I love it when stereotypes are broken down. Yesterday in my spinning class, there was a traditional looking Swedish man in his 60s on the bike in front of me. Normally, Swedish businessmen of his age and look are rather quiet and not given to saying much. But that’s a stereotype. And it is one that was quickly broken for me as this guy periodically let out loud yells during the class as he got pumped up. I loved it. It was so unexpected and it pumped me up too.
I also loved it that this guy reminded me of how harmful stereotypes can be. When I first moved to Sweden, I hated it when I would be stereotyped for being an American. On my very first day of Swedish class, my instructor told the class that she did not like Americans. As the only American in class, I was mortified and more than a little bugged by the unfairness of her comment. This was just the first of a long line of stereotypes that were tossed my way by both strangers and acquaintances. I would get asked: why are Americans so loud? (Or so friendly, so fake, so chatty, so conservative, etc.) Of course, these were all rather impossible questions to answer and instead of just laughing about them, I would get annoyed. It seemed cruelly unfair as I could not help where I was from. Filled with righteous indignation, I would rant: judge me because I am not a nice person, because I took your parking spot or for some other “crime.” But don’t just lump me in with your preconceived notions of Americans.
These days, I don’t get so bothered by the stereotype questions. I figure I can be a better representative of my country by just being me and in turn maybe breaking down a stereotype or two.