What Europeans think of each other



This is a basic backgrounder for Americans, primarily, who might think Europeans do nothing all day but bitch about Americans. Don’t get me wrong—they do love bitching about Americans. But they also like bitching about each other, as well. Bordering countries, especially, have complex caricatures of each other, even when an outsider might think they’re more or less the same. The following is based on my numerous interactions with Europeans, having lived there for 4 years. Here’s a run down:

The French — Disliked by some Spanish (particularly the Catalonians), for being arrogant. One woman from Barcelona told me, “Come on, who really likes the French? Nobody!” The Swiss don’t like the fact that they have contempt for authority and are lazy. The Brits, of course, have the most mixed feelings about the French, though. One half the country hates them, the other half loves them. Those that hate the French tend to like the Americans, and vice versa. In the UK, they’re considered stinky, rude (they never line/queue up like decent people), and a bit yellow, based on their tendency to not fend off invaders like the Nazis.The French, in turn, dislike the British, look down on Belgians for being stupid, and don’t have much to say, in my experience, about Spaniards or Germans (oddly).

The Italians — Most of the stereotypes are positive, but mostly because of the food. Northern Europeans consider them lazy and flaky, and maybe incapable of managing anything right (mostly because of the 50+ governments they’ve had since WW2). One Dutch professor I had dismissed another Italian one, saying, “All the Italians care about are pasta and mamma.”Italians, in turn, don’t have strong feelings about other Europeans, but within Italy, the north-south divide is pretty strong. Northern Italians continuously complain that Southerners are lazy and unproductive, while Southerners complain that Northerners are devoid of culture or joie de vivre.

The Germans — Germans are considered industrious but uptight and humorless, by just about all the other Europeans. They know WW2 is a sore spot for them, so other Europeans will often mercilessly tease them about it. As much as Germany is considered an economic powerhouse, the vast majority of Europeans don’t really want to learn German or study there (or send their kids there to study). The food is considered uninspired, too, and only Berlin has some cachet among younger Europeans for its vibrant underground club scene. The most anti-German sentiments are among the Dutch and Danish, who just hate them from invading their countries too often. When German ask for directions in Holland, they’re usually given directions to the shortest way out of the country, or told “Give us back our bikes!”, a reference to the fact that Germans confiscated Dutch bicycles during WW2.Danes hate it when you pronounce their capital as “ko-pen-HAH-gen”, because this is the German pronunciation. Either pronounce it the English way (with “HAY” instead), or the Danish way, which is literally impossible to put down here.Germans tend to like their Western neighbors far more than they are liked by them, but they look down on their Eastern neighbors, particularly Poles. They, oddly, have some mixed respect for the Czechs, who have resisted German aggression.

The Scandinavians — Widely respected by most other Europeans, because of their high standard of living …and blond hair and blue eyes. However, within Scandinavia there are some persistent stereotypes. The Norwegians, Danes and Finns all think the Swedes are stupid and uptight. Norwegians are considered racist. Danes are considered more blunt than the others, maybe a bit more cranky, and the Finns are oddly introverted, even by Scandinavian standards. Except for the Danes really disliking Germans, and Finns really disliking Russians, they don’t really have anything against other Europeans.

The Belgians — Considered idiots by both the Dutch and the French. Belgians, in turn, consider the Dutch to be a bunch of cranky assholes, and French stuck-up.

The Dutch — The Dutch, like the Scandinavians, have an enviable economy and social order that’s admired by southern European countries. However, they do have a reputation of being self-righteous “know-it-alls” and very similar to their German cousins in terms of their rigidity. But they do not like any comparisons to Germans, and if you remind them that the Dutch national anthem makes a reference to the Dutch being “van Duitse bloed” (from German blood), you might quickly get the silent treatment. The Dutch are also disliked for being the biggest misers in Europe, and because of this they incur the wrath of the tourist industry wherever they travel. The Dutch have been known to stock up on water before they take their campers down to the south of France.The Dutch, in turn, kind of look down on just about everyone. Yes, there’s a bit of a reason for the “know-it-all” smart-ass reputation they have.

The Swiss — Considered extremely rigid, even by the Germans. Blunt to the point of being rude, the Swiss probably have the least likely reputation for being characterized as “friendly” or “warm”. Note that there is a big cultural divide between French-speaking Swiss, and the German-speaking Swiss. The former are almost exactly like the French, except having a blander cuisine and more respect for authority, the latter being more like the Germans except even more stiff, rigid and cranky. However, everyone knows Switzerland “works” so the fact that foreigners comprise 20% of the population (mostly from EU member states) should make this clear.Note that the German-speaking Swiss also speak their own variant of German, which sounds very strange if you’ve only been exposed to standard “hoch-Deutsch”.

The Spaniards — Honestly, very little antagonism against the Spanish or by the Spanish. No one really seems to dislike them, and they don’t seem to really dislike anyone else. (Yes, some Spaniards near the border to France don’t like the French very much) Not entirely sure why. However, God forbid you speak Spanish with a Latin American accent — there is still a lot of snobbery among Spaniards towards Latin Americans. Spaniards consider themselves white and European, and would be deeply insulted if you suggested they were Latin American of any kind.

The Greeks — Only nominally considered European by other Europeans, but the Greeks fiercely identify as European. Naturally, this is a huge irritant to Greeks.

The Poles — Not much seems to register about Poland and the Poles except that they’re quiet. They are a relatively big country (40 million people) so the supposed scare of being overrun by Eastern Europeans when a bunch of Eastern European countries joined the EU in 2005 focused in on the Poles. The Germans really don’t like Poles, and among Germany’s 9 neighbors, are disliked the most. Poland is considered a country of car thieves by the Germans. Really, the relationship between Germany and Poland is similar to that of the United States and Mexico, and often for many of the same reasons (differences in income, history of war, different languages, etc.).Poles really shore up their hatred for their eastern & southern neighbors, primarily Russia and Ukraine, although they don’t like Czechs, Slovaks or Lithuanians either. Oddly, they don’t really mind the Germans, and probably still fear them a bit — you never, ever hear jokes about Germans in Poland.

The Czechs — Considered a relatively bright spot of Eastern Europe by Western Europeans, but I think primarily because Prague is such a gorgeous city and a popular tourist destination. Czechs are a bit like Germans, though — a bit rude, blunt, and cold. Poles don’t have much good to say about them.

The Austrians — Considered a mix of the best & worst aspects of Germany and the Balkans, Austrians are considered laid-back but very nationalistic and racist. They’re said to be the birthplace of Hitler, but never came around to being fully apologetic about the Holocaust (unlike Germany). Neutral feelings from most ofWestern Europe, negative feelings from Germans (who consider them backwards, and not always the representing the best image of German-speaking people) and admired by Eastern Europeans (a throwback to the Hapsburgs).

The British – About half of the British would be really angry at being called European, so that should provide an apt starting point. The main beef with the Brits is that they’re considered the lapdog of the U.S., and are anti-European because the U.S. tells them to be so. They are considered polite, but maybe a bit two-faced (hence “Janus Britain”) and snobby. The Scots and Welsh are tolerated and liked, inasmuch as that no one really knows too much about them outside the UK, but the English are those that bear the brunt of negative sentiments among other Europeans. After all, London is in England.
The English also have a poor reputation in tourist traps, such as Amsterdam and Ibiza, for being loud-mouthed, obnoxious drunks.
The English, in turn, really seem to hate everyone. This is because it’s pretty hard to find an Englishman that has even, at best, neutral opinions about other Europeans (or Americans, or other nationalities). Europe is full of English expats, and the longer they live abroad, the more they seem to hate their host country. And yet they never seem to want to move home.

The Irish — A very small country, despite its exaggerated importance in Americans’ minds (just over 4.6 million in the Republic of Ireland) but considered polite and humble. They nominally dislike the English, but I have yet to meet an Irishman who really loathes the English. The sentiments towards the Irish and by the Irish seem to be positive, overall.
I personally don’t know much about how the Portuguese, Hungarians, Romanians, Bulgarians, and others are perceived, or how they perceive others, but if you have something to add, please do so in the comments below.

I’ll leave you with this poster I saw in an Italian office years ago, that helps sum it up in some ways:

In Heaven…

  • the mechanics are German
  • the chefs are French
  • the police are British
  • the lovers are Italian
  • and everything is organized by the Swiss.

In Hell…

  • the mechanics are French
  • the police are German
  • the chefs are British
  • the lovers are Swiss
  • and everything is organized by the Italians.

Update: Here’s my follow-up after this post got an avalanche of traffic and comments.

Another update: Here’s a related post on what Americans think about Europeans.

And another: 20 ways to slice up Europe.

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959 Comments »

  1. @Sandra: heh, you’re right, only half of those are arrogants. And of course it’s a generalisation. I just stated what came to my mind, without giving it much thought. But you know what they say…you should trust your reactions/instincts 🙂

    Only been to London and Oxford for a week a few years ago. While on train toward Oxford I conversed a nice English young woman, and among other things she told me that the main quality she sees in the English is that they care for others. So you may be right. And yeah, I keep hearing good things in this direction from quite a bunch of sources, so probably they can’t all be wrong. Looks like you are one caring nation. Great!

    Sorry about your health problem. Hopefully you’ll get better soon.

    Comment by Alex — March 24, 2017 @ 6:57 am

  2. Hello “The Englishman” and “Steve” above… is it really necessary to use the F and C word throughout your comments…are you trying to “shock” and sound “cool”….as an English woman who may say an odd swear word when getting cut up by an idiot driver, I don’t think we need to see it written here…as I’ve said before, I grew up in the London.swinging sixties…worked for a Beatle, (who never swore!!) but even then we didn’t use such crude language…and no wonder small chi,drew are growing up used to these words.
    As to Brexit, “whoopee” …give us a few years to cut through all the EU bureaucracy and “paper pushing” and so glad to make our own rules and have our fishing waters back. If Scotland want independence that’s fine with me…half Scot…but gosh they will miss the money the rest of the U.K. have to give to keep them happy…enabling Scotland to have free universities and prescriptions, but for the rest of us having to pay…
    And again, don’t criticise a country until you’ve lived a few years there and met a lot of the people…and as I always say “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”…. lovely sunny day here, full of blossom and daffodils…try and do a good deed for someone at least once a week!!

    Comment by Sandra Johnstone — April 3, 2017 @ 1:11 am

  3. Oh and Alex above, thanks for the apology.

    Comment by Sandra Johnstone — April 3, 2017 @ 1:14 am

  4. Just been reading far back into this site, and have to say the racism is rife. Can add that I worked at the useless UN building for four years, and I never met so many racists in my life…diplomats and other staff having long lunches in lounges and restaurants knocking each other…no wonder they do nothing for the outside world tumbling around them…and the EU building identikit!! They get 2/300 euros just for turning up each day and then going home, and contributing to Mr. Junke’s cognac bill!! No wonder he is stepping down shortly, he knows it’s all over…the loss of UKs highest amount of cash given will be a big chunk of money no longer there. There are no jobs for the youth…hence so many coming here, England.

    And just back to the War…my Paratrooper dad nearly lost his life at the Battle of Arnhem to rescue Holland who actually were mainly sucking up to the Nazis at the time….and a known fact deGaulle hated the UK and USA even though we saved his country…at the end of WW2 he asked an American Colonel “when are you going to get all your troops off our land” the Colonel replied “do you also mean the ones that are buried and gave their lives for France”…I will always remember that statement…such ingratitude.
    Anyway as I said before, lived in the States, Spain, Italy, South Africa, and don’t generalise characteristics of nations…we are all individuals.

    Comment by Sandra Johnstone — April 3, 2017 @ 2:29 am

  5. I’m English……British.
    There is no doubt that young Brits on holiday are embarrassing, drunk, disrespectful and noisy. Most of us as pretty horrified when we see the way they behave.
    There are a couple of things to know about the English. Firstly, we love to find fault but in a humorous way. The more we tease you (we call it taking the piss) the more we probably like you.
    Yes, we hate the French. We moan about them all the time. And when we meet them, we drink with them, have fun with them, take the piss out of them.
    The Danes, Finns, Swedes, Germans and especially the Norwegians and Dutch – we love them. Most of us were brought up on stories of their heroism in WW2 and while we might have had a few things to say about the Germans
    And WW2, we respect them as equals and recognise that they were caught up in something they couldn’t control.

    The Spanish and Italians – I’ve never heard anything bad said about either (although there is a lot of piss taking).

    Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Slovaks – pretty well liked. Some extremists dislike them because of the “stealing our jobs” but most people actually have a strong respect for such hard working resilient people.

    The Irish – I think there was probably a fear of Irish people in the 70d and 80s but most people I know are exceptionally fond of the Irish – we see them as laid back and carefree. St Patricks Day has become a big event even in my little town.

    I suspect that some of the dislike of Brits expressed here can be explained as:

    1. A rightful distaste for drunken young Brits with No respect for local cultures
    2. A failure to understand that complaining and piss taking is a national sport, and not in any way negative. Maybe that’s why the Norwegians and Brits tend to hit it off – we both see the funny side in bad situations.
    3. British reserve. Most Brits don’t like to talk about themselves or to show too much interest in others (it is considered rude to ask questions unless information is volunteered. That is very difficult for Americans in particular to grasp. So maybe t is seen as rude

    There are idiots in every country but generally speaking outside of London foreigners are welcomed.

    Maybe we are a bit arrogant. I think that will change.

    Comment by James Y — April 6, 2017 @ 9:13 am

  6. I should clarify my last comment: in London foreigners are also very welcome :-).

    Comment by James Y — April 6, 2017 @ 9:14 am

  7. I lived in NYC for seven yrs…and the people there could be brash and rude, but that’s cities generally.
    As to Brits running down Americans..I say again, I have never heard any friends or family or work pals knock the Americans, don’t know where this is coming from. Certain other countries seem to hate the USA but that’s all politics and jealousy. I was in Brazil and they hated Americans, always trying to rip them off…we had to keep saying we were English!! Certain States in the USA hate each other…Texans are arrogant and think of themselves as a different country…and of course there is still the North and South divide. I would say that Americans do not travel out of their own country very much because they feel they have it all back home, a very beautiful divided landscape etc, but sometimes that’s just a bit of ignorance.

    Comment by Sandra Johnstone — April 26, 2017 @ 5:41 am

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