I spent some time in Beijing, China's capital city, this month. Mostly sightseeing, but also meeting some friends, eating a lot of great food, and doing some work on my book.
Throughout the trip, people would often ask where we were from, and we'd say, of course, Shanghai. Often a topic of conversation would be the differences between people from the north and the south. Apparently, people from the north are more open, simple people, who love to engage with community in an honest and collegial way, enjoying a good drink now and again. Southerners are more socially discerning, paying careful attention to detail and maintaining tact and sensibility in relationships. At least this is what we were told by northerners. :)
These conversations got me thinking about stereotypes, and specifically, location-based stereotypes. It is possible to dig deeper and ask why different regions - with their separate histories, challenges, and terrain - create different people. Shanghai's mercantile history and port city location have shaped the people in the city. Beijing's political history and location bordering northern powers have shaped BJers as well.
There are many ways in which we are shaped by where we live. Personalities are as much a product of huge communities like our country, our generation, and our cities. On a smaller level, we live in a neighborhood, with certain people, speaking a certain lingo with a select group of friends. We are also born with traits and personalities that are shaped by our environments, at times the two coming into conflict.
If you want to write about where you come from, or a community you are a part of, one way into that question can be to think about the stereotypes and expectations you or others have about the place or the group. How am I an American, what does that mean, and how am I different than the norm, or the stereotype? Why? How am I a typical younger sister, and how does my relationship differ from the norm? Pry open the layers of your identity, and take a good look at how they follow the norm, as well as diverge.
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