I came across a tweet by Rashunda today (and if you don't know Rashunda, run to her blog, it's very smart and witty) which rang a bell. I wrote a few days ago about our Culture Comfort Zone and Rashunda's words awoke more thought about this whole "noticing stuff".

The tweet said

the new miss switzerland is, well, i don't know what she is, but she's not swiss-swiss:-)...

Before I actually read the message, I had clicked to see the new Miss Switzerland, and frankly, I had thought, although not exactly consciously, the exact same thing. Not Swiss-Swiss. Which brings me to ask myself the question. What is it that makes us French-French, or American-American, or Mexican-Mexican?

Frankly, I don't know. I think we all have in us some kind of images of what it is to be Swiss, or French, or Chinese. Stereotypes that define our approach of other cultures. Whether the stereotypes are physical (Chinese people are small), or pertain to values (the French are chauvinistic) or behaviours (German people are always on time), is irrelevant. Those stereotypes, to some extent, shape our definition of the world and prompt our reactions when confronted with an unusual situation, a situation where the stereotype is not respected. A bit like thinking that Miss Switzerland is not "Swiss-Swiss".

The strange thing being, when it comes to Miss Switzerland, I am not sure I know what "Swiss-Swiss" would have been, although I am pretty sure I could have said of a Swiss-Swiss Miss Schweiz that she was really Swiss. Which comforts me in the idea that stereotypes are to some extent buried in our unconscious. A complicated thing really.

Not true now, I do know one thing that would have been Swiss-Swiss. And that is purple with a taste of chocolate.