Over the years, I have heard a lot of stories from Indians about Americans perception of my homeland. Some of these stories are true, curiously asked by people trying to make sense of a country that is alien to them, while some of them are often repeated remarks in the form of "a friends-friend was asked". Examples range from "what does the dot on the forehead signify?" to "do people in India travel on elephants?". Most of these tales were repeated with a John Stewart like mock disbelief on how less the average American knows of the rest of the world.
I probably would have thought the same based on this anecdotal experience had I not lived in Texas. In a trip to Jaipur in 1994, one of my friends father asked me where I live. When I told him Austin, TX, he remarked that Texas was a dangerous state as they had assassinated a President in Dallas. I had to politely remind him that two Prime Ministers have been assassinated in India since then. Note that this was before George W. Bush and his so called "cowboy" diplomacy. In fact, most of America also wonders about the gun totting cowboy ways of Texas. Austinites apologetically explain that Austin is not like the rest of Texas. At least we don't cling to religion or guns like Pennsylvanians.
This got me thinking that not only Americans, most people form conceptions of alien lands and of people they don't know and most of the time these impressions are negative. Our window to these worlds is through television news which tends to usually focus on the negative.
Watching television I have always wondered "Do people in Rwanda walk around with machetes?", "Is there a women jeans market in the middle east?", "Does everyone live in a tent in Sudan?", "Are all Hawaiians wind surfers?", "Do people get regularly eaten up by sharks in California or Florida?".
One of my new years resolution is to try to resolve these preconceptions and I hope you do it to yours as well.