I’ve always found stereotypes interesting, so when I entered North Korea, one of the world’s most reclusive countries and a place without internet access, I thought it would be interesting to find out how North Koreans generalised foreign cultures.
The following conversations are with real North Koreans who are tour guides in the country. So that these people don’t get executed, tortured or otherwise punished, I will not publish their names, gender or describe them physically (there’s only a certain amount of tour guides in the country).
North Korean 1
Will: Do you have any stereotypes of German people?
North Korean 1: Germany, Germany, Germany… [Silence, then a laugh]
Will: Never mind. What about America?
North Korean 1: No history. Shit history. [They laugh]
Will: The UK?
North Korean 1: Bowler hats, umbrellas and foggy London.
North Korean 1: Short.
Will: South Korea?
North Korean 1: Same blood.
Will: What are your stereotypes of France?
North Korean 1: Fashion. Fashion ladies. The mother of fashion!
North Korean 1: Stingy. Windmills. Shoes… wooden shoes.
North Korean 2:
Will: Are there any things about foreign people that you find strange??
North Korean 2: Err.. everyone is different. You wear different costumes to us. Sometimes you wear very short shorts and skirts and short tops. We think… Very strange. And haircuts. You have some very strange haircuts. If you have haircut like that one [points to a tourist with hair shaved very short on the sides with a round mop of hair on top] we think strange. And even, we think maybe crazy.
North Korean 3
Will: What’s your stereotype of British people?
North Korean 3: UK? People from UK are gentlemen. Ask any Korean. They have umbrellas and hats. This is an old stereotype though.
North Korean 3: Very strict. And punctual.
North Korean 3: Very naughty people! The worst! [Jokingly, a Slovene tourist was next to them]
North Korean 3: Very bad English.
Slovene Tourist: Arabs?
North Korean 3: I haven’t met many Arab people.
What amazed me in these conversations was how uniform stereotypes across the world seem to be. Of course, these were tour guides and they aren’t representative of the North Korean population as a whole. I wonder if these are lasting pre-war stereotypes (I found the stereotype of London being smoggy interesting) or if these stereotypes were simply passed on by other tourists they had met.
Let me know what you found funny, controversial or interesting in the comments section below 🙂