Whenever I travel abroad, I like to secretly play the “Spot the American Tourist” game. In reality, I must not be that discreet because often times my husband will ask me to stop staring, or the person/persons will ask me if I need something from them. The nature of the game is that I try to determine if they are American before I can hear their voices.
Despite my lousy attempts to be subtle, it isn’t hard to spot the American tourist. For the men, there is almost an unspoken uniform for holiday travel wear. They wear baseball caps and backwards if they are in their 30s-40s. Their tops consist of the following four options: T-shirts that represent a US sports team; a US university or a US corporation; or a golf shirt. The bottoms are khaki shorts paired with sneakers or boat shoes. (I know, those men from the US who are reading this, you are wondering well what else is there to wear? And that is exactly my point!)
The women are definitely harder to spot because they have much more variety of clothes. So I have to take a closer look at their makeup and hairstyles.
Of course the other tell-tale sign of someone being American, is the high likelihood of them trying to strike up a conversation with me. There is always a moment where there is a look of relief like “Thank God you speak English too!”
More than this, I find that Americans generally have this air of self-assurance and focus, and in a good way that I don’t see in other cultures. If you don’t believe me, just watch the Olympics. Observe the faces of the athletes as they kneel in their spots before the gun shot; you can see the same air of confidence and focus towards the goal. It is amazing.
I often wonder if I will ever be this confident if I live here long enough. Will it rub off on me?
How about Singaporeans? Are we easy to spot? Apart from our super tell-tale “sing-song” accent affectionately called “Singlish,” I usually spot Singaporeans by the general nervous expression on their faces. Even on holiday, Singaporeans always look kind of tense, as if there is something bad around the corner that is about to happen, and the deep desire to have everything under control. We even have this expression to describe it as “on,” and it is actually a praiseworthy trait.
Speaking of stereotypes, there was a huge uproar in Singapore waters among the blogger community about the portrayal of Singapore in a recent Hollywood cop series called “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.” In Episode 6. Cinderalla and the Dragon it portrayed Singapore as a country with a lot of income inequality and high crime, and with red lanterns on our streets.
Our most famous blogger Mr. Brown made a two episode critique that you can watch here:
The whole thing is actually very funny.
Until recently, psychologists thought that only bigoted people, in other words people with prejudices, used stereotypes. (See “Where Bias Begins: The Truth About Stereotypes”) However, now they have discovered that using stereotypes exists for all of us in an unconscious way, and it is more of a survival mechanism for human beings to simplify making decisions.
I personally do not feel offended by Hollywood’s portrayal of Singapore, and just find it hilarious due to how far it is from the truth. It’s Hollywood after all. There is almost an unsaid pressure even for me to feel the need to be offended. Why is this so? Sadly, there is a global trend fueled by social media for people to show intolerance for people having differing opinions than their own. I also realize an important obvious truth and that is: People only know what they know.
You can’t blame someone if they don’t know what they don’t know. But I feel that getting angry and indignant and worst of all offended by this is just a wasteful exercise. If people live in a different world and environment than yours, how would you expect that they have the same view, same ethics, same belief system as you? Their “truths” would be different from yours. If they are exposed to your world, then they can see what you see.
So the antidote to changing this world to be a better place I think starts again with ourselves. We have to force ourselves to try to understand what the other party sees. We may not agree, but we at least provide a bridge for a little more understanding?
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