Carol Bontekoe

This blog has been keeping track of my adventures since 2004. The stories and the adventures have come from my college dorm room to Uganda, Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan, learning Dutch in the Netherlands to living in the wilds of Homer, Alaska. I went back to school in Amsterdam to study Theaterwetenschap (Theatre Science) at University of Amsterdam. And now my adventures as a Fruit Fly, a Sexy Unicorn, and creating a movement with Team Sparkle in Chicago.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A walking stereotype.

Today we had to do an exercise on stereotypes. People wrote their stereotypes of a country and then they posted it under the name of that country. Countries like Latvia and Hungary were a little sparse. The United Kingdom was quite full, however I wrote about half of them: "Tea Drinkers", "Fancy themselves something special"and "Colonized the world in order to get some descent food" were just some of my beauties. I some how forgot bad teeth.
I was very surprised that when it came to America's turn that people started to clap. They were excited for us to address our stereotypes,since I would say Americans and Germans have the most unflattering stereotypes of any nations. I truly feel America is the only country in the world that EVERYONE in the world has some kind of opinion about.
There were three of us Americans, all very different. The first girl to speak is very tiny, always wears scarves, and when she talks she keeps her hands clenched in front of her unless to make a point she uses quotation mark fingers. She openly talks about how much she hates America and how embarrassing it is for her to have an American accent. Because of how tiny she is, the demeanor and her scarves she can blend into the scenery quite easily. She almost seems like she is hiding. She does not stand out at all. She finds it a high compliment to be told that she does not look American. She spoke first that the idea of Americans being fat, loud, and dumb is completely untrue. She said this with her back to me. Whether she did it consciously or unconsciously, she did it, and than tried to make the other girl in the group speak so as no one would notice the American Cliche standing directly behind her. I wasn't going to say anything but when she was so clearly trying to keep me out of it what could I do but be an obnoxious American and speak my mind? I said well I can see where these stereotypes come from since I am more or less all of the stereotypes. I even voted for Obama("Yes we can" and Obama were listed as stereotypes- I don't know how they are stereotypical.)
See even though I am the very embodiment of the American Stereotype I would say the other American girl that is running from being an American is re-enforcing these stereotypes more than I am. For an American to openly be saying, "Oh, I hate saying I'm from America. I hate my accent. I left and I'm never going back... ugh Americans(eye roll)" These things make people believe that these negative ideas of America are true and that they are justified in what they say about America. I find it irresponsible to push people towards thinking negatively of America.
I do not have the luxury of distancing myself from America at all costs. I'm American. Even if I am wearing the national dress of a country I am American. People can point to me from a distance a declare that I am American. Actually it has only been in the past month I have been perceived as anything other than American-most Dutch people at my university think I am South African, blame that on my DUTCH last name. I don't live abroad because I am trying to escape my homeland. I live abroad because of a fear of commitment- if I move to any place in the lower 48 than I'll be there for the rest of my life. For adventure. To learn about others cultures. On the side I try to re-educate people in their perception of America. Maybe I am what you think of as Typical American- even though in America I am far from typical. But am I really so bad? Am I really worth hate and anger towards Americans in general. I have often been told by people abroad that I am the first American they ever liked, all the others are horrible. That is when I have to ask, "Do you know any other Americans? No? We really aren't that bad. Some are. I will give you some suck; but that is true for every country, city, village, school, and family."
If you happen to be horrible behaving, uneducated, fat, ignorant, loud, conservative, who didn't have any fun till you were 21 and you are starting unjust wars-maybe you should say you are Canadian. But for those Americans living and traveling abroad who are educated,who try to learn the language, who know some geography- don't be afraid to say you are American. Own it. Help the world see that we are more than just the stereotypes. Even us stereotypical Americans need to show that those stereotypes are just the surface of wonderfully complex culture and country.

My4th of July party in Oudemirdum Friesland, Netherlands summer 2008. Showed everyone the best part of the 4th of July the parade and candy.


  1. Anonymous said...

    hmm... I like this. You make a good point. I have found it difficult to handle peoples sarcasm and snide remarks towards america. I also believe you put any country under a microscope and the dirt will show. It's hard to be perfect when everyone is watching.

  2. Ang said...

    I really have enjoyed you blog and this post is great. I think you say it well, everyone should be proud of who we are and were we come from.
    You do that very well! I am a Mom so I am gonna say a Mom thing... you make me proud :)
    I am an American living in NL now for 3 years. Like you I never could keep my feet planted but my heart was always home :)

  3. Diane said...

    It's me again! I really like the picture of you and the flag at the end of your post - classic

  4. caitlin said...

    yeah carol!! REPRESENT!!! :-D

    oh and that pic of us in kyrgysztan delving into sports illustrated swimsuit edition while wearing kalpacs isn't stereotypical. that's just epic.

  5. Sam said...

    Well said, Carol.

  6. Kyle said...

    Carol I haven't read this blog in a while but I am definitely glad I did today. I really enjoyed this entry and the picture of you in the kaplaks looking at the Swimsuit Edition. What no one else knows is that you likely had the magazine open to the two page spread of Burt Reynolds. Hope all is well. K-Train.

  7. Anonymous said...

    I wish not agree on it. I think polite post. Especially the title-deed attracted me to review the sound story.

  8. Anonymous said...

    i have been following this blog for some time now, good job by the way

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