In the history of mankind, all cultures have had to endure ethnic stereotypes and misconceptions about their people. A lot of the time these stereotypes are used in derogatory and hateful ways. This often comes from an insecurity of self – we’re unable to acknowledge, accept, and respect the differences of other cultures.
When we start to look past the stereotypes, we become more connected as a people. We learn more, and we accept the fact that – regardless of shape, size, color and culture – we’re all humans. Being able to connect, rather than differentiate and push away through stereotypes, is something that will and does help all of humanity.
With all that seriousness aside about world peace and such, most of the entries on this list are more about the misconceptions of cultures, rather than deeply-rooted and serious ethnic stereotypes. These misconceptions often lead people and societies to think about a culture in a detrimental way. So let’s set the record straight on these common misconceptions. Here are 10 cultural stereotypes that are false.
10. “Put Another Shrimp on the Barbie!”
Contrary to popular belief, shrimp are not some sort of delicacy in Australian culture. Aussies barbecue steak, burgers and sausages – similar foods to North American grillers. In fact, they eat prawns. What a shrimp is in USA is a prawn in Australia. It all gets very confusing.
Some other myths include alligator wrestling: it’s not really a thing, and not every animal on the continent is poisonous and trying to kill you. Despite having some of the deadliest snakes in the world, only about 1% of animals in Australia are deadly. And vegemite, the most iconic Australia food-paste, while common, is not a diet staple. Butter, cheese, and jams are more commonly consumed.
Foster’s Beer, with the slogan “Foster’s, Australian for beer,” is not even consumed by Australians. They are more likely to drink Victoria Bitter or Carlton Draught. Foster’s isn’t even produced in Australia! Foster’s was created by two Irish American brothers, and it is mainly produced in the UK and Belgium.
9. America is the Most Obese Country in the World Per Capita
When ranked in percentage of the population that is obese, America comes in between No. 8 and No. 18, depending on who you ask. With 31.8% of the population considered overweight or obese, other countries that pass America are Mexico (32.8%), South Africa (33.5%), United Arab Emirates (33.7%), Jordan (34.3%), Egypt (34.6%), Saudi Arabia (35.2%), and Kuwait (42.8%).
This misinformation comes from the fact that the US obsesses more than any other country over self-image (think “thin is in” ploy), and over the media’s focus on extreme fitness. The US also has the world’s largest sugar addiction.
In Mexico, three out of every 10 people are clinically obese. In South Africa, fast food markets and Westernized lifestyles of cheap, low-cost food have driven obesity. The Arab Emirates has the second highest diabetes rate in the world, though they have recently banned super-sized sodas.
In Jordan, almost 60% of adult women are obese, doubling the rate of men, stemming from a poor fitness culture. In Egypt, 10% of people drink five or more cans of soda per day. Americans arriving during the first Gulf war introduced American fast food to Kuwait, the current No. 1 obese country by percentage. The poor quality and nutritional value has spiked obese rates.
8. Cannabis is Legal in the Netherlands and Amsterdam
In the Netherlands, one of the tourist cannabis capitals of the world, marijuana is not actually legal, but rather hugely un-enforced and de facto decriminalized. The drug policy, called the Dutch Policy, distinguishes between “soft” and “hard” drugs. Possession of up to five grams of cannabis, a “soft” drug, will not be prosecuted, and similarly cultivation of five plants or less is usually not prosecuted.
Sale and transport is illegal, but un-enforced in the many “coffeeshops” spread throughout the region. Cannabis tourist sales are so high in places like Amsterdam, that the government looks the other way. That being said, recent changes have made laws stricter. Now anyone who grows using electric lights, prepares soils, or selects seeds could be considered “professional” and risk major penalties.
The result is backfiring: Rather than reducing crime and riffraff, coffeeshops are increasingly buying cannabis from criminal organizations that are willing to risk prosecution. Quality has gone down, and price has gone up. Coffeeshops are closing – there are half as many (around 150) than there were just a few years ago in Amsterdam.
Places such as Portugal and Barcelona are giving Amsterdam a run for its money as the pot capital of the world. Another interesting fact: not everyone in Amsterdam is a stoner. The legal prostitution in the Red Light District and the cannabis coffeeshops are mainly for tourists. One in three tourists will step into a coffeeshop at some point, while only one in five people nationally will.
7. Puerto Ricans Are United States Immigrants
Puerto Rico is not located in Mexico or South America. It is one of the larger islands in the Caribbean. And although it is not connected to the U.S. (it’s best to ignore the question, “How long does it take to drive to Puerto Rico?”) it is a territory of the United States. In 1493, Puerto Rico was claimed by Christopher Columbus, for Spain. It remained a Spanish colony for 400 years, until 1898. Following the Spanish-American War in 1898, Spain ceded to the U.S.
That being said, people born in Puerto Rico are natural-born citizens of the United States – not immigrants. And those citizens can vote on elections, despite Puerto Rico strangely lacking voting members in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
Another big misconception is that you need a passport to go to Puerto Rico. If you’re a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, traveling to Puerto Rico is the same as traveling to any other state. Also, you don’t need a work permit to work there.
6. Oktoberfest is a National German Holiday
It is true that Oktoberfest is one of the largest fairs in the world, but it is not celebrated in all of Germany. In fact, it is celebrated in one specific region – Munich, Bavaria – since 1810. Other countries have emulated the Oktoberfest celebration, but it’s much the same as how Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo, and Mexicans just shake their heads.
Over 6 million people from around the world attend the 16 to 18 day festival in Munich each year, to enjoy beer, food, and festivities. People believe that Oktoberfest is mainly attended by tourists. This is also untrue. 70% of the attendees are from Bavaria, while 15% are from other parts of Germany, and 15% are foreign tourists.
Another fun fact: Lederhosen are specific to Bavaria as well. They are not a nationally worn article of clothing in Germany. Some have said that it would be a similar misconception that cowboy hats and boots are common everywhere in the United States. Authors have even compared and called Bavaria the “Texas of Germany” for its likeness to the American state. Both were once separate countries, both have a distinct accent and culture, they are very conservative, and Bavaria is the most southern state in Germany.
5. People From Brazil Speak Spanish
Some people believe that Brazilians speak Spanish, or worse, Brazilian. They speak Portuguese. But the Portuguese they speak is different than the Portuguese from Portugal. Some of the differences between the languages can be compared to British and American English. European Portuguese is more conservative and traditional, while Brazilian Portuguese is more fluid and open-ended.
Being close to the equator, many believe that Brazil is always temperate and hot. In the country that is south of the Tropic of Capricorn, however, there are snowfalls during the winter in the mountainous regions. Cities such as São Paulo have a subtropical climate, and temperatures can fall below freezing in the winter. So Brazil is not all tanned bodies, soccer, and beach communities. There are regular cities too, just like any other country.
4. Everyone in Spain Likes Bullfighting
Not only do some people in Spain not like bullfighting, but some even hate it. There are numerous organizations worldwide that are focused on outlawing and stopping the traditional Spanish bloodsport. Each year, over 13,000 weakened bulls are killed for sport, during bull runs such as the one in Pamplona, to the official bullrings in Spain, Portugal, France, and Latin American countries.
Some followers of the bloodsport consider it a “fine art.” These are mostly traditional, older generation Spanish folk. Many younger Spaniards might not hate the sport, but generally don’t care about it. Despite the claim that bullfighting is an economic boon, less than 400 people are employed full-time year round in Spain.
The European bullfighting industry receives up to 600 million Euros a year in public funding. And despite trying to keep the gruesome sport alive, recent polls by ComRes, Gallup, and YouGov have shown that 89% of British people would not go to a bullfight, 69% of French people oppose public funding for bullfighting, and even 67% of people from Spain are not interested in the sport.
3. Everyone From Ireland is a Practicing Catholic
Around 85% of people living in Ireland identify themselves as Catholic. Much of the country’s history is directly related to religion, so much so that Catholicism and Protestantism have been ingrained into the country’s national fabric. Still, Ireland has largely taken on change in recent years. They legalized gay marriage, while practicing Catholics dwindled from 94% a decade ago, to 85% today.
Many, mostly younger folk, now identify themselves as “culturally catholic.” In the 1970s, nearly 90% of Irish Catholics went to Mass at least once a week. That number is closer to 25% today, and in some parts of Dublin, just 2 to 3% attend church regularly. Many of Ireland’s faithful Catholics aren’t even Irish today – Mass in Limerick is spoken in Polish for the thousands of immigrants who pour in.
Replacements for Irish priests, who are usually between the ages of 60 and 80, have slowed to a trickle. The Catholic church used to basically be its own state: it ran the schools, the orphanages and most of the hospitals. But over the past 20 years, shocking cases of sexual abuse and Ireland’s sudden prosperity has declined the overall inclination towards Catholicism in Ireland.
2. Serbia is Siberia, Austria is Australia, Slovakia is Slovenia, and Indians are Native Americans
Closely spelled countries and continents have been the bane of map-lookers for eons. Let’s get some of the most common misconceptions out of the way. Serbia is a sovereign state between Central and Southeast Europe, and its capital, Belgrade, is one of the largest cities in Southeast Europe (7.2 million). Siberia is an extensive region, also known as North Asia, which has been part of Russia since the 17th century. Siberia accounts for 77% of Russia’s land area, and 27% (40 million) of the country’s population.
Austria, birthplace of Adolf Hitler and Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a federal, landlocked country in Central Europe. They do not have kangaroos. Australia is the land down under Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, it is not landlocked, and has nothing to do with Austria.
Slovakia is a Central European country with a population of five million. It became an independent state in 1993, after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, which created the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Slovenia is also in Central Europe, but it borders Italy, Austria, Croatia, Hungary, and the Adriatic Sea. It is mainly mountainous, has a small population of 2.05 million, and is a parliamentary republic in the European Union and NATO.
Christopher Columbus referred to all of South and East Asia as “India,” and even the entire Asian subcontinent had been labeled on globes as “India.” So when Columbus, carrying a passport from Spain that read “toward the regions of India,” accidentally landed in the Antilles, he referred to the resident peoples as “Indians,” thinking he’d reached the Indian Ocean. The name stuck for Native, indigenous Americans. India, though, is not the home to Native Americans, but rather 1.2 billion other people.
1. Most U.S. Immigrants Come From Latin America
There is a common stereotype, mostly spouted from the Republican Right, that most of (or in some cases all of ) the United State’s immigrants are from Latin America, namely Mexico. This is simply untrue. Politicians will go on to say that migrant Mexicans are crippling the U.S. economy, or as Trump said that they’re “murderers and rapists,” and that we need to build a Great Wall of Mexico to protect our border.
The fact is, Mexico has had the largest group of immigrants between 1960 and the present, but that doesn’t mean that most or all U.S. immigrants are from Mexico. In 2013, there were 11.6 million Mexican immigrants in the U.S., which accounts for 28% of all U.S. immigrants. That leaves 72% unaccounted for.
The Philippines, Vietnam, China, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, India, and Korea each account for 2.5% to 5% of all immigrants living in the United States. Beyond that, 42.2%, or 16.3 million immigrants identified themselves as “Other.” So just remember, America was created by immigrants, and that’s not such a bad thing.