew how to use an escalator. She knew that it was my first trip to the US. I was amazed! Why did she conclude that? Probably because I was wearing a sari and sporting a bindi! At the end of the tour she was surprised at my knowledge of the UN and its functions.
I have had many pleasant experiences, too. In a Wal-Mart store in Campbellsville, Kentucky, a lady came up to me and said” What a sexy dress”! She was referring to my sari. I was taken aback as I never thought that the sari was a sexy dress! She introduced her little toddler to me and my family. Later she sent me an email. It read “Thanks for taking time to explain to my little daughter about India. After I came home I showed my daughter India on the map, and today she has learnt something about a new country.” Her openness in learning about a new culture was entirely a different experience. It made me realize how open many Americans were; they did not judge you by the way you dress.
Recently in Birmingham during the IATEFL conference, I heard a lady introducing herself. “I am not an Indian. I come from Singapore and teach at the university there.” I was wondering why she had to say that she wasn’t Indian. Was it because of her very Indian features, or was it because of some pre-conceived ideas about how Indians are perceived the world over? It would have been enough to say, “I am from Singapore; I teach at the university there”.
Having said all this I reflected- Why did I feel bad when she said that she wasn’t an Indian? Why that is no one except me interpreted her introduction in this way? I realized that this probably is a result of believing that your own culture is the best!
I too, in spite of all my cultural exposure, am guilty of Ethnocentrism!!!