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On Culture, Stereotypes, and the "French"

One of the simplest yet wisest statements I heard this year in Paris came from a professor in a course I took on literature and globalization. He said, "Je ne suis pas capable de vous dire ce que font les Français" (Translation: I am not capable of telling you what the French do). In other words, he didn't want to generalize and say "the French are like so," or "the French do so-and-so."

In fact, about all we can say generally of the French or the Serbs or Cubans or Americans and still speak the truth is that they are 1) human and 2) French, Serbs, Cubans, or Americans. That does not belittle the usefulness and place of generalizations and stereotypes in cultural studies, but it does remind us of how easily they can introduce intercultural misunderstanding.

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