5 Oddly Specific Lies We Believe About Foreigners
For most of human history, we could make up whatever we wanted to about people who lived in different lands or practiced strange faiths. If you lived in 17th century England and wanted to spread a rumor about how Japanese people bathed themselves using live seagulls as soap, it wasn't like anyone could call up Japan and check.
And yet even with the infinite range of bullshit that humanity could invent about outsiders, over the course of history most of the stuff we've come up with has fit into a small number of very specific categories. What's weirder still is that even though we're living in a time when untrue rumors can be debunked by a short smartphone search while we're on the toilet, a lot of us still believe these things. For example, we keep believing that ...
They Are Having Hidden Religious Sex
A guy in the Middle East once told me that on Christmas Eve, Christians in the West attend midnight services that are actually orgies. He said that at midnight in these churches, "all the lights go off" and "you can imagine what happens next." I tried to tell him that the majority of people in the West go to Christmas services with their families, and that most of us can valiantly fight to overcome our lust toward our children and parents even on the blackest of nights. He didn't seem convinced, though, and that's probably because this particular rumor is several times older than America. The idea of a Christian "dark midnight sex service" has been around since Christianity was still a minority religion in the Roman Empire. According to the Roman stories, worshipers would even train a dog to knock over a lamp at a certain time, plunging the church into glorious, incestuous darkness.
This dog spent most of the afternoon humping a pool float, and he's still the least deviant thing in this ritual.
It isn't just Christianity that is rumored by its enemies to have more poorly lit incest than a Supernatural fan-fic convention. A minority Muslim sect called the Alevi faces widespread discrimination in Turkey to this day, because somehow this completely different religion has picked up the exact same rumor about pitch-black religious orgies. Clearly, something about unfamiliar worship services causes the human mind to make the jump to "They're taking their clothes off and sticking their dicks in each other," because variations of this rumor can be found far outside the Muslim world. In Europe from the 15th century onward, witches were the ones rumored to be having sex at secret nighttime religious gatherings. During the 1980s, Americans of all kinds became convinced that Satanist groups were stripping naked and getting it on in their local woods at night, which sounds like a great way to get your Dark Lord to bless you with Lyme disease.
Those robes are hiding a wicked poison ivy rash.
But what's really weird is that people also believe that ...
They're Not Having Any Normal Sex at All
A while back, I co-wrote an article that attempted to debunk a long-standing myth about Orthodox Jewish couples being required to have sex through a hole in a bed sheet. Since then, many people have insisted that Cracked got that part wrong. Not about Jews, mind you: It was simply that our debunking had targeted the wrong religious group.
Looking at these corrections, it's clear that any even slightly isolated religion will be targeted by those who've come together to express a simple, eternal human need: the desire to find somebody who fucks bed sheets. The sheet-humping rumor is harder to remove than any weird stain on your Egyptian cotton, despite the fact that if you think about it for 10 seconds, the whole concept is pretty ridiculous. Where do the lady's legs go? Don't the sheets get all tangled and hitched up? Do any of the sheet-fucking religious groups overlap with the midnight-church-fucking ones, and if so, do they bring their sheets to the midnight fuck-service? When the lights go off, have there been occasions where everyone's running around in the dark wearing their sheets, and people mistake each other for ghosts or KKK members?
Does this make things more or less sexy?
Whatever the answers to these eternal questions, it's clear that a lot of us are invested in the idea that People Who Aren't Us are ridiculously repressed about human sexuality. Take the story of Victorians covering chair legs because the word "leg" reminded them of shameful human parts: It started as a myth written by a British travel writer about Americans, and now Americans cling to it as a way to make fun of prudish Victorian Brits. Medieval chastity belts are even more obviously impractical than dick-sheets: Do we really believe that it was common for women to wear a belt that rubs trapped poop all around her chafed genital area during an era when treatment for a UTI probably consisted of doctors trying to beat the E. coli out of you? And yet the belief endures that every Crusader put his wife in one.
On the plus side, the smell would probably keep unwanted suitors away.
They're Stealing Our Children
When foreigners and assorted religious minorities are not polluting bedwear or having God-orgies, they're fond of slipping out and stealing a few of our children. The "child-stealing outsider" rumor has been going on probably since the first time we accused the Neanderthal settlement down the road of abducting young Grug and framing a hyena for the crime. History's most popular reputed child stealers are probably the Gypsies, but anyone vaguely unusual will also do. In the Roman Empire, Christians were accused of snatching children, stabbing them up like they were the last piece of bread at a fondue party, and using their blood for religious rituals. When Christianity spread deeper into Europe and became the majority religion, everyone learned from this earlier bullying and avoided spreading any rumors of the sort. Oh wait, no: Some of them accused the Jews of doing the exact same thing.
It was the Canadians the whole time.
Europeans aren't the only ones who are obsessed with kid-grabbing outsiders, either. China's anti-foreigner Boxer Rebellion in 1900 was caused in part by rumors that a Catholic mission was abducting children, mutilating them, and using their body parts to make medicine. In Guatemala in the '90s, after a civil war led to thousands of displaced children and a rise in foreign adoption, a rumor sprung up that foreigners were actually stealing the orphans' organs and exporting them to the U.S., maybe in order to build some sort of weaponized super-Guatemalan out of all the parts. These rumors led to a riot that left an American woman in a coma.
"It's set the Guatemala 5000 Project back by at least 30 years."
But at least such xenophobic rumors are behind us now, right? Except that in the distant past of October 2013, our stolen-child sense started tingling again when Greek officials discovered a blonde-haired girl living with a Roma couple who seemed too suspiciously swarthy to be her biological parents. Newspapers started sobbing about the trafficking of tow-headed innocents into poverty-stricken Gypsy compounds, and authorities soon raided Roma households in Ireland and seized several unusually blond children from there as well. After a few days, investigators discovered that the Greek girl had been given to the parents to care for by a lighter-haired Roma woman, a completely normal occurrence in a culture that commonly practices informal adoption. The Irish kids' dusky kidnappers also turned out to have an excuse: They were the biological parents. After that, the media stopped caring about those kids and the poverty that was punching them in the face daily, because they were Gypsies all along, so who gives a shit.
They're Always Being Swept by Insanely Wacky Trends
At least once a week, Daily Mail journalists stop swiping Cracked articles long enough to write about a wacky new trend that's sweeping a country that they read about once on Wikipedia. So far, exactly what you'd expect from the Daily Mail: I'm just impressed that they figured out which end of the keyboard you hit to make words appear on the magic screen. But inevitably "respectable" media will jump on the foreign-fad train as well. Recent headlines have told us that Japanese teenagers are injecting saline into their foreheads in the shape of a doughnut, while others are obsessed with a new prosthetic "pickable" nose. Models in Iran are getting plastic surgery to look like porn stars, while Chinese women are donning hairy-leg tights to discourage perverts.
If you're reading this site, you can probably guess the truth about these rumors: Those pickable Japanese noses and Chinese man-tights were gag gifts that aren't sweeping anything but awkward office Christmas parties; the "bagel head" phenomenon turned out to be unknown even among Japan's hardcore body modders; and the "porn star" story came from a quote from a single Iranian photographer. Hell, even Japan's coup de grace of brain-killing weirdness, used-panty vending machines, are far from being on every street corner, as foreigners are wont to believe: They were a brief and quickly banned fad found mainly inside sex shops. And yet the world remains full of otherwise smart people who believe this stuff, because they apparently think that every country but their own is a cartoonish dreamlike realm full of illogical people who wear prosthetic noses on their real noses.
The point here isn't that no one in other countries does strange things: Obviously, there are weirdos everywhere. It's that these fads, if they occurred in our home country, would clearly be seen as fringe, weird-person activities. We might know a dude from college who gets horn implants or marries his iguana or whatever, but we realize that this is not a normal thing. But as soon as a wacky hobby crosses an ocean or two, it suddenly threatens to morph into something that everyone and their mom is doing.
They Live Like They Do on Television
Most of us are self-aware enough to know that our own country is different from the way it's portrayed in books or on TV shows. We realize that television -- even news reporting and "reality" shows -- is full of biases, inflated drama, and unrealistically sculpted abs. And yet despite this knowledge, we often unconsciously assume that our television screens are telling us the truth about other parts of the world. And thanks to America's worldwide cultural dominance, this kind of pretend-knowledge is especially bad when it comes to how people think about the USA.
In real life, this picture accurately represents the view from less than two-thirds of American windows.
For example, growing up, I knew that my home country of Australia was not like it was on TV. But then I traveled to the U.S. for the first time as a teenager as part of a crocodile-wrestling scholarship, and I immediately noticed that most people were hanging out in groups that were segregated according to race. Furthermore, the majority of menial jobs seemed to be done by non-white people. Holy crap, racial discrimination was still around? Teenager-me was completely shocked.
See, I'd grown up watching North American young-adult television, and it had informed me that American people hung out in healthy, multiracial groups who looked past their skin-deep differences. I was naive, yes, but this sort of error is common. Non-Americans are the first ones to laugh when Americans express their ignorance about our home countries, and yet our idea of America often remains a vague, TV-influenced blob.
This disconnect means that in many parts of the world, urbane, tolerant people who'd rather set themselves on fire than say something like "I would never travel to the Middle East! I might get blown up by a terrorist!" will have no problem telling you that they're too scared to go to America because "everyone has a gun there!" These people might have American Internet friends who stubbornly remain unshot year after year after year, but their friends' continual aliveness is overridden by the hundreds of movie images these people have in their heads of every single street corner in America being blown up by a slow-motion explosion.
C. Coville wrote this column shortly before being blown up in an explosion. Follow her on Twitter and Tumblr.
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