Cliche` vs stereotype

It’s amazing what people will say when you make them feel comfortable enough to let their guard down. Quite revelatory, in fact.

I was at a medical centre this morning getting a test done and doing my ‘witty repartee`’ with the ladies behind the counter. I like to do this sometimes, to bring people out of their shells, to make them relax and smile. It’s fun. Mostly.  So, I’m clarifying the spelling of various referral details for them.

‘Springfield – like the Simpsons.’ That gets a smirk.

‘I used to live in Bonnie Doone – like The Castle.’ Pause. ‘And we have a greyhound.’

The ladies are smiling. I sigh.

‘My whole life is a cliché.’ I have them both laughing.

Then the one who’s filling in my paperwork asks me a question. It is one of those moments that takes only a fraction of a second but feels like time is bending uncomfortably outwards, in slow motion. It seemed to take ages for the question to register, for my brain to process it, to understand what she said. In fact it took so long I had to ask her to repeat it. It think it was in the repetition that its content finally caught up with both of us. I waited for the question to connect in my synapses, for my synapses to make sense of it in context of my previous comment, and then I had to come up with some sort of reaction. This was initially an open-mouthed gasp, and ultimately confusion. It felt like 5 minutes had passed by the time I responded – but I know it was only milliseconds.

I could see she regretted it the moment it was out of her mouth, especially the second time. It was one of those quips that come quick to the tongue, a question that some part of the brain thought was funny, so it didn’t bother putting it through any of the usual filters before sending it out for public viewing. As I stood there processing it, waiting for my brain to respond, she began to blush. Again, this probably happened in tiny increments of time, but the world for the two of us had slowed down considerably in the moments her words hit the airwaves the second time.

Let me rewind a moment so you will see it in context. She’s registering me on her system, asking me questions to fill in the tick boxes in front of her.

‘My whole life is a cliché.’

Mumbling that ended in ‘Islander’


‘So should I bother asking you if you’re a ‘hopeless Islander’?’


Frankly, I was confused. It was a very busy, noisy waiting room and I was so taken by surprise I didn’t know how to react. And then I was distracted by her obvious embarrassment. By the time she realised what she had said it was too late to apologise, too late to take it back, too late to remake it into something truly clever. I lost eye contact with her then. She completed my paperwork and directed me down the corridor to another waiting area. She was probably glad to be rid of me, probably grateful that I turned out not an ‘Islander’ of any persuasion – hopeless or otherwise.

Obviously she needs an english lesson. For a start she got cliche` mixed up with stereotype. At least she didn’t use any of those nasty names some Australian’s seem so fond of (I won’t mention them here out of respect to my readers). If only she’d asked me if I was a hopeless do-gooder, or dirty greenie, or a recovering Catholic, at least then I might have managed to genuinely share the joke. Instead I felt sad. The event reminded me how attached our nation is to silly, outdated stereotypes that serve our ignorance and make us blind to the people around us.

PS: A short note to those who have informed me they ‘don’t get it’ – a standard question asked by most medical practices nowadays is ‘Are you of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent?’

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. angie
    Oct 26, 2010 @ 17:55:47

    sad comment indeed.

    however, in reading your blog i have unearthed my true identity. i’m a ‘recovering catholic’ – i never realised that until now!

    thank you (I think).



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