“We are not Borat!”

Title image: Borat (film character), a man of controversial. Taken by Michael Bulcik / SKS Soft GmbH Düsseldorf.

Everyone knows about stereotypes and clichés. We know about them in regards to gender, races or nations to just mention a few example topics. Often we are not even aware of the fact that we are trapped by them in our routine and probably even worse once we travel. This effect is increases if it is a country or nation one does not know a lot about.

Being faced with stereotypes and the common assumptions they include can be an offensive experience for the person being categorized. We create in our lives categories to maneuver more easily through all the information and stimuli that we face every day. Although it can be helpful to work with stereotypes, we often forget too easily how it feels to be the judged person.

Akbota Tasmagambetova, a student from Kazakhstan knows this feeling well “I am not Borat” she says referring to the controversial 2006 film that featured Sacha Baron Cohen. Tasmagambetova’s friend Kamilya Kanat, from the International College of Language in Almaty, agrees with her “Yes, we are not Borat!” The two students are upsetby this stereotyped version of their country and culture.

Tasmagambetova, a student of the University of International Business in Almaty explains further that the movie “Borat” has changed their contact with international visitors a lot. Most visitors now expect to meet a lot of Borats when they come to Kazakhstan.

Both Tasmagambetova and Kanat say they don’t know anyone in Kazakhstan who likes the movie “Borat” which they also critique for not even being shot in Kazakhstan.

The movie has created according to the two young women a lot of stereotypes that are not true. In many countries “Borat” is a comedy; Kanat describes it with a single word “it’s awful.” Tasmagambetova agrees with strong nodding of her head and she says “we are normal people!”

A nice attraction in Kazakhstan is for example restaurants which are like yurt tents. Yurt like restaurants and similar things are demanded by the tourism industry and are a good selling product. The people working wear traditional clothing.

The concept is clear, it is a program for tourists. The yurt tent and the traditional clothing are for the two students just a part of their lives during national and traditional holidays. But Kanat says, “people come here and expect that we are still living in our yurt tents, they believe we still live in the Middle Ages” which makes her upset and sad at the same time.

The way Kazakhstanis see their own culture is very different from much of the outside world. The Kazakhstani are proud people, with a rich history in a vast and diverse country. Tasmagambetova says, “we are a welcoming people, in Kazakhstan you say ‘the guest is best’; you give a guest everything you have.” The two students also identify their nation as a meat loving nation; the idea of vegetarian or vegan is not very popular and is still questioned.

Kanat talked about another incident involving foreigners that upset her.  A Canadian foreigner, who came to Kazakhstan to work, keeps continuously telling her and others that his country is so much better than Kazakhstan. This upsets both girls, “come to our country, enjoy it and explore it” the two girls demand “once you’ve returned to your home you can judge us.”

The two young students hope that more people come to visit their country and see that it is not a nation of Borats and of course that those visitors spread their experience once they return from their vacation. In the end, they hope to make the Borat movie stereotype eventually disappear altogether.

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