In A Nutshell
Even if we disapprove of them, most of us can name a handful of national stereotypes. Mexicans are lazy. Americans are fat and obnoxious. The French do nothing but surrender. But what about the stereotype that the English are always wearing wigs? Or that Italians are weak? Or that Westerners have huge noses? Turns out the Chinese and Japanese have their own set of cultural stereotypes. And how we in the West fit into them is utterly bizarre.
The Whole Bushel
Have you ever noticed how the French love stiffing customers? Or how Russians are always fighting? Or how the British will do anything to avoid discussing the Opium Wars? If you have, there may be a job for you as an observational stand-up comedian. The only catch is you’ll have to get yourself to Beijing, because all of the above are stereotypes the Chinese have of Westerners.
In summer 2015, Foreign Policy used China’s search engine Baidu to find out what the next great superpower thinks of Europeans. A Web giant that carries nearly 80 percent of China’s traffic, Baidu is Beijing’s answer to Google. Like Google, it uses algorithms to auto-complete sentences typed into the search bar. These auto-completes are based on what other users have typed in, meaning common queries tend to float to the top. While not a scientific metric, it does give a relatively good idea of how Baidu’s users see the world. And how they see it is as a swirling vortex of insanity.
Among the stranger questions are gems like “Why do the British all wear wigs?” and “Why is France full of black people?” Others, such as “Why do Germans still hate Hitler?” veer into much darker territory. But overall, the stereotypes are simply bizarre.
According to Baidu, Italians are weak, Poland hates China, and Lithuanians are suicidal. Bulgarians live a long time because they drink so much milk, Norway isn’t cold (which doubtless comes a surprise to those living there), and Spain should just hurry up and annex Portugal. Perhaps the only recognizable stereotype that surfaces is one about the English. Baidu’s users complain that they “always talk about the weather.”
It’s not just China that produces such oddball perceptions of the West. In Japan, a common joke has it that people from Europe and America are all blonde and have gargantuan noses. The stereotype is so widely accepted that advertisements sometimes feature Japanese actors in blonde wigs with prosthetic appendages attached to their faces. In 2014, airline Nippon got in minor trouble when one such commercial went viral.
The one group exempt from this stereotype appears to be African Americans. Instead, African Americans living in Japan have reported that their new countrymen think they all look like Beyonce.
Although this is mostly just a bit of fun, it does remind us of one important point. Despite what people say, stereotypes frequently don’t exist for a reason. Not unless the British have all started wearing hilarious hairpieces without telling the rest of us.
Show Me The Proof
Foreign Policy: This Map Shows China’s Hilarious Stereotypes of Europe
Huffington Post UK: All Nippon Airways Pulls ‘Clumsily Racist’ Ad After Complaints Over Western Stereotypes
BBC News: What’s it like to be black in Japan?