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10 Misconceptions About World Cultures
By Gregory Myers,
Toptenz, 22 December 2015.

There are billions of people in the world, and all of them are individuals with their own unique identities. With so many people to keep track of, and a much smaller corresponding number of cultures, humans invented stereotypes and other generalities as an attempt to understand large groups of people more easily. Over the years, this has led to a lot of confusion, hilarity, and strife around the world. The truth is that most stereotypes started due to some misconception, or something that was lost in translation, and aren’t really all that accurate for the individuals from the culture in question. Often, what we think we know about another people is wildly inaccurate, and sometimes the truth is far more interesting.

10. Australia Was Originally a Penal Colony for Hardened Criminals


Most people know that Australia was originally a penal colony started by the United Kingdom - the British Empire at the time - which blossomed into the full blown country it is today. Many people have also heard of the famous Rum Rebellions, and how many of the prisoners, soldiers, and others on the island were originally paid largely in booze. This has given an image of Australia as an island full of the descendants of shifty, nasty criminal types, the hardened people countries would consider so evil they sent them all the way across the globe. However, in recent years Australia has been trying to uncover its past instead of shamefacedly hide from it, and they have found that the truth is not nearly as embarrassing as they once thought.

What Australians have quickly been discovering is that many of the people who were sent to Australia as criminals, were convicted for reasons that we would consider a miscarriage of justice today. A large portion of them were children who stole small amounts of food, some of whom were condemned to hang for their crimes before they got the chance to be exiled to Australia instead. Even among the adults, many of those convicted had only been tried for what would be considered very petty crimes today, and others were also falsely accused. The truth is that the British Empire at the time had a lot of poor citizens who ended up on the wrong side of the law mainly because living on the margins and stealing food was the only way for them to get by. So, they decided to get rid of these people by sending them to an island all the way across the world, instead of dealing with the actual poverty issue.

9. The Connection Between the Ancient and Current Egyptians


Egypt is one of the most famous countries in the world, but the identity of its people is often a very confusing subject. Some people think of them as simply Egyptian, and others think of them as another Arabic state, but the truth is a fair bit more complicated. Scholars have been studying the lineage of the Egyptian people in an attempt to understand how they relate to the ancient Egyptians, and have been unable to come up with concrete answers. They are certain that most Egyptians have DNA that seems to differ somewhat largely from other nearby countries, but they also cannot prove any direct connection to the ancient Egyptians.

In practice, the situation on the ground can be even more confusing. Egypt is a member of the Arab League and most people in the country can speak Arabic. This has led to a certain amount of cultural ethos to slip into the national identity, but most Egyptians do not consider themselves Arab, regardless of their true genealogy. They consider themselves to be Egyptian, and wish to cultivate that identity more strongly - many Egyptians today would prefer to connect as much as possible with the old roots, and ignore the Arab influence. In some cases, Egyptians have reported feeling discriminated against while visiting or working in other countries within the Arab League.

8. Japan is Completely Nuts About Crazy Anime and Manga Series


When most people think of Japan, they think of weird adults obsessed with the oddest kind of manga and anime possible, but the truth is, they are producing most of that with the rest of the world in mind. When anime and manga began in Japan, they started out marketing toward children just like in the West, but as their audience got older they decided to start trying more mature themes. This worked out well, and proved that animation is suitable for adults as well as children. As many adults matured, anime and manga have continued to have a steady following in Japan, but nothing like how people think, and nothing like how popular it is in the rest of the world.

One executive in the industry believes that many people in Japan probably don’t even realize how much other countries are into anime and manga. The amount of money made selling anime and manga outside of the country is an industry worth billions of dollars a year. While the international market is a hugely growing business, the Japanese demand for the same is actually slowly declining as the years pass by. This means that despite the claims of “those wacky Japanese,” at this point, they are making those stories for our entertainment - it may not even be entirely their cup of tea.

7. Canada is Completely Free, Independent, and Sovereign


Most people think of Canada as an entirely free and sovereign nation with an advanced modern democratic system of government. They have healthcare for all, a robustly running economy and a standing military that is certainly no joke. Most people may not take Canada particularly seriously, but most people would consider them very much their own country. However, the truth is that Canada takes part in some very strange traditions hearkening back to the monarchies of old. The Queen of England is also considered the Queen of Canada - for whom she is considered to be a constitutional monarch, like she is in England. She is Colonel in Chief of most of the armed forces, and visits the country more than any other.

While, like in England, she always goes by ceremony and takes the recommendation of her government minister’s choices, she still gets to choose the people who are in very high level government positions. However, it goes beyond simply paying homage to old traditions. Everything in the country, including elections, are still called in the Queen’s name, and everyone must swear allegiance to the Queen, including all new citizens of Canada - who must accept the Queen as the living symbol of their country.

6. British People Don’t Care About Their Teeth


Around the world, apart from being known for drinking tea and trying to take over the world, the British are also famous, or rather infamous, for having some of the worst oral hygiene among all developed countries. The claims are that the British have plenty of money to do so, have the proper health infrastructure, and just really don’t care. They let their teeth get misshapen, brown, and rotting, and would practically let the suckers fall out of their mouths if they didn’t actually need them. Jokes about British teeth have been popularized by shows like The Simpsons - and almost everything else. However, the truth behind this claim is a bit more complicated.

While the average British teeth may appear misshapen to an American, they also have a different idea when it comes to teeth in general. The British still care about oral hygiene - brushing teeth, and going in for annual tooth cleaning - but most of them prefer a more natural look and only go for minimal tooth straightening. Whereas Americans will spend countless thousands making sure all their chompers line up just right, many of our friends across the pond are fine as long as the teeth are healthy and line up fairly straight - enough to be mostly functional. However, even this stereotype is beginning to change. Due to exposure to American media and popular culture, it is becoming an increasing trend to go for extra teeth whitening and straightening, so as to mimic the look seen on television.

5. Spanish People are Extremely Lazy


One of the most popular stereotypes around the world is that Spanish people are lazy. This stereotype has evolved from Spanish people being lazy, to anyone who speaks Spanish also being lazy, and is often misapplied by racists to anyone vaguely Hispanic looking who is working within the United States. This stereotype originally began because in Spain, due to a long held tradition in the country of napping during the middle of the day - or siesta. If you ask most people, they will tell you that in the early afternoon Spaniards take three hours off to go take a break and nap to get some rest, before going back to work. This has created a reputation as a people who really don’t care about hard work, and would rather spend their time resting.

However, the truth is that the traditional siesta is not only becoming less and less of a reality, but that Spaniards may still be running themselves into the ground harder and faster than the people of most nations. The siesta was originally designed to give people some respite during the hottest hours of the day, but now it is rarely used to actually get any sleep. And, due to the three hour break during the day, Spaniards tend to get up much earlier for work, and leave work much later than those in other countries. This has led many in Spain to seek reform in recent years, as some believe that an incredibly long work day with long, fragmented breaks in between is not really good for anyone. It may be a long time before there is change though, as the siesta and the long work day are an entrenched part of Spanish culture.

4. Black People and Their Alleged Love of Fried Chicken


If most people ask you what kind of foods black people like, you will get a lot of answers that generally describe Southern comfort food. This should not be surprising, as the majority of the black people who were brought to this country spent much of their time in the South as slaves, and even after being freed, money would have been tight so the majority of people would have settled nearby. However, if you asked for two specific foods the most common you’ll always hear are fried chicken and watermelon. This has led some people to wonder over the years if there is actually any truth to this stereotype at all, or if it is just a Southern myth.

Back in the early 1900s race relations in this country were not so good (we’ll take that “Understatement of the Year Award” anytime). One of the earliest and most controversial films - Birth of a Nation - was released by the notoriously racist D.W. Griffith. The film depicted what Griffith considered the consequences of black people being freed and having power. In one scene in the film, black lawmakers are shown generally behaving badly in an assembly, and one of them is chomping on a piece of fried chicken while his feet are up on the desk. Some believe this was the birth of the stereotype, and really entrenched the idea in popular culture. It also is likely that foods like fried chicken and watermelon were chosen to represent black people because they are foods you have to eat with your hands, and hence can be considered “dirty foods.”

3. The French are Prone to Collapse in a Wave of Surrender


Shortly after the events following 9/11 that changed the United States in many ways, we were finding ourselves going to war in the Middle East. When France made the difficult choice not to help us - their ally - on this particular occasion, many people starting leveling very pointedly accusing fingers at them. They were insulted by many publications and political figures in the United States, who essentially referred to the French people as cowards. Some went so far as to quote a joking The Simpsons episode, and quite seriously call them “cheese eating surrender monkeys.” People claimed that they surrendered easily in World War II, and that in general they are cowards who don’t want to fight.

However, the truth is that France is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and always have been. Many people don’t realize that the defeat in World War II may have been a defeat for France’s leadership and infrastructure, but that the French warriors never once stopped fighting. France also has a long history of war, and currently wields the third largest nuclear stockpile in the entire world. The big two, the United States and Russia, are the only countries that can boast a significantly bigger nuclear stockpile than the French, and France still maintains one of the strongest and biggest standing armies in the world. While France has been choosing to pick their battles more carefully in recent years, their reputation shows they are far from cowards, and more than prepared for serious engagements.

2. The Island of Jamaica is a 24/7 Weed Lover’s Paradise


When most people think of a place where weed is considered as normal as eating, they think of the island of Jamaica. After all, it is the place where you are likely to find one of the highest concentrations of Rastafarians in the entire world, and as we all know, those who follow Rasta believe in smoking weed as part of a religious tradition. However, religions are not always accepted fully by the law, even in countries where they are most popular. Despite what some may think, for the longest time weed has been severely illegal in Jamaica. Lots of weed is grown on the island but the government has done their best to crack down hard on illegal growing, smuggling, and even individual use.

Just this year they relaxed some of the laws regarding use for personal or religious reasons. They have also relaxed some of the laws in an effort to gain more money from foreign tourism - especially with some US states now allowing medical marijuana to some degree. However, this is only a small relaxation of the laws for individuals, and the country is still doing its best to prevent large scale growing or trafficking within the confines of the island. The idea behind the new law is to allow for personal use, in order to accommodate the island’s large Rasta population, but still fight the rise of large grow operations on the island.

1. The German People are Mostly Humourless


The German people get called a lot of complimentary things. They are hardworking people, who tend to be rational, industrious, and with the large influx of refugees they take in every year, they have certainly proven themselves to be a caring people. However, most of Europe and the rest of the world considers Germany to be a little amusing for the fact that, as far as much of the world is concerned, Germany doesn’t know how to be funny. Surveys have even found that among much of the world, Germany is sometimes seen as literally the least funny country of all. Now, while many of us may think this about Germans, in truth it can’t really make that much sense. Humour is something universal to all people; it’s just likely Germans see it differently.

The truth is that Germany has a rich history of comedy, but that the style is so far removed from the traditional British and even American comedy, that it’s hard to translate the style at all. The style of standup comedy we are used to was pretty much a foreign concept when first introduced in Germany - the Germans had complicated theater style shows in order to impart comedy that would be hard for other cultures to understand. The other issue is that many of the countries considered most known for their humour tend to use a lot of wordplay that a German audience would struggle with, and the complicated form of German humour also would not translate well for audiences from other countries. Comedy unfortunately is one of those things that easily becomes lost in translation.

Top image: A multitude of people and cultures in India (mosaic). Credit: Dinesh Cyanam/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

[Source: Toptenz. Edited. Top image added.]