Hungarians, hold your horses

All Hungarians have a big nose, they like goulash soup, they own horses, they are pessimistic and they all have a mustache. Reading this line, I assume, everyone has now an image in their mind about how the average Hungarian looks like. Similarly, if we come across with other nationalities in our everyday life – while reading a newspaper article, listening to the news on the radio, or traveling and making friends abroad – involuntarily we imagine the French with a baguette, the German with a beer, the Spanish while dancing flamenco and the line goes on. Have you ever wondered, why these standardized images pop up in your mind, and it feels like you have no control over them.

Our society has a defined impact on our cultural values and norms – especially throughout childhood. And all these features belong to the beautiful and unique mixture of what we call personality. Our family, friends, and acquaintances all leave a mark on us. These imprints will help us to experience the world in thousand shades of colors, instead of black and white reality. Therefore, especially while growing up, our usual social interactions form the way how we judge and see our surroundings, and how we react to certain situations. Can we state, that this idea would justify the existence of the simplified stereotypic pictures? Can it be true, that having the same roots makes everyone the same?

The difference between stereotypes reflecting our personality traits, and the ones describing our habits and physical appearance is remarkable. Our behavior as an individual can easily contradict the universal image of the stereotype formed about us. If we are not satisfied with that image, it is possible to intentionally work on the problem, even though we might sometimes feel, that as an individual, we cannot change the whole perception about a nation. On the other hand, stereotypes concerning our physical appearance are usually born from direct stimulus of the media. Associating Americans with being chubby can be the result of hearing news about worrisome statistics about the obesity problem in the US.

In our everyday life, the problem is, when stereotypes are followed by prejudice, which could for example hinder a casual conversation with a stranger, thus missing the opportunity of getting to know a potential new friend. Oftentimes we are surprised, when a person from a whole another culture shares the same values as we do. At this moment we realise, that in fact, our expectations are most of the time solely based on the stereotypic image in our mind. In order to be able to fight against prejudice, we need to trick our own brain, by intentionally prioritizing open-mindedness over comforting, conventional pictures. Challenging ourselves to be accepting and understanding might be difficult, however, it is the key to refute our generalised expectations.

If we manage to see the problem in judging others at first glance, we realise, why we would not feel comfortable, if foreigners also saw us through the exact same glasses. Mutual and honest interest in each other’s culture, country, society and world view is the one, which connects people. In a way, stereotypes teach us how diverse and different our world is, and shows us the importance of critical thinking. Being a Hungraian who is not fond of goulash soup; having a friend from Belgium, who doesn’t like chocolate; talking with a Columbian about strikes against drug cartels; meeting a person from Costa Rica, who is not into coffee; makes me wonder how beautiful it is to experience, how our national heritage blends with our unique personality.