Every nationality has an internationally perceived stereotype, and I guess you are never more aware of this than when you are travelling or living abroad – either because of how you see and relate to the locals, or how you are seen by them. It is something that comes up in classes now and then, and it’s quite a fun subject. Obviously the stereotypes I am familiar with are the European ones, particularly the French, Germans, Italians and British. Don’t know what they are? Humour offers the best explanation I would think…

In heaven, the police are British, The cooks are French, The engineers are German The administrators are Swiss And the lovers Italian. In hell, the police are German The cooks are British The engineers are Italian The administrators are French And the lovers Swiss.

The French always have to be just a little bit different…

Stereotyped humour is a popular pastime in Europe, far more so than anywhere else in the world, where I suspect it would be called racism or xenophobia. In fact the national tabloids of the UK regularly print material that, were the words French and German swapped with Jewish and Black, would lead to criminal charges. But as long as they keep the subject on the French and Germans, it’s all ok. Which is just as well, because the subject of the war hasn’t gone away just yet…

Another factor that perpetuates stereotyping, particularly between the British and French, are centuries of cultural, political and military rivalry. Many countries will claim to have the ‘biggest rivalry’ in Europe, but really none come close to that of the Brits and the Frogs. Germany and Italy can be ruled out of any claim immediately, as they haven’t even existed as national entities for terribly long. Sweden and Norway? Hardly changed the world did they? The Frenchies and Brits have been at it non stop for a 1,000 years. Which is probably why, as far as the Brits are concerned, the French are a bunch of unwashed, garlic munching, arrogant surrender monkeys. Actually, the surrender monkeys phrase came from an episode of the Simpsons. But ‘unwashed’? The BBC ran a piece explaining this.

Take the notion that the French don’t wash. This might have stemmed from the hardships France endured after World War II. Recovery was slower and accommodation often lacked basic sanitation. "The contrast between the two domestic environments must have been startling for the British visitor of the 1950s and early 1960s," says Mr Walker. "It is not hard to see how the myth of the ‘dirty French’ was disparagingly communicated back to the Albion."

Sterotypes aren’t likely to disappearin the foreseeable future however, so we might just as well accept that those ultra efficient, hardworking Germans will continue to put towels over all the deckchairs at 3 in the morning, the French will continue to turn their noses up in an arrogant fashion, and the Italians will never quite manage to organise anything more complicated than an afternoon snooze. And I of course, will continue to remain aloof, shoot things that move, be punctual(!) but at the same time be terribly polite and gentlemanly in between bouts of unwarranted hooliganism!

A group of people meet at the National Geographic Society in London and decide that, for the next meeting, everybody has to present a treatise on the elephant. They all return the following year and present their volumes. The German has a 700-page dissertation: "Beschreibung des männlichen Elephanten in Ost-Afrika. 1. Teil" (description of the male elephant of East Africa, Part I). The Englishman has a small, sober, black leather-bound book entitled "Elephants I have Shot". The American has an 8-page booklet in colour, "How to make bigger and better elephants", while the Frenchman has a small tastefully presented book on "L’amour des élephants" (The love life of elephants).


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