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Persistent stereotypes

Updated Monday, 20th July 2015

Explore the different types of stereotypes held in Britain. 

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ornament depicting a stereotypical image of a German man with beer and wearing lederhosen ornament depicting a stereotypical image of a German man with beer and wearing lederhosen All nations, cultures, social groups etc. are likely to have stereotypes about other groups, and the British are no exception in that they share cultural stereotypes about many other nations. Among the most distinct and abiding stereotypes held in Britain are probably the ones related to Germans. Rainer Emig, professor of English Studies at the University of Hanover, writes that both nations are said to have been ‘troubled with at least a double identity of positive and negative self-images’ (2000, p. 7) and comments:

One could regard it as a joke: two European countries with complex identities of their own as well as a long history of cultural, economic and political interchanges (some more positive and productive than others, of course) are engaged in the highly delicate act of negotiating their role and participation in a changing Europe.

(Emig, 2000, p. 1)

Activity 1

Read the following extract taken from Rainer Emig’s introductory chapter about presumed reasons for the mutual admiration between the British and the Germans, and answer the question that follows.

Yet far from merely distrusting foreign cultures, their morale, but also their food […] there is also a secret or open admiration and even envy for other cultures. The Germans are envied by the British for their presumed efficiency and […] their affluence. […] The Germans, on the other hand, are envious of a perceived British cultural sophistication. In their view, the British are ‘naturally’ cultured, which means that in an environment soaked in history and made up of pleasant landscapes scattered with chocolate box cottages they have no choice but to enjoy celebrating life with slightly antiquated but ever so quaint rituals, such as five o’clock tea, sherry parties, and church bazaars.

This prejudice could easily be adjusted by a trip to any average British town centre on a Friday night, but is kept very much alive by the popular form of holiday accommodation in Britain, the bed and breakfast. In the same way, the British idea of German efficiency will undoubtedly survive any major blunders […].

(Emig, 2000, p. 3)

Is there any truth in the picture of the British presented here?

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Comment

This is perhaps an example of how stereotypes persist despite evidence to the contrary. Not many British people live in pretty cottages and have time for five o’clock tea nowadays (and even if they did have a cup of tea, only a visitor from abroad would be likely to refer to it as ‘five o’clock tea’). Note also the stereotype about German efficiency which is linked to the idea that Germans are hard-working – another myth that persists despite the fact that Germans work fewer hours and take more holidays than most other European nationals.

 

This article is part of a wider collection of articles and activities on the subject of stereotypes. You can view the full collection here. 

 

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