Paris and Misconceptions

Ethnocentrism: Evaluation of other cultures according to preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture.

Or perhaps better put, the view that ones culture is superior to all others.

A fun word to use, but one with a tragic meaning. This word is responsible for many a misconceptions, a load of prejudgements, and simple misunderstandings of others. A word that I’d say is also tied closely to xenophobia (dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries).

There seems to be a process before one goes off on their travels. It consists of getting ready for that travel, and apart of that is breaking the news of your trip to the people you know and love. As well as the ocasional stranger that will listen to your spill. However, it seems, or at least in my experience, that there is a slew of common responses to this breaking news. Which also of course depends on where you are going.

For example, when I tell people of my decision to stay in hostels one of the usual responses is, “Aren’t those places dangerous?! Full of robbers, rapists, and deviants?”. Or when going to Ireland, “Have a pint for me.” Or even when visiting Amsterdam, “Going to visit the red light district? *Wink*”.

These I understand. People who haven’t been or experienced simple don’t know. And when one doesn’t know what do they usually do? Form their opinions based off of the information they receive from sources other than themselves. Or even from stereotypes placed on that place or thing. Understandable.  And let me say that I don’t think I’m better than anyone who has these opinions or who has these habits, as I am guilty of them myself.

One of the common responses that baffles me the most though are the responses that I receive when I tell people of my plans to go to Paris. For some reason it always seems to be the place and thing that gets the most negative response.

Somehow in our American culture stereotypes and misconceptions have been placed on Paris, and the parisians that inhabit her. The responses I usually receive are along the lines of. “Paris? Be careful I’ve heard that the french are all terribly rude.”. Or, “Paris? Did you know that the women don’t shave, and there is no such thing as deodorant over there. It’s a stinky place.”.

This is where the ethnocentrism plays into the picture. Paris is a very different place than America is. Which shouldn’t be a surprise. But it’s in our differences that these prejudices are found. The french simply have a different way of doing things is all. They may seem strange and foreign to us, but just as they are strange to us, we are strange to them.

It’s just a shame is all. As Paris is one of the most beautiful and greatest cities I’ve ever been to. Sure if you go into a restaurant they won’t visit your table to check up on you every 5 minutes. Or if you go into a store you won’t sometimes be greeted with the best customer service, or customer service at all. But this isn’t because the french are rude. It’s because they simply do things differently.

If you talk to a Parisian, you’ll quickly discover that they are a passionate people. Usually very proud, aware and involved in their country and their politics. They know what’s going on outside of their borders, and have opinions. They know their food, art, and fashion better than any other people I’ve ever seen. They are a totally unique breed of people.

Not boring, bland, or a photo copy of another country or culture. But their own unique entity. Which for us can be hard to understand and to wrap our minds around. Not saying that we are not great and unique, or bland and boring. But rather that if we don’t approach the culture and people with an open mind and a realization that they are different, then we begin to walk in dangerous judgemental territory.

I don’t mean to preach, or say I am holier than you, or that there is anything wrong with our country. All I mean to say is, try to expand your horizon a bit before attaching labels, judgements, and conceptions, to those things that you don’t know about or are very familiar with. Look at different angles, don’t be afraid to open yourself up a little bit and experience something different. Break free of this mad ethnocentric mold that encases some people and embrace the world.

19 responses to “Paris and Misconceptions

  1. Good post! We lived in SW France for almost four years and appreciated our good fortune to get under the skin of another culture and move beyond the stereotypes. Travel really does broaden the mind…Thanks for stopping by OldPlaidCamper earlier and enjoy your day!

  2. I really like your post! It’s really frustrating when people say places are “horrible” or “the people are rude” when they only have a few instances to pick from. I’m an American living in the area and I definitely agree that it’s just a different culture, that’s all.

    Actually, it’s weird because as I continue to learn French, I can’t help but to be frustrated at how polite the language is compared to English. That “vous” form, man.

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