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Not All Local Men are Nut Scratchers!

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“G’day mate, how ya goin? Ow, it’s not like that mate! I would never put me kids in danger. The whole show is very safe; it’s always secured by a number of zoo staff. But right, I apologise to all of you. Right mate?” The Australian croc bait, the master of ridiculous antics Steve Irwin was on CNN, defending his action involving his toddlers in his moronically perilous show. I couldn’t believe it. Compared to Steve with his very thick Aussie twang and excessively loud voice, the speech of the American TV host almost sounded like the Queen’s English itself. The loud Australian has replaced the loud American. Now, if Steve had been interviewed on the morning Fox News, it would have been a different story. It would have been a loud mouth contest.

Married to an Australian myself, I pray day and night that Steve Irwin won’t be seen as the stereotypical Australian. As if the cracked red earth and the didgeridoo were not representative enough. Thank goodness God invented Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe – the true saviours of the Australian stereotype.

But how come these two beautiful people, Nicole and Russell, have not been seen as stereotypes from down under? Because, although it’s pretty untrue, stereotypes tend to bias our opinions and lead to prejudice and discrimination towards a particular group of people. In reality, according to some Stereotype Accuracy journals I read not so long ago, stereotypes come in both positive and negative varieties. Examples for positive stereotypes: Africans are athletic and great dancers, good-looking people are more sociable, and Indonesian women are humble and loyal to their husbands. Examples of negative stereotype: blondes are dumb, Jews are pushy, English people have bad teeth, the French do not bathe, Indonesian men are nut scratchers and the Scots are a bunch of stingy bastards. Pff…

That’s why the loud, ‘shrimps on the Barbie mate’ Steve Irwin is more suitable as a typical stereotype from Australia, a country known for its Waltzing Matilda, its imported convict and the fact that its people shoot and eat the two animals symbolized on its national crest.

Unfortunately, bad stereotyping is in the blood of most people who live in Indonesia. Indonesia as a country is supposedly known for its nice, smiling, helpful people. However, in Indonesia, people can easily hear the following stereotypes in daily conversations: “Well, she’s a Batak, what do you expect? Of course her husband would be under her toes all the time”, or “Do not marry Sundanese or Manadonese girls, they are very materialistic”, or “Balinese men are lazy, they let their wives do all the work, while they gamble at cock fights”. And the classic “He’s from Irian, I wonder if he still keeps a koteka (a native Irianese codpiece) in his house”.

I swear I never thought I would marry an Australian. Before we met, I thought Australia was just a country closely associated with dusty red dessert and Crocodile Dundee. Not exactly a country full of skyrocketing turrets, their moats surrounding castles, or a knight riding on his thoroughbred to save his princess. Instead I was saved by an Irish blooded bloke who grew up in Sydney.

During our relationship, I have been subjected to stereotyping on occasion, as an Indonesian woman married to a foreigner, and my husband, as a westerner. It is common knowledge that most Indonesians assume that an Indonesian woman who dates or marries a westerner is poor, uneducated, an ex-bar girl with dark skin and possesses an exotic kampung face. And the stereotype for the mostly white-skinned westerners in this country is that they are people who have free-sex lifestyles, drink alcohol excessively and never wash their nether regions after they complete the call of nature.

“Have you had sex with him? You know that those guys expect you to have sex with them even before marriage, don’t you?” a woman asked me when she knew that I dated an Australian. Maybe true – but prejudice all the same, nosy!

Funnily, when I told people that I’m not at all close to the typical stereotype of an Indonesian woman, they would say something like: “Well, you might be an exception”. And their stereotype holds.

I took a taxi home one day. The taxi driver realized that I was on my way to my home in Kemang, a residential area known as the favoured neighbourhood for westerners to live in. With a typical ‘wise’ male Indonesian style, he inhaled and started his litany about one stereotype he believes in, of local women who live in Kemang.

“You’re lucky to be taken care of, to have a spoiled lifestyle, and live in a large house. It’s a very hard time to make money now. I have to drive almost twenty hours per day to earn enough money. Consider yourself lucky that you don’t have to work hard like me,” he said proudly. The mister know-it-all taxi driver actually knew jackshit about my life. Should I have told him that I have been working my arse off to support my own frigging independent life and my children? No, because he would have replied, “Well, you might be an exception.” There you go; another stereotype for women who live in Kemang was born in a taxi. ‘Cynical’ is my middle name, so I gave the taxi driver a generous tip, confirming my stereotype as a spoiled, jobless woman, married to a rich foreigner who lives in Kemang.

Another taxi driver related to me different stereotypes viewed from a different angle, which is based on the tips his international clients give him.

“Europeans and Australians are very stingy; sometimes they even wait for their 50 rupiah change. Americans give a bit more tips than the Australians do. But I like the Japanese most; they like to get drunk and then they are not stingy. When I take Japanese men to karaoke bars or nightclubs in Blok M, I usually wait for them. Close to dawn, they will eventually crawl back into my taxi. I take them home while at that stage they can’t even see the difference between a Rp 100,000 bill and a Rp 500 bill, let alone find their ‘must have’ cameras hanging on their necks,” the taxi driver explained. Well girls, marry Japanese men! They are generous.

These stories raise the already old question of: why we stereotype? Are stereotypes actually good for anything? Are they ever true? Are all Americans loudmouthed lots, wearing faded Old Navy Jeans with Gap T-shirts, wailing that they can’t find good bagels and complaining that the old fashioned Big Mac in Jakarta has a different flavour? Surely not all of them are like that. Just like it seems most Indonesian men have nothing more important to do than hang around on the side of their street, squatting while smoking kretek cigarettes, scratching their genitals and bullying female passers-by.

According to the journals I mentioned earlier, stereotypes are probabilistic tools. People who believe in stereotypes understand perfectly well that stereotype is, in fact, merely one aspect of the mind’s ability to make generalisations.

As an example, I remember a story about a well known stereotype of Irishmen. There was a drunk Irishman who sat in a bar downtown gulping his seventh glass of whiskey. A guy who sat beside the Irishman, who’s allegedly a reporter, asked how much whiskey the Irishman had drunk (a question frequently asked in a bar scenario – a type of generalisation). The Irishman took serious offence at the comment, insinuating that people from Ireland have a tendency to drink alcohol in excessive amounts. According to the Irishman, Irish people are not ‘drunk all of the God damned time’ at all.

“Listen!” the Irishman slurred, shaking the reporter violently, who in fact had been listening prior to the Irish man instructing him to do so. “Just listen to me for a ss…second! I'm an Irishman, and I'll tell you something … just let me tell you something for a second. Do you understand me? What I'm trying to say is that I don't drink – ‘always’. I might have a one ... a few or two after a day of work, or a football game, or a drink, but not all the frigging time. Are you listening to me?"

My advice is, do not believe too much in stereotypes. They are probably fun; they give people a bit of information based on very broad generalisation about certain subjects. The facts are; my husband doesn’t talk like an idiot, I have never worked as a bar girl in any bar in my life and my rottweiler doesn’t eat babies. But yes, the Scots are a bunch of stingy bastards.

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