How do you fight against stereotypes? How do you make the point, as gently as possible, that there is no such thing as “the French”? Let me tell you a little story. I used to be working for this company in London, and I was the only French of the team. I had the occasional comment about French politics and they seemed to struggle to understand my bad accent from time to time, but, all in all, I was pretty happy there. One day, I found a better job elsewhere and resigned. They wanted to buy me a little present on my last day. I insisted that it wasn’t necessary -after all, I was leaving them!-, but my colleagues really wanted to, which I thought was nice. I ended up giving them the name of a charity I support, saying that a small donation would be appreciated. On my last day, we all gathered up, and they insisted on giving me my present. It turned out that they had ignored my wish and bought me an ashtray.
The thing is: I don’t smoke. Never have. Never will. I had worked there for a couple of years, and they hadn’t noticed. This is because, according to them, all French people smoke cigarettes. Well, I don’t.
I was confused. I didn’t know what to do. There was clearly no point in telling them that they had it completely wrong, and I was leaving anyway, so why should I have educated them? I ended up thanking them them profusely. I think that I delivered a pretty good performance. I felt a lot happier to leave the company. They clearly didn’t know me well.
Why did my colleagues assume I was smoking? Where did this come from? I came to the conclusion that it probably said more about them than about me, and it was better to let it slide.
What about you? How do you deal with stereotypes?