The tourist´s mind: National stereotypes at heart

Olga Blanco Carrión (University of Córdoba)

In this paper, I examine Sender's novel La Tesis de Nancy (Nancy´s PhD) which explores the perception of old Spain in the 50s by an American student experiencing first hand the implications of being familiar with the foreign culture (i.e. national stereotypes) but not aware of the cultural models which govern the behaviour of the people in that culture. I aim to show how language, culture and society are determinant to one´s belief system. For this analysis, I focus on the linguistic constructs in the text which are at play when the intercultural communication mismatches happen, especially with regards to the concepts of cultural identity and the feeling of loss or misunderstanding tourists and foreign visitors commonly experience in a foreign country.

The paper analyses the cultural models, metaphors, polysemy, idioms and humour that not only contribute to re-create the national stereotype that Nancy, the graduate visiting student from the United States, has in mind but also prove to be essential when "adjusting" Nancy´s beliefs about Spanish culture to the reality of the culture she encounters. In this sense, Sender, who was exiled to the United States, may be considered the cultural mediator in the portrait and conceptualization of his home country from the perspective of Nancy's home country. Living in the US allows Sender to confront the knowledge of his national identity with the knowledge an external observer carries along when visiting a foreign country. On the other hand, the tourist, as previously pointed out, is presented as an active participant that is constantly forced to re-assess her pre-conceptions about the host culture. That is, Nancy has to reconcile the feedback she gets by living in this culture with the national stereotypes which worked as a magnet to attract her to the foreign culture.

Culture, as defined by Shore (1996:44), is "an extensive and heterogeneous collection of models, models that exist both as public artifacts in the world and as cognitive constructs in the mind of members of a community." Although there are several approaches to the investigation of cultural models, I use the one that considers the use of the native-speaker intuitions and the analysis of discourse (supported by linguists such as Lakoff, Kövecses, Sweetser, Kay). From this perspective, the intuitions of native speakers about the language are considered to be heavily dependent on the intuitions of native speakers as culture-bearers (Quinn and Holland 1987:16). As these authors point out, the strategy of building accounts from native speaker's intuitions and testing them against other observations (e.g. discourse analysis) can be a methodological foundation for inquiry into cultural knowledge.


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