Europe has always been full of stereotypes – and it is often fascinating or fun to see how the different preconceptions differ from one country to another. The French are said to be snobbish, the Brits well-mannered, and the Germans hard workers. These – mostly false – stereotypes don’t really teach us much about how our European neighbours are, but they do teach us about how they are perceived. That these stereotypes actually exist show how much Europeans need to understand and develop an image of their neighbours: the worst thing of all would be to have no interest whatsoever in each other. It’s important to be aware of stereotypes – if only to be able to avoid preconceptions. But pay attention not to take them seriously…
An image many Europeans have about Southern Europe – including Portugal – is of being lazy. This often refers to the climate, and cultural habit of taking an afternoon nap. Portugal is often associated with sunny weather and beaches, which might also contribute to its image of laziness and negligence. Food (especially fish) and wine (port) are also common instant associations. Fado music often contributes to the stereotype of Portuguese being sad or nostalgic. The Portuguese language even has a word, “saudade”, which doesn’t translate into English. It roughly means “nostalgia” or “homesickness”.
Europe seems to have a clear image of what the Spaniards look like: “a nation high on fiestas, with stunning women who can’t go to the bullfight dressed in miniskirts lest their boyfriends and husbands (who are so macho) have a fit. And then there’s the siestas in the afternoon, and the partying at night” (The Guardian). Elsewhere, Spanish people are said to be loud and lazy with a passionate character. According to the journalist Carmen Morán, “The sun, the beach, fiesta, noise: these were the goods Spain exchanged abroad, through tourism, to staunch its economic wounds”.
The worldwide image of French people is wearing berets while riding bicycles with baskets full of baguettes. This funny stereotype appears to be false – no French people really wear those berets anymore. Other stereotypes describe French people as arrogant and rude. Some historians tend to say that this is the result of an international policy of non-alignment after the Second World War instituted by De Gaulle, which has been sometimes regarded as arrogant. Among other stereotypes, we found the French lacking in hygiene, and being always on strike (a tradition, nonetheless, that’s largely disproved by statistics on the weakness of French trade unions). Last, there is the cliché of the French being world’s greatest lovers.
One of the main stereotypes about Iceland is related to its size: Iceland has a very small population, of 320,000. Therefore it is said that ‘everyone knows everyone’ or that ‘everyone is related to everyone’. Another cliché is related to the beauty of the people there. That Iceland is home to the world’s strongest men and the world’s most beautiful women used to be a popular saying amongst Icelanders. Others observe that Icelandic people are never able to show up on time and always leave decisions, such as where to go on holiday or what to have for dinner, until the last possible moment. According to the Icelandic writer Alda Sigmundsdóttir : “this reluctance to make plans may be exhausting, but it also gives the country a lot of its dynamism. People are flexible and a lot actually gets done at the last minute, which may be one reason why we can recover quickly from economic collapses and natural disasters.”
The most quoted stereotype about Ireland is as a nation of heavy drinkers. The Irish are also considered to be very religious, because of their history and the fight for the emancipation of Catholics. However, statistics show that the number of atheists is increasing quickly. The Irish are also said to be bad tempered – perhaps the result of their fight for autonomy, from the time of the ancient Celts to the struggle against England. Last, the Irish are often portrayed as ginger. This conception of the Irish most likely comes from the popular 1952 movie “The Quiet Man” which starred a fiery Irish redhead and a wide array of other inaccurate Irish stereotypes.
According to The Guardian, “the European image of the Brit – either pukingly drunk football fan or snooty City gent, both living off past imperial glories, sullenly resenting being in Europe rather than ruling the world – is itself a cliché”. Other common beliefs about Great Britain are that British people are seen as being very polite, proper and sophisticated with an unhealthy tendency to be stiff, snobbish, unemotional or obsessed with class and status. Other common depictions include plenty of rain, bad food, and red telephone boxes and double-decker buses, which are common (tourist) attractions. Not to mention the regional stereotypes about the Scots and Welsh …
As a Scandinavian country, most of the strongest stereotypes about Norwegians come from their Scandinavian neighbours, the Danes and Swedes. For a fellow Scandinavian, the Norwegian is backwards and a bit dumb – a rustic, patriotic and unsophisticated fish-eater with lamentable manners and muddy boots, an image more recently supplemented with grudging acknowledgement of the vast Norwegian oil wealth. But not everyone has the same view: in the rest of Europe, they are described more as wealthy, enlightened, rational and bored Protestants with strong welfare states.
The first common European stereotype associated with Swedish people is the one of being very tall, slender, beautiful and blond with blue eyes. The country is also regarded as very progressive, feminist and liberal with good social welfare. When it comes to gender equality, Sweden is in particular seen as the country where women can easily have a career alongside children. Scandinavian neighbours have also specific stereotypes about Sweden, the classic one being the drunken Swede. In Sweden you have to be 20 years old to buy liquor, for example – older than in the limit of 16 in Denmark (recently raised from 13) – with the result that many young Swedish people travel to Denmark to buy alcohol – and get accordingly drunk. Other stereotypes include the image of being arrogant, unfriendly, a little boring and somewhat racist. Last there is the stereotype of depression: with such cold and dark winters, people can’t help feeling down.
Europeans tend to have few stereotypes about Finland. Maybe the most common is to depict them as rude, introverted and emotionless. The most important part of Finnish culture is “Don’t exaggerate”. Many other cultures are more verbal and have small talk – a Finn, uninterested in such pleasantries, might be taken as rude. The normal intonation and phrasing of the Finnish language seems to be sad or rude in many other languages. Some say that Finns sound like they swear all the time. Another picture is the one of Finns being hard vodka-drinkers, with an old-fashioned moustache, bad fashion sense and an abusive wife, who lives in the woods and splits his time between hitting himself with birch branches in the sauna and hunting bears. Others suggest that Finnish people are very depressed, live in their parents’ basement, listen to black metal and play online role-playing games all day. In the best stereotypes, Finland is regarded as a wealthy and progressive society with a great welfare system.
There are not so many stereotypes about Danes in Europe, perhaps because it is a small country mixed up with the rest of Scandinavia. Danes are said to have a great quality of life, are helpful, very punctual and trusting people. While perhaps a little reserved at first, Danes are seen as open-minded, easygoing and easily humoured. Elsewhere, however, Danes tend to consider themselves as constantly complaining about everything, especially the weather. And as their Scandinavian neighbours, they are said to be hard drinkers.
The first most common stereotype about the Netherlands is that all Dutch are tall, blond and blue-eyed – a lasting image, even if not entirely true. Because of the Dutch drug policy legalising cannabis, Dutch people are also said to be stoned all the time. The Netherlands was also the first country in the world to allow gay marriage in 2001, so that Amsterdam is sometimes seen as the unofficial Europe’s gay capital, and Europeans tend to consider that at least half the Dutch population is gay. Another common feature about Netherlands is that they tend to be greedy: there must be a reason why splitting the bill is called ‘going Dutch’, and it’s true that many Dutch keep a tight watch over their money and men are unlikely to pay for their dates. Last, Europeans consider that the typical Dutch shed keeps at least a dozen bicycles. Indeed, there are more bicycles in Netherlands than people…
Belgians are the subject of a huge amount of jokes and clichés in Europe, and especially in France and the Netherlands, with whom they share common languages. Belgians are said to eat chips, mussels, chocolate and waffles at every meal, have beer running through their veins and only read comic books. A common picture about Belgium is also that its political system is a mess. The political system is difficult to understand, mainly because of the constant fight between Flanders and Wallonia, or between the Flemish and French Communities. Even within the country, Flemish and Walloon parts tend to have stereotypes about each other: French speakers are depicted as lazy, monolingual and football fans, whereas the Flems are regarded as hard-workers, bilingual and ambitious. But the funny thing about about Belgium is that the Belgians play right along, and feed their own stereotype.
Contrary to popular belief, not all German men wander around the place in Lederhosen (leather trousers). But this popular image remains in Europeans’ mind. According to The Guardian, Germans are regarded as hardworking who love their cars more than anything, efficient and disciplined, but also stiff and humourless. The German Journalist Rainer Erlinger agrees: “Of course, Angela Merkel is a bit more stiff and formal than Silvio Berlusconi but it could be the other way around with Mario Monti. Seemingly, Germans don’t think it is a laughing matter when it comes to their politicians – at least not outside of satirical programmes or carnival. If Germans do have a sense of humour perhaps it has to be clearly noted in the calendar.” Anther common stereotype concerns the language, seen as harsh and unromantic.
Switzerland being in the middle of Europe, there are many stereotypes about Swiss people. A common image depicts Swiss as fairly reserved and not very outgoing. The idea of starting a conversation with a stranger seems to be unnatural, but there are regional variations. Another stereotype depicts Swiss people as obsessed with punctuality. The obsession with punctuality has something to do with watchmaking, a traditional industry. But it is also the large banking sector which influences Europeans’ image of the Swiss, who are accordingly regarded as frugal people. It is true, indeed, that Switzerland manages one third of the world’s offshore funds. Last, some consider the Swiss to be individualists who don’t like getting involved in others’ problems. A common saying is “Dirty laundry should be washed within the family”.…
According to The Guardian, Europeans say Italians are chatterboxes, and bad listeners interested only in the sound of their own voices. It is also said that Italians are good-looking, crazy about fashion, or football addicts who never pay tax. Other common associations include the incredible coffee culture, or the love of pizza and pasta; with spaghetti almost sacred. It is also commonly stated that Italian people often say: “mamma mia!” or “va fan culo!” and that the Italian Mamma rules the roost. Who would believe that? Last, a funny stereotype, of course false, represents most Italian men as dark-haired, olive-skinned plumbers who spend the working day jumping on turtles, eating mushrooms, and saving princesses…
Austrians’ stereotypes are full of folklore. Europeans often represent Austrian people dressed in a “Dirndl” or in a “Lederhose”. If, indeed, tourists can discover those traditional clothes in beer fests during summer or on special occasions, it is of course false that Austrians were them all the time. Regarding their national characteristics, Europeans would depict Austrians as rather fair-haired, serious, standoffish, hardworking and lacking in any sense of humour. They would say that most Austrians are into winter sports and pretty well off financially. Another important aspect of the Austrian soul is the priority of domestic life. Austrians love to built, repair, extend, maintain, refurbish or modernise their houses. They also love gardening and spend hours in garden centres. Houses and gardens are important social stages for dinner parties, BBQs or occasionally just staying in and watch TV.
Europeans do not have much stereotypes about this small central European country. The first image associated with Czech Republic would maybe be that of Skoda, the very well known trademark producing cars. Czech Republic is also famous for being the crystal’s homeland and its Art Nouveau style. What relates to Czech characteristics, Europeans regard Czech women as very beautiful and men all have moustaches. They think that Czech love beers and absinth. They eat dumplings and use their mobile phone a lot. Last some see Czech Republic as a nation of artists, with many Czech writers famous worldwide.
The most common stereotype associated with Slovakia may not be a stereotype in a truly sense, but Europeans sometimes still tend to thin that Czechoslovakia is still existing as an unique country. Another stereotype is the one of being bad-termpered and easily offended. Their humor is said to be dark and sadistic, albeit a bit slow-witted and dumb. They are however said to be a bit sexist and not friendly to strangers. Slovak people are also often stereotyped to be big drinkers (Borovicka, Slivovica, etc are some common local drinks), and also Slovak girls are often considered very pretty.
According to The Guardian, Europeans have few compelling stereotypes about Poland. One of the most significant one is related to religion, with Poles being mostly regarded as convinced Catholics. It can be noted that this stereotype is rather true, as a survey carried out in November 2011 showed that 95% of Poles declare themselves Catholic although only 92% say they believe in God. But according to Adam Leszczynski, a polish journalist, Poles are Catholic but not really bothered by what the church says. Another stereotype is related to alcohol: Poles are depicted as hard drinkers. If it is true that on average Poles drink 13.3 litres of alcohol per citizens per year and are de facto drinking slightly more than Germans (12.8 litres), they however drink almost the same as the English (13.4 litres), and less than the Irish (14.4 litres). This may be a consequence of the rough and turbulent reputation of vodka…
Stereotypes about Lithuania are more linked to a lack of knowledge about the country. The most common stereotype would be that for some (ignorant) Europeans, Lithuania is part of Russia. Those people sometimes tend to think that Lithuanians don’t have their own language and have never created or invented anything, which is not surprising, because Lithuania, in the view of many, did not exist before the USSR miraculously fell apart. Then, according to some Lithuanians, among the first stereotyped questions they sometimes get figure the funny “Do you have televisions in Lithuania?”, “How many people live in your village?, “Do you have a horse?” or even the amazing “Can you teach me how to say something in Polish?”. Last, the stereotype applying to many Northern European countries stating that people there drink insane quantities of vodka can also be heard for Lithuania.
Europeans in general do not differentiate that much Latvia from its direct Baltic neighbors, and they consequently don’t have any particular stereotype for Latvians, but Estonians do! And this is all the more funny, be prepared : Estonians have a joke stereotype on Latvians who are said to have… 6 toes ! There is not a precise reason behind this idea, but of course, no one take this stereotype seriously ! Otherwise, Estonians describe Latvia as a historic neighbor and a member of the Baltic countries. They in particular depict Latvia as a land without island and with bad roads. They see Latvians as eating a lot of fish, but consider them just as cousins.
As part of the Baltic countries, Europeans do not have many stereotypes about Estonians. Estonian women are said to be particularly beautiful with blond light hair and their economy is said to be the most advanced among Baltic countries. Latvians and Lithuanians tend to have more stereotypes about Estonia. They depict Estonians as slow, but determined and rational. They are said to be particularly successful in business and especially in IT industry. Latvians are sometimes jealous about their advanced social and medical system, as well as their leisure infrastructures known in particular for their spas. In this respect, they are sometimes perceived as a kind of Scandinavians.
Maybe because of its name, or the fact that is geographically and culturally closed to it, Belarus is mostly associated in stereotypes with Russia. Europeans then tend to assume that Belarusians are profoundly cold, unemotioanl and unfriendly. Other stereotypes depict Belarusians as very reserved people kind of like Slavic Scandinavians or maybe kind of like New Englanders. Another one is that they were perenially glorifying their guerilla warfare past against the Nazis. But Europeans also often think that the country is filled with Soviet-era bloc buildings. Given that Belarus is the last remaining dictatorship in Europe, Europeans tend to see Belarusians as prisoners without freedom and entertainments. They are said to eat a lot of potatoes.
Ukraine is the country with outstanding history and traditions, but not a lot of people who’ve never been in Ukraine know the truth about it. As to the most common stereotype, Ukraine is not part of Russia and Ukrainians do not speak Russian. Ukraine really was a part of Soviet Union, which also included Russia, but since the 24th of August 1991 Ukraine is an independent country. Because of Chernobyl, Ukrainian vegetables and fruits are perceived as dangerous to eat. It is also said that Ukrainians don’t like foreigners, are gloomy and are always quarreling with each other. A common perception is thinking that there is snow all the year in Ukraine. Europeans regard women in Ukraine are beautiful but as crafty. Last, it is said that Ukrainians are in love with salo, which is cured slabs of pork fat. Vodka is also a popular spirit for celebrations and welcoming guests, but some Ukrainians prefer horilka.
The stereotype of Moldovans is that they are beautiful, with fair skin and dark hair (although many people also have fair hair too). It is also said that they are poor (often true), Moldovan women are often stereotyped as sex trafficking victims (it does happen) trying to escape from desperate situations with illusions of becoming a dancer, waitress or cleaning girl in a western country. Moldova is also stereotyped as being full of children being raised by grandparents while their parents are off working in other countries. Moldova is also depicted as a hospitable nation linking people with delicious wine, huge fests and dances.
For many foreigners, Romania is the equivalent of a series of common misconceptions. The first common picture associated with Romania is considering the country as the land of vampires. There are no vampires in Transylvania. Also, there’s nothing creepy about it and people living there don’t have that funny accent you’ve heard in Hollywood films. Another common misperception is thinking that Romanian speak Russian. Romanian is however a Romance language. People were forced to learn Russian during communism but this was not the case since 1990. Than Europeans tend to think that all Romanian are Roma people. But Roma people make up only 2.5% of Romania’s over 22 million people. A surprising number of people seem to think Romanians are the minority. Which is not to say that Roma are not Romanians. And last, a common stereotype is confusing Bucharest, Romania’s capital city, with Budapest which is actually Hungary’s. This is something that many people get wrong.
Stereotypes related to Hungary are always peculiar. A sentence often said in East European countries says “If a Hungarian passes through a revolving door right after you he will come out before you”. This means some Hungarians tend to show a pushy, intrusive behavior, especially when abroad. It also means though that people from this country will always find a way to get by often not paying too much attention to good manners and certain unwritten rules. Another stereotype depicts Hungarians as very self-centered people, who do not cooperate easily and have often contradictory opinions. Hungarians are also said to adore Hungarian language : They know it is hard for foreigners to learn, but they appreciate if you try. Try to pronounce Hungarian names correctly. Hungarians are also said to complain a lot and are rather pessimistic when expressing an opinion. Last and most obviously, Hungarians are said to eat goulash all the time…
Slovenes have many neighbors and are consequently subject to many stereotypes. Sometimes perceived as the first former Balkan country which succeeded in integrating the Western way of life and consumer society, Slovenia is a mixture of many European nations and cultures. Slovenes don’t see themselves as Balkans or East Europeans but rather as an alpine nation. In the common stereotypes, Slovenes are described as somewhat jealous and selfish. They are also said to complain a lot, be melancholic and romantic. They’re said to be very disciplined and honest, as well as very introverted and cold like scandinavians but open to foreigners. They’re known to be good at learning languages as most people speak at least 1 or 2 foreign languages. Last they are said to live and stay usually in the same house/apartment from the time they marry till they die. This would explain maybe why they put great effort in making their house and surroundings beautiful, with flowers on windows and a different colour for the walls.
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. Following Croatians’ fight for independence in 1991, other nations think of them as nationalists and Croats are sometimes perceived as extremely patriotic. However, generally, Croats do not feel superior to other countries, although they may very often tend to express their patriotism more than other European nations.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Stereotype is that if Bosnian is tall and blond, he must be a hillbilly. This is actually Bosnian stereotype about Bosnians, and is more like a joke than something anyone really believe in. Some people say that Bosnians leave their shoes outside the door, have an apartment full of artifical flowers and framed prints of waterfalls… All the women have dyed their hair Kool-Aid red in order to look trendy and all the men wear Adidas workout pants. Bosnians are considered by Europeans as White Muslims, who love Americans and Turks. Forty percent of the country’s population is actually Muslim; the rest of the population has Christian and Jewish origins. In Paris, more Muslims live than in the entire territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Last Europeans tend to see Bosnia as a country in war, as a reminiscence of the war in Bosnia in the 1990s.
Europeans do not have a clear peception of Bulgarians, they are mostly considered to be slavic and orthodox. According to the blogger Marcus Pessoa, “Whilst most men would agree that Bulgarian women have a reputation for being sexy, strangely not many women say similar things about East European men. Somewhat unfairly, this is probably due to the stereotypical Balkan male being portrayed as misogynistic, macho, aggressive, built like a truck, and about as sensitive as the average brick.” and continues “Like many East European men, Bulgarian guys can be possessive and jealous, but they can also be sensitive, good natured, and loyal.” Bulgarians are also said to survive only on tomatoes, cucumber and goat cheese. They are said to have colorful traditions. On the other hand, their direct neighbor, Romanians, stereotype Bulgarians as thieves.
There is a tendency to view Serbs as people with little or no motivation to work in order to improve their living conditions. Besides, preassumptions are made that Serbs lack organisational skills. Europeans still remember the Balkan war in the 1990s and perceive Serbs as warlike. Another preconception is that Serbs have no business sense. Funnily enough, there is still an on-going stereotype describing Serbian men as womanizers. According to a Serbian blogger, certainly, there really is something about mentality and upbringing of some Serbian men that makes them cheat on their girlfriends or wives, but adultery exists everywhere, in every culture, and that not all Serbian men are womanizers. Other stereotype includes the picture of Serbians being superstitious. There is also a picture seeing Serbs as heavy drinkers, which refers to both men and women.
Picture by Deviantart Ana-Marija ©
This small Balkan country is rather free from stereotypes coming from Western European countries. Macedonia is often associated as a beautiful country and ideal travel destination. Greeks and Bulgarians, on the contrary, tend to stereotype Macedonia, but this is rather political than cultural. Greek concerns over Macedonian expansionist ambitions – over the region of northern Greece also known as Macedonia – are an obvious red herring. Even if we put aside the fact that the tiny Macedonian army could barely make Athens flinch, there is no conceivable future where Macedonia could garner international support to invade an EU member state. Fears over irredentism are a diversionary tactic – the argument here is really about history and symbolism.
Albanian stereotypes that formed amid the creation of an independent Albanian state, and stereotypes that formed as a result of massive immigrations from Albania and Kosovo during the 1980s and ’90s, although they may differ from each other, are still both considered Albanophobic and anti-Albanian by many authors. For some, the Albanians are all thieves, for others, they are all poor people who live with nothing. For their direct Balkan neighbors, Albanians are regarded as patriotic, play soccer like every other sport, and love dancing, whatever the age. They are said to love Croatians, Slovenians and in particular Italy where they feel they know more about Italy than Italians themselves. On the contrary, they are said to dislike Greeks and Serbians. Other stereotypes include the picture that they are very traditional especially with families, they start smoking at a very young age, wear weapons, eat paprika every day and drink a lot of tea. Last, most of them call themselves Muslims but curse on other Muslim countries
Following the 2008 crisis, Europeans developed lots of stereotypes on Greeks, especially related to their economic situation. Now the first stereotype that may be mentioned by Europeans on Greeks would be that they are tight on money. Economic problems aside, there used to be even before the crisis a certain number of stereotypes associated to Greeks, the first one may be depicting Greeks as hairy. Greeks may not be more hairy than any other nation, but this is like that with stereotypes, they are vivid and sometimes unexplainable. Other stereotypes depict Greeks as loud, care free, gossipers and smokers. As a heritage of Greek civilization and the presence of a visible gay community in some Greek islands, Greek are also often portrayed as homosexuals. And when it comes to family, Greek people are sometimes described as mamma’s boys and daddy’s girls
Europeans tend to have many stereotypes associated with Turkish people, some of them originating back from the Ottoman empire and its relationships towards the rest of Europe. So that the first stereotype associated with Turkey is the misperception of all of the people in Turkey being Muslim with Turkey being ruled by the Sheri’a (the Islamic law) and every women wearing turban on their head. Turkish people are depicted as having big families. They are regarded as primitive and collectivist, uneducated and barbarian. They are said to have a strong patriarchal society, with Turkish women being obliged to listen to their husbands. Turkish men are regarded as macho and sometimes even dangerous people. They are often portrayed as black hair and dark skinned people. They are considered to be good at business, but with a obsession to buy only Mercedes or BMW. They are also said to eat kebab all the time. All these stereotypes are however much influenced by the misperceptions and fear of Turkey joining the EU.
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