Are Germans sausage-obsessed sticklers for efficiency? Are the French rude cheese-eaters? Are the English a nation of reserved, tea-drinking, perpetually damp people? Join a New Zealander and a British-immigrant-to-New Zealand’s voyage of discovery…
(Well, actually, it was a train ride of discovery. Many train rides. Through Europe. It was awesome.)
European Stereotype #1:
It’s always raining in England – BUSTED!
The rest of time it was glorious – so glorious that the New Zealander complained it was too hot. He’s been telling everyone ever since that England is warmer and sunnier than New Zealand, so there you go.
Ruuule Britannia… Britannia rule the waves…
European Stereotype #2:
Germans are a little too into sausages – CONFIRMED!
It was inevitable that I’d eat at least one sausage in Germany, as I’d already promised to try currywurst*, but I honestly expected to find that the whole German sausage thing was exaggerated. It isn’t exaggerated. There were sausage stands EVERYWHERE. Every restaurant had many types of sausage. We were served pea soup with a big, pink sausage in it. It was difficult to find a snack that wasn’t sausage-based. There were even several instances of marzipan made to look exactly like sausages. As if there weren’t enough actual sausages in the vicinity. This stereotype is definitely confirmed.
European Stereotype #3:
Italians are a little too into thievery – BUSTED!
Everyone we met, in every country except Italy, upon enquiring about our itinerary, warned us about Italy. “Don’t keep your wallet in your pocket,” they all said. “And don’t fall asleep on any trains,” some added. Apparently, Italy was swarming with thieves and gypsies and thieving gypsies. Except it wasn’t. We spent a week there and, despite being on high-alert due to paranoia, we didn’t see a single suspicious character anywhere. So either all these Italian thieves are very good, or this stereotype has been a tad exaggerated.
European Stereotype #4:
English food is bad – (sadly) CONFIRMED!
I was born in England and I’ve grown up with very good food, (thanks to my mum, who’s both English and a great cook,) so I was keen show my New Zealand-born boyfriend that English food isn’t actually that bad – it’s just a stereotype. Unfortunately, the two relatives we stayed with in England are both single males, so not the best examples food-wise. Worse, one of those males is the sort of old, set-in-their-ways Northerner who regards spaghetti bolognese as too foreign. The food we experienced in England, therefore, included pie and chips, egg and chips, spam and chips, Chinese takeaway and, of course, fish and chips. Not that fish and chips is bad, it’s just boring**. Even if it is covered in brown sauce.
“You have to have brown sauce,” my uncle told my boyfriend. “You’re in England.”
“What is brown sauce?” my boyfriend asked. “I mean… what’s in it?”
My uncle thought for a moment before offering, “Brown?”
Fish and chips is a popular meal in New Zealand too, but it tends to be better in New Zealand – tastier, fresher fish.
European Stereotype #5:
Germans have no sense of humour – BUSTED!
On our first night in Germany, the Germans we were staying with asked us if we liked Monty Python. We proceeded to watch Life of Brian in German. (I don’t understand German, but I know Life of Brian word-for-word.) In case you’re wondering how it translates: Schwanzus… Longus***.
European Stereotype #6:
The French are obsessed with cheese – (joyously) CONFIRMED!
The French love their cheese. I love my cheese. Being in France led me to overdose on cheese. I regret nothing.
European Stereotype #7:
Belgium’s mainly beer and chocolate – CONFIRMED!
As a country, Belgium is the butt of many jokes. Many people asked us, in all seriousness, why we would bother going there. Why? What – the best beer and chocolate in the world isn’t a good enough reason? Not to mention the chips and waffles! Well, okay, we went because In Bruges is one of our favourite films and Bruges looked awesome. (Bruges is in Belgium.) And it was awesome, apart from the fact that all the shops sold the same things. Bruges was like an endless Scooby-Doo corridor, but instead of plant-clock-plant-clock it was beer-chocolate-beer-chocolate-Flemish tapestries-chocolate-beer. We even found an antiques shop that also sold beer. (Yesterdays World, if you’re ever in Bruges – highly recommended.)
European Stereotype #8:
The English are reserved – CONFIRMED!
Even though my boyfriend found people in England to be far friendlier than international stereotyping had led him to believe****, they were still noticeably stiffer than people in New Zealand. I like to think that my years in New Zealand have somewhat softened my upper lip, but New Zealand is a descendant of England, and still reserved compared to, say, France. In fact, I didn’t realise just how reserved I was until we went to France and encountered the bisou. Or bisous – three of them in the Provence! I offered a certain teenage boy I’d just met my hand for a cordial shake. He ignored it and went straight in for a kiss.
“Oh, thank y-” I began to say, but was cut off by another kiss on my other cheek. “Oh, I see, we’re doing this, are-” And a third kiss. When he finally pulled away, I was like, “Oh, umm, right, jolly good.”
I’ve never felt more English in my life.
European Stereotype #9:
The French are rude – BUSTED!
We didn’t encounter any rude French people – not even in Paris. Everyone seemed very friendly and hospitable, even when we were butchering their language and being ignorant tourists. Maybe the whole rude French thing arose because French people are generally less reserved than the people who like to see them as rude?
European Stereotype #10:
German trains are always on time – BUSTED!
This is a LIE! You’d think such a well-oiled race of competent engineers could get their trains to run on time, but practically every train we caught was late. There were delays all over the place, and it wasn’t just a case of us exaggerating the bad. Ask any German. Tell a German this stereotype exists and they will laugh. Bitterly.
But the French trains! The French trains were all perfectly on time – often to the second! What is this alternate dimension we’ve wandered into? Opposite world?
There is one aspect of Germany that lived up to the efficiency stereotype. Have you ever heard of Ritter Sport? (That’s the sound of German expats salivating the world over.) It’s a brand of seriously nice chocolate, the motto of which is ‘Quadratisch. Praktisch. Gut.’ In English, ‘Square. Practical. Good.’ Sounds delicious. (Sarcasm aside, yes, it is.) And get this – it’s square and practical because it was designed to fit perfectly into the pocket of an army uniform. Now that’s efficient chocolate.
European Stereotype #11:
French and Italian drivers are crazy – CONFIRMED!
Ever seen an intersection packed with cars at all different angles, none of them giving an inch, all of them tooting angrily like it will possibly help? I hadn’t until I visited Continental Europe. I was aware of the stereotype, but I was still shocked when encountering it. I was shocked by the fact that Parisians deliberately leave their handbrakes off when they park, to allow other drivers to nudge their cars out of the way. I was shocked by Italian drivers pausing their cars casually on the road to fill up with petrol.
“Never take your car to Paris,” a German living near the French border said to me.
“Well, you shouldn’t take your car to any city. You get caught in traffic everywhere,” I said.
“No, I mean never take your car to Paris because it will get dented.”
We didn’t experience many French or Italian roads, as we were travelling by train everywhere, but the one time we had to get a bus in Italy… well…
“Oh no,” I said, looking at the bus stop timetable. “We’ve missed it.”
“You haven’t missed it,” said an Austrian teacher, waiting to board the bus with his Classical Studies class. “Have you got your tickets?”
“We were just going to buy them on board,” my boyfriend said.
“You can’t buy them on board,” said the teacher. “You have to buy them from a tabacchi shop.”
There was a tabacchi shop on the other side of the road and a little way down, but the road was busy and it would take us ages to cross. There was no way we’d make it to the tabacchi, purchase the tickets without speaking Italian, and return to the bus stop before the bus arrived.
“Just go and buy them,” said the teacher. “This is Italy. You’ll be fine.”
In the end, we had time to make it to the tabacchi, purchase the tickets without speaking Italian, return to the bus stop, chat to the Austrian Classical Studies students, purchase an ice-cream and eat it before the bus arrived.
European Stereotype #12:
The English are obsessed with tea – CONFIRMED!
I already knew this one. Whenever you enter an English person’s home, tea is the first thing you’re offered, and it gets kind of awkward if you refuse. New Zealand has inherited England’s tea culture, but I didn’t realise quite how exclusive that culture is. On our entire European journey, we only stayed in one hotel that had a kettle and teabags in the room, and that was the hotel we stayed in for one night at Gatwick Airport, before we flew to Germany. (When checking out various hotel reviews online, I found the ones bemoaning the lack of tea-making facilities were invariable written by English people.)
In cafes all over Continental Europe, I asked for cups of tea. First of all, they were shocked I wanted tea, not coffee. Second, they were shocked I wanted black tea. Third, they were shocked I wanted black tea with milk. Fourth, they were shocked I wanted black tea with milk and no sugar. Usually, the closest I got to my idea of a proper cup of tea was Darjeeling with a little plastic pot of coffee cream.
European Stereotype #13:
In France, wine is cheaper than water – CONFIRMED!
I honestly thought this one was exaggerated. It’s not. It’s actually quite hard to stay hydrated in France.
If you go into a restaurant in New Zealand, you’ll automatically be given complimentary glasses of water. This isn’t the case in Europe. If you go into a restaurant in France and ask for water, you get given a strange look. The waiter begrudgingly brings some water and, later, when you get the bill, you discover it cost you five Euros. The next time, you specifically ask the waiter for tap water, only to be told that you can’t have tap water.
Now, how can a bottle of water be five Euros and a bottle of wine be four? There were even two-Euro bottles of wine in the supermarkets. And it was drinkable wine. In New Zealand, the cheapest bottle of supermarket wine is about seven dollars. The cheapest bottle of drinkable supermarket wine is about nine dollars. Nine dollars is about five-and-a-half Euros.
Yeah, alcohol is expensive in New Zealand. But at least Kiwis know how to make tea. Oh, and you don’t have to pay to use the public toilets here.
* Sausage covered in curry sauce. A perfectly acceptable meal.
** My boyfriend’s words, not mine. I am English and therefore believe the occasional meal of fish and chips to be the ambrosia of the proles. I also like chip butties.
*** The German version of Biggus Dickus: Schwanzus (tail, slang for penis) Longus (long).
**** We were in the North of England, not London, so maybe that had something to do with it?
Wanna bust some New Zealand stereotypes? Check out last week’s article, That’s in Australia, Right?
(Oh, that’s just reminded me: New Zealand isn’t the only country that’s constantly being mistaken for Australia. When we were in Austria, we kept seeing postcards and hats and things that said, ‘No kangaroos in Austria!’ We presumed it was for the benefit of American tourists.)