Breathe, this is not going to be about human self-identification and related stereotypes. It will be about… food. Yes, food. Well, mostly. If there is a thing I dislike almost as much as double standards, it’s food stereotypes. Also those in art and everything else. Let me put this way: if you tell me to like/dislike something because everybody likes/dislikes it, I won’t like you.
Take French cuisine. The best in the world? I doubt it, simply because people have different tastes and there is no cuisine that can satisfy all of these. France is a large country and I’m sure there are regional dishes that could appeal to many different people but that abstract thing they call “French cuisine” cannot be the best in the world because there is no best in the world.
What used to embarrass me and then drive me mad is how surprised people get when you don’t share their stereotypical opinion. So, you’ve never actually eaten anything “French cuisine” but you know it’s the best cuisine in the world? Because everyone knows it, of course. Well, I’ve eaten French fish soup, courtesy of my godmother who spent a good part of her life in France and while it was palatable — because my godmother was a brilliant cook –I was certainly not in love with it.
Which reminds me of another related stereotype, the one about all French being good cooks. Seriously, it’s the same as saying all Americans are stupid, which is, of course, another favourite stereotype of mine. Cooking is a talent. Some have it, others don’t, regardless of nationality. And stupidity is a pandemic in its own right, affecting lives on both sides of the Atlantic equally severely judging by what I see in my news feed.
But enough about food because otherwise I’ll be tempted to go into things like haute cuisine and nouvelle cuisine, and I don’t want to do that. Let’s talk about books. Have you read that superfamous book by that superfamous author? No? Oh, my god, how is this possible?! Everybody’s read it! You should get it immediately and read it! I mean, like, immediately! Right now!
Yeah, right. First of all, yes, I’ve heard about that superfamous author. S/he leaves me cold and a little suspicious the superfamous book is either full of cliches or yet another unsuccessful attempt at originality. Then again, the author may well be a brilliant writer and the book may well be a really good book but if you don’t stop trying to make me feel stupid or guilty for not having read it, I will never read it. And I[m not reading Jonathan Frantzen for love nor money after I saw a picture of him as THE stereotype of a writer and read his “writing rules”. Please.
When I was a teen, I knew a girl who read Freud, in the eighth grade. A mutual friend let me know I should be extremely impressed. So I was. And I tried reading Freud, too, to see what the fuss was all about. This, my friends, was the first step on a road that ended a few years later with me getting accepted in the psychology programme of Thames Valley University but not enrolling because there was no more money for my education and there were no scholarships for Bulgarians at the time. Anyway, it’s better it didn’t work out. Had I fulfilled my dream of becoming a therapist I would have been a steady alcoholic or worse by now. I’m not strong enough.
You might think now “So in one case at least, peer pressure worked.”* But you’d be wrong. Nobody pressured me into reading Freud. Nobody told me I was stupid because I hadn’t read him. I was given the free choice to read or not read him, or any other author, really.
Only once in my life I took the “You haven’t read it? But you must!” adage seriously. The reason I took it seriously was that it came from someone who was not prone to overemotionality and because the book, The Master and Margarita, was in my plans for the future. The advice only accelerated things. And I didn’t regret it one bit. But if you want to bet on how many people have either not read it or read it and disliked it but say it’s a wonderful novel, I’m your girl. Let’s bet. I say thousands.
I’ve never understood that. Why say you like a book just because you are supposed to like it? Why say you love cow brain fried in butter just because it’s French? (I don’t actually know if it’s French but it may well be. They eat everything over there.) In short, why lie? I can understand it for teens. Peer pressure is real and so is the desire to belong. It’s sharp and painful. I guess many of us never grow out of it, I don’t know. But here’s what I found when I outgrew both peer pressure and the desire to belong. The freedom to not lie to belong is a lot more delicious than the best meal, French or otherwise.
* Don’t you just love being told what to think? I know I do. With a violent passion.