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Blog : Posts tagged with 'stereotypes'

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Nationality

In which the family seem foreign


My parents are not Norwegian. They’re English, have hardly ever left England, don’t speak any languages other than English. Until last week, my mother hadn’t had a foreign holiday for 35 years, and my dad had never had one at all.

Now, often, you can look at someone, and spot their nationality. It happened to me in Paris the other month: I only had to go up to someone and say “Um … bonjour?” and I’d get: “Hello, can I help you.” Sometimes the hello came first, so I’m sure it wasn’t just the accent or the awkward pause. I’d assume that the same would apply to the parents too, as they’ve hardly ever left Britain.

But no: they set off for their first foreign holiday together after 30 years married, and they get on the ferry to Norway. They arrive at the ferry terminal in Newcastle, where you’d think the staff would be used to spotting the difference between Norwegian and English people. All of a sudden, everyone, even the English terminal staff, automatically assume they’re Norwegian. Getting on the ship, they’re being greeted: “hello … hello … hello …” – then as soon as The Mother appears on the gangplank, the greeter switches to Norwegian.* Why, she has no clue. Apparently, people from Norway, people from Newcastle, people who meet a lot of Norwegians, automatically assume my mother is one too. Strange.

(and on their return, they brought me a giant sausage. Which appears to be Danish. But that’s a blog for another day, when I’m not too lazy to get the camera out to shoot a picture of it)

* Whether Bokmål or Nynorsk, I don’t know – as the parents don’t actually know any Norwegian of either sort beyond “Does anyone know where the toilets are?” they didn’t appreciate the subtlety – never mind the subtler still differences between spoken and written languages.

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Signs you might be English

In which we rely on stereotype


If someone walks into you in the street, you say “sorry”, even though it’s not your fault.

You can have ten-minute conversations with complete strangers, but only about the weather or how terribly the buses are running.

You will sigh at people under your breath, but never dare of telling them what you think.

You will be stubborn enough to always wait for the other person to apologise.

You keep all your feelings to yourself.

And when something great and amazing happens to you, you say “Ooh, that’s nice.”

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I can’t even type on one keyboard

In which real people, are, shock horror, not like fictional people


Political campaigner Julie Bindel has been writing in The Guardian again, this time about changing lesbian stereotypes on the telly. Ostensibly her line is: lesbians on the telly now might be shown as happy, sex-loving people, but that’s still a stereotype. Her main concern, though, seems to be: there aren’t enough people like her, or her friends, on the screen:

Finn Mackay, a lesbian feminist in her 20s, is not enamoured by all the “designer” lesbians who have sprung up on TV. “They don’t represent me,” says MacKay, “because they are never political and look straight. They never look like any lesbians I know.”

Or, in other words, “all of the lesbians I know are politically active and could never be mistaken for straight people.”

Finn Mackay’s view of sexuality is just as narrow-minded as your average unreconstructed homophobe who can’t understand how two women can have sex together. I’m not objecting to people who want to support their sexuality politically,* but to suggest that you have an obligation to be political is a very narrow-minded, restrictive view. As is, indeed, the suggestion that if you’re gay you have to look gay. Coincidentally enough, I’ve just come back from a weekend away visiting a lesbian couple I know; and they don’t look particularly gay, or particularly straight. They just look like people. In fact, I don’t think any of the gay women I know are obviously lesbians at immediate sight.**

But then again, we’re talking about the telly here. None of the straight people I know could be mistaken for characters from a TV show either. To say: “the telly is stereotyping my own pet subgroup! None of them look real!” is slightly misleading. It’s not real. Nobody on the telly looks like me, either, strangely enough, and we all know*** that any sort of sex on screen is never like the real thing.

* it’s a very good thing indeed, and particularly important for other sexual subcultures such as BDSM, nowadays in a much more shaky legal situation than vanilla gay couples.

** unless they happen to be snogging their partner at the time, of course.

*** assuming we’re old enough

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