Cultural Encounters/National stereotypes

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This section of the IP Erasmus Database deals with stereotypes. A stereotype is, according to the Oxford Dictionary (2014), “A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.” The definition of a stereotype itself tells us that putting labels on the representatives of other cultures and nationalities before we actually come in contact with them is an oversimplification, therefore we should strive to avoid it. In order to do so, one has to be open to other cultures, eager to acquire factual knowledge about them and be able to accept other perspectives and perceptions of the world. A person who manages to act in that way acquires intercultural competence and is described by Byram (1998) as "/s/omeone who has knowledge of one, or, preferably more cultures and social identities and has the capacity to discover and relate to new people from other contexts for which they have not prepared directly." In this section, we describe some of the stereotypes that are usually attributed to the nationalities participating in the Summer School, namely Croatia, Germany, Ireland, Portugal and Slovenia. We also tackle some of the stereotypes that people have about Great Britain, the country where the Summer School has taken place for the last three years. The theoretical basis for this section of the database is a research conducted by Geert Hofstede (2011), which compares nationalities in terms of different cultural aspects; Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance, Pragmatism and Indulgence. All of the results can be seen graphically in the Relationships section of this webpage.

National stereotypes about Croatia

Being part of the Balkan Peninsula, Croatia is often perceived as a talkative and friendly nation, but also loud, rude and sometimes quarrelsome. This stereotype probably comes from the fact that Western European countries have seen them as “barbarians” throughout their history, because they were sometimes falling behind when it comes to following the modern currents. Hofstede´s research (2011) shows that they are in fact still a patriarchal society with a clear hierarchical structure, as their score on the Power Distance scale is very high (73). Croats are often perceived as patriotic, probably because of their war for independence, which only ended in 1995 and motivated its people to express how proud they were of their country and heritage in a more excessive way. Even though a lot of people still believe this to be true, Hofstede´s findings (2011) challenge this stereotype. Croatia scored relatively high on the Pragmatism scale, which means that they do not have too many difficulties adapting to new socio-political circumstances and are not too attached to their traditions.

National stereotypes about Great Britain

British people are often described as very polite, proper and sophisticated with a negative tendency towards being stiff, snobbish, unemotional or obsessed with class and status. This feature is, for example, reflected in the American idiom ‘to keep a stiff upper lip’, which, according to the Urban Dictionary (2005), describes a general obstinacy or stubbornness. Princess Diana´s death is often said to be the trigger of this change as many people showed their emotions and cried in public that day. As a consequence, a lot of people think that the proverbial ‘stiff upper lip’ is about to die out.

There are various stereotypes ascribed to the different parts of Great Britain rather than to the whole country. For example, a typical image of a Scot is a man dressed up in the traditional clothes, including the widely known kilt and the sporran, which can be described as a pouch made out of leather or fur.

National stereotypes about Ireland

Irish people are all stereotypically thought to be "ginger" or have red hair. As well as having this distinct hair colour, of which there are many variations, they are also thought to have blue eyes and an unfortunate amount of freckles. They are described as tall and well-built with wide shoulders being a common attribute.

They are also said to be loud and outspoken and can at times be seen as intimidating towards other more reserved cultures. The Irish accent, which to a lot of people conveys an aura of mystery and attraction, was voted the "Sexiest accent in the world" in 2009, according to a study presented in The Telegraph (2009). Furthermore, another stereotype regarding the language of the Irish is that they speak very fast and sometimes don't enunciate well, which can be confusing for both native and non-native speakers of English.

A stereotype that is shared by many Europeans and concerns Irish people´s personal traits is the belief that they are patriotic, headstrong and proud. The history of Ireland has significantly contributed to the reinforcement of this stereotype, as Ireland became independent from its neighbour Great Britain in 1921, and the tensions from the past still exist even today.

Irish people are believed to be relaxed and laid back when it comes to almost anything. They are fun and interesting to be around, sometimes doing unconventional, random things just for the "craic" (fun).The stereotype about the Irish as a fun-loving nation can be supported with Hofstede´s findings. Taking Hofstede´s research (2011) into account, we see that the Irish centralise the importance of having fun, as their score on the Indulgence scale is 65.

The stereotype of the Irish centralising the importance of fun also has a negative side to it, since Ireland has long been considered as a nation of heavy drinkers. Their somewhat dependence on alcohol is more often than not the primary stereotype associated with the nation and most non-Irishmen refer to the Irish as drunks. They are seen to be boisterous and sometimes aggressive with bar-fights thought to be a common feature of Irish socialising. According to Deborah Conden´s article entitled “Calling Time On Our Drink Problem…” medical expenses treating alcohol induced maladies in Ireland in 2003 reached the amount of €2.4 billion. These illnesses occurred due to the fact that Irish people were consuming 12.1L of pure alcohol a year, the next closest at 9L was its neighbouring country – Britain (2003).

All in all, Irish people are described as being extremely friendly and helpful with a renowned, culturally accepted importance of maintaining standards in society, while maintaining the international image of being positive, warm and fun. Besides their high Indulgence result, they also score very low on the Power Distance scale, which means that there is no rigid hierarchical structure and that power is equally distributed throughout Irish society (Hofstede 2011). This may reaffirm the stereotypical image of the Irish as friendly and warm people.

National stereotypes about Portugal

Portugal is a small country, located at the ‘edge’ of Europe. It is common to refer to Portugal as “the country next to Spain” or even as a Spanish region. Portugal is often associated with sunny weather and beaches, surf, golf, food (especially fish), wine (mainly 'porto' wine) and Fado. Their easy-going lifestyle may be connected to them scoring extremely high on Hofstede´s Uncertainty Avoidance index (99/100), which means that they need exact rules for everything; otherwise they would just do as they pleased (Hofstede 2011).

There are a lot of stereotypes concerning the physical appearance of the Portuguese, for example, their men are believed to be extremely hairy. The stereotypes regarding the appearance of the Portuguese women are quite contradictory. On one hand, Portuguese women are often considered to be elegant and sexy, while on the other hand a lot of people believe them to have an excessive amount of facial hair. They are also said to be emotional, nostalgic and sad. These characteristics are probably ascribed to them because of their love for Fado music.

Concerning the Portuguese, they are commonly thought of as lazy. This is generally seen as a characteristic of South-Mediterranean countries, because of the climate and the cultural habit of taking an afternoon nap. In truth, they don't have the Spanish 'siesta'. The only people that nap in the afternoon are those who work in the fields. This daily routine is mostly associated with the Alentejo region (a Southern region of Portugal), where people get up at 4am to work.

It is also common to think that Portuguese people always arrive late to an event of any kind and they are usually not seen as hard workers or as very diligent. It would appear that the Portuguese tend to adapt to their surrounding environment and that this helps to determine the quality of their work. They are also very respectful and honest when in different countries and communities. Taking Hofstede’s research (2011) into account, it seems that the Portuguese adapt easily when they find themselves in an unknown setting. Nevertheless, they preserve their tradition within their own culture, which can be supported by them scoring very low on the Pragmatism scale (28/100). This also confirms the stereotype of them being very religious.

In connection with them being very traditional, many people believe that apart from religion family is a central value for the Portuguese. This stereotype seems to be a fair representation of Portuguese culture, since the households often tend to be very complex, with families consisting of up to three generations living under the same roof.

National stereotypes about Slovenia

Slovenes are usually perceived as a reserved and hard-working nation, which, according to Jason Blake (2011), lacks their Southern neighbours' temperament. With only about 2 million inhabitants, Slovenia is a small country. It is usually difficult for foreigners to locate Slovenia on the map, or to differentiate them from their neighbours. This stereotype probably has to do with Slovenes themselves often stressing the smallness and insignificance of their country.

Even though they are perceived as a rather reserved people foreigners also think of them as kind, warm and hospitable. There also are several stereotypes within the country that people from one region have when people of another region are in question (e.g. people from Štajerska region are perceived as loud, people from the Gorenjska region are considered stingy and people from the capital are thought of as posh, etc.). However, these characteristics only show when Slovenes from different parts of the county meet.

Slovenes are often believed to be very modest, which can be connected with their reluctance to stick out from the crowd. According to Blake, “Slovenians do not like to stand out. They have a moderation for everything but food and drink, they avoid risk, and they are nowhere near as temperamental as their southern neighbors. […] Those Slovenians who put themselves on display, or speak too loudly or too much, are a reviled species. Bragging is abhorred.” (2011, 55). In Slovenia, deviating from the norm - be it in a positive or negative way - is frowned upon. Blake even describes it as “the national sin” (2011, 55). This general tendency to mediocrity (connected with their collective self-consciousness) explains why Slovenes score very low on Hofstede's Masculinity index (2011), meaning that they aren't competitive, assertive, and don't strive to heroism, despite them being a hard-working nation.

National stereotypes about Germany

The most common preconception about Germans that is most prevalent in peoples’ minds is that Germans are tall, blond and blue-eyed. However, these features are more common amongst the northern European, especially the Scandinavian countries. The heights, looks, and eye-colours of Germans are much more diverse than their Scandinavian neighbours.

Germans are generally perceived as highly organized, punctual and overly bureaucratic and as a nation that works hard, but also knows how to have fun. They strive for success and place a high value on money, which is clearly visible by the fact that Germany has managed to manoeuvre itself around the economic crisis of the last few years and still has a very low unemployment rate (Statista 2014). These personal traits also contribute to the stereotype that Germans are rude, private, rigid and cold.

The research conducted by Hofstede (2011) supports the findings above. Low scores in Power Distance (35) and Indulgence (40) and higher scores in Individualism (67), Masculinity (66), Uncertainty Avoidance (65) and an especially high score in Pragmatism (83) are the main features attributed to Germany in his research. For instance, according to Hofstede “[c]ommunication is amongst the most direct in the world following the ideal to be ‘honest, even if it hurts’ – and by this giving the counterpart a fair chance to learn from mistakes.” Thus, Germans can easily be perceived as being rude, although it may not be their intention. This is further supported by the low Power Distance score and the high Individualism one. Their tendency to work hard is supported by their high score in Masculinity, whereas the other stereotypes mentioned in the section above can be attributed to the high score on the Uncertainty Avoidance scale and the low score on the Indulgence one. [1]

Another attribute that is often associated with Germans is heavy drinking. A lot of Germans do enjoy drinking beer which can be seen, for example, at Oktoberfest. Every year thousands of people drink huge amounts of alcohol at Bavaria’s most famous celebration of beer. Alcohol is part of the German lifestyle, especially for younger people. One possible reason for that could be the early drinking age of 16 for wine and beer in Germany. [2] Furthermore, alcohol can be bought in the majority of grocery stores and other places, like fuel stations, at very cheap prices.

To sum up this section, our research suggests that a lot of the stereotypes people have about the countries we analysed can be supported with factual data, at least to a certain degree. However, there were some stereotypes that appear to be an exaggerated, oversimplified or even completely incorrect depiction of a particular nation. Stereotypes are certainly a means by which we rationalise and cope with the increasingly hectic world we live in. However convenient this may be, we should strive to remain impartial and open-minded, not relying on stereotypes when interacting with members of another culture.

Other contributions

National stereotypes about Egypt

The image of Egypt that is often created in the media is a country full of sand and pyramids with only few cities.

  1., (2014). Germany - Geert Hofstede. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Aug. 2014].
  2., (2014). Jugendschutz aktiv - Informationen für Gewerbetreibende und Veranstalter - Alkohol. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Aug. 2014].