I often hear: „Oh, these are just stereotypes; you can’t pigeonhole people”. I don’t necessarily agree. Of course, there are as many approaches to life as there are people themselves – and I certainly don’t enjoy it when I’m being judged stereotypically (even though Polish women in NYC are usually seen as diligent workers, there’s still a strong belief that we are not the brightest of nations). Still, one cannot say that stereotypes are completely unfounded. The fact that they don’t apply to everyone doesn’t mean that they don’t (at least to some degree) contain some truth about all of us.
There are some traits that characterize every group and every culture. Poles can be recognized on the street by their unsmiling faces – what’s more, Polish men in NY usually look just the same. I’m sorry to say that, but what characterizes them most is the complete lack of distinction when it comes to choosing their clothes. If I see a man wearing a pair of jeans, a hoodie and a backpack over one shoulder, I’m 90% sure the guy is either Polish or Ukrainian. There are some Poles who dress better, but they are exceptions. I identify middle-aged Polish women by their tired faces and the mean look they will most likely give me, sizing up my figure. Young Polish women can be identified by bright streaks in their hair. As soon as I see an impeccably dressed man wearing a pair of expensive sunglasses, I know I’m dealing with an Italian.
Similarly, when I hear someone at a cafe, wondering whether to order an espresso or a cappuccino, I will be 90% sure it’s an Italian, as well. When I’m speaking with someone who uses incredibly garbled English that’s impossible to understand, I know it’s a French person. When I’m passed on the streets by heavily made up women in gaudy, gold-adorned clothes, I know they are Russian. When I bump into someone at the subway, and that person is stubbornly occupying the place right in the passageway to the door – I’m not surprised to see a Chinese man or a woman. The best-dressed among Asians are the Japanese. When I hear a female voice arguing loudly about a miscarried order, I know the lady will be Black. As soon as I hear a super-complicated order at Starbucks (honestly, where do people get those complex ideas for drinks?), I know the client is an American. Same happens when I hear someone ordering a diet sweetener or skim milk. When I hear someone calling me: “Hey, you’re sexy”, it will be a Latino guy. “Hey, baby”, on the other hand, is a trademark of Black men. I have dozens of examples like that. Whether we like it or not, the culture we grew up in is rooted deep inside us. Even though we don’t always like to admit it.