The topic ‘stereotypes’ is a difficult one to deal with – not only in a personal sense but also when living in another country, and when teaching in the classroom. On the training weekend for my placement in my German school we took part in a mock lesson about whether stereotypes are good. Difficult topic – everyone automatically said no, stereotypes are bad and false and we were advised to avoid them.
Yet according to my German flatmates, I embody all things stereotypically British.
I drink 5 cups of tea a day, I live in London, I love baking scones, and am very polite. (Many say too polite – which I agree with – I have the compulsive habit of apologising for almost anything I do). One thing that always disappoints is that I haven’t met the Queen… 😦 my year 7 class were indeed very disappointed to hear that.
So what about my stereotypes about the Germans? They drink beer… That cannot be denied when you experience such a thing as Karneval in Cologne. (More to come on that soon!) They like sausages… OK yes there are lots of currywurst street sellers and my housemates eat a lot of sausages, but German cuisine does go beyond sausages. They all wear lederhosen … of course not! .. But during Oktoberfest time and Karneval it is a common occurrence to see lederhosen-wearing men and women on the train. So what does this mean? Is it wrong to bring up these stereotypes in the classroom or when you meet a German person?
I find stereotypes can be a way into a lesson, or a conversation. My lesson with my year 8 class started by asking if they all wore lederhosen, drank beer and ate sausages. After the fact is accepted that perhaps some of the time elements of these stereotypes can be true, can be a positive thing and tell us about a country’s traditions and cuisine – it is good to move past that onto a more positive level and engage with each individual person, and ask them about their personal traditions and ask them what being German means for them. My year 8 class denied ever having tasted beer or having worn Lederhosen and after dispelling those myths, we were able to crack on with the lesson and talk about what they really thought of their own country, Germany, and the similarities of our two countries.
From that, I have learnt that Karneval is more than just about beer and dressing up, that most of the Lederhosen that you do see on the train are worn by tourists and that sausages are eaten by many (if not most…) Europeans. You could even say that the tourists in Cologne seem to be keeping these stereotypes alive. Even so, this topic is a great conversation starter and as long as you don’t end on it and leave your class/conversation partner thinking that all British people are the same, then it is a path into allowing them to find out about your own culture and what being British really means to you.