We all know that while travelling to other countries or meeting new people, the fact where you come from awakes certain images in your counterpart. This can lead to some interesting discussions or findings about similarities, but it can as well be annoying, for example, being linked for the 100th time to the Second World War when you are German.
Text: Christine Butz and Konstancja Suchanek
We made a small survey and asked students what the first things that come to their minds are when they hear the names of ten countries. In this article we want to present some of the findings and try to explain why we often think in stereotypes or prejudices. When do we come so far as talking about discrimination or racism? These questions certainly exceed the possibilities of this article.
Vescio & Weaver (2013) define stereotypes as “cognitive representations of how members of a group are similar to one another and different from members of other groups.” In that sense stereotypes must be as old as mankind, since we use them to define ‘us’ in the sense of being different from ‘them’.
From a psychological point of view, thinking ‘’in boxes’’ helps our brain to order the world, to make it easier to understand. Using stereotypes to decipher our surroundings is in that sense something universal, though Adorno argues that there are people that are more likely to think that way. His standpoint was that people who are more authoritarian and follow stricter rules are more likely to think in black and white. Though Adornos scientific methods have been subjects of debate, there is more research pointing in the direction that people with conservative- and hierarchy-based thinking are more likely to have prejudices about groups of a perceived lower status (Plous 2016).
When is it that we can talk about facts, what are facts at all, when do they become stereotypes or prejudices? Let’s take Russia – roughly 60% of the people we asked thought of vodka when they thought about Russia. In a WHO survey from 2010 Russia was the country with the fourth highest consumption of alcohol. Some might argue that we are not talking about prejudices anymore, but about facts. There are, nonetheless, a huge amount of people in Russia that drink little or maybe nothing. What does it feel like for those who are being linked to the ever drinking Russians?
The major thing we could observe while looking at all the survey answers was the fact that all the people’s thoughts about particular countries are usually very similar — either they perceive a country in a very positive way or a very negative one; it seems that there’s not so much in-between.
When people think of Norway, they think of nature — the most common associations with that country were mountains, fjords, water, snow, fish and northern lights. The adjectives used to describe Norway were exclusively positive — the country is rich, impressive, beautiful and stable. Are all the students biased, because they are living here right now or is Norway a true paradise? This question remains open.
England and France also are a bit of a paradise. England is a place full of lovely people, good beer, nice music, beautiful gardens, fashion, football, biscuits and afternoon tea. Some of the students mentioned Brexit, but it wasn’t one of the main associations. France is a country of love, wine and good food. Students associate France with baguettes, cheese and delicious pastries.
Poland, on the contrary, cannot boast about its popularity among students — a lot of people associate it with thieves, black market, shady workers, alcohol and regression. Some of them mention also the most popular Polish curse word. Russia is perceived as negatively as Poland — it seems to be a country of alcohol, corruption and decline. Despite the fact that both Poland and Russia also offer beautiful landscapes, huge cultural heritage and interesting history, people focus on the political aspects of both, which leads them to all the negative associations. For some people Poland is a country of beautiful women and Russia is a country of beautiful language. Those seem to be ones of the very few positive words about those nations.
Germans, according to the questionnaire answers, are efficient, strict and cold people with strong work ethics, but without sense of humor.
Turkey and Indonesia seem to be perceived as typical tourist destinations. Despite some negative political associations with both of them (lack of stability, chaos and dictatorship as it comes to Turkey and terror and children labor as it comes to Indonesia), most of the students associate both of them with warmth, beaches, sun and palm trees.
Although e.g. Turkish people live and grow up in one country with one from the outside perceived culture, Barth argues that inside one culture every individual can choose from a whole multitude of cultural streams to define their identity (1989). The whole theme of stereotypes is so broad that it has its own field of research and we are not the ones to try on giving some final answers. We feel that it is good to remind yourself of that when you judge somebody and base your judgements on his or her origin – you might have a second thought about it.
List of references:
Bart, F. (1989) The Analysis of Complex Societies. In Ethnos no. 54.
Plous, S. (2016) Die Psychologie des Vorurteils. www.
Vescio, T. & Weaver, K. (2013). Prejudice and Stereotyping. Oxford Bibliographies. www.