Have you ever wondered who is directing traffic for your flight as you come in for a midnight landing after your holiday? You are tired, you hope the pilot is not tired but I doubt you ever consider if the folks pushing tin are on their game or not.
Meet Sarah. No, she is surely not the stereotype of some guy in a button-up shirt and clip-on tie who is chain smoking while nervously lining up half a dozen aircraft on approach. She is a gregarious gal who loves dancing, sarcasm, cooking and tramping (maybe not in that order). That sparkle in her eye is just a hint at what good-natured trouble lies under the surface of her take-no-shit approach to job and life. The pilots who call her ma'am sometimes get a shorter taxi and faster clearance. Apparently the American pilots are the most polite in that respect.
When I found out Sarah was an air traffic controller, I was immediately intrigued; partly because it was out of the ordinary and partly because she did not fit my stereotype for that profession. What stereotypes do you harbor based on peoples' job descriptions or looks? Do you subconsciously infer intelligence levels, leadership ability or ambition? If you were to meet your partner's workmates at the Christmas party, could you pick the secretaries from the managers, the janitors from the marketing team? Should you? One of the things I noticed after moving to New Zealand from the USA is that people here (in Christchurch at least) really don't ask or care what you do. They may ask where you work, but rarely ask what you do the first time you meet. My experience in Dallas was the exact opposite. Two of the first five questions would be “what do you do” and “where do you live.” That behavior seemed normal when in Rome, but the culture here is infinitely less concerned about indirectly assessing social stature. It has been an eye-opener and taught me quite a bit about my own prejudiced first impressions.