Stereotypes and Prejudices in a Country with two Cultures

Comparison between the Eastern and the Western part of Germany

Term Paper 2012 8 Pages

Communications - Intercultural Communication


Stereotypes and Prejudices in a Country with two Cultures

- Comparison between the Eastern and the Western part of Germany -

English people drink tea, the French love red wine and Germans are always on time - those are just three examples of stereotypes that everybody knows. A Google-search for the term 'stereotype' shows more than 23 million results1 which give an impression of the importance of the concept in our society. As Ting- Toomey and Chung point out: "It is inevitable that all individuals stereotype."2 The first part of the following assignment will explain the social-psychological background: What is stereotyping, what are prejudices and what comes next? Thereby, the terms stereotype and prejudice are used differently, as it is used in the book 'Understanding Intercultural Communication' by Ting-Toomey and Chung which is the basis for the assignment. It should be mentioned that there are references where both terms are used synonymously. The second part of this assignment will deepen the topic and explain it using a current example: What do German citizens think about each other even 20 years after the Fall of the Wall? Is it possible to talk about one country as one culture and what kinds of stereotypes and/or prejudices still exist?

1. What is Stereotyping?

Ting-Toomey and Chung use the following definition of stereotypes: "Stereotypes are exaggerated pictures made about a group of people on the basis of inflexible beliefs and expectations about characteristics or behaviors of the group."3 For them a stereotype is an overgeneralization, so a large group is stereotyped "without tending to individual variations"4. "Oversimplification" is another term used by the Media Awareness Network.5

Devine defines stereotypes as a "part of the social heritage of a society"6. So they are often used unconsciously or automatically.7 Even children know them. Different studies showed for example, that white children like to play with white dolls while black children prefer black dolls because they think that dolls with their skin color are 'better'. This shows that the stereotypes are in the memory of children even before they develop "the cognitive ability and flexibility to question or critically evaluate the stereotype's validity or acceptability."8 Stereotypes can be perceived as negative but also as positive in contrast to prejudices, which will be explained in the following part.

2. What are Prejudices?

"The term 'prejudice' generally describes an individual's feeling and predispositions toward outgroup members in a pejorative or negative direction."9 In this context, Ting-Toomey and Chung talk about prejudices as "either negative or positive predispositions and feelings"10, the German Federal Agency for Political Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung) on the contrary describes them as irrational, unfair, intolerant, dismissive, and escapist.11 In a following paragraph, Toomey and Chung qualify their statement and define prejudices 'in the intercultural context' as "biased judgments"12.

Prejudices serve different functions, for example to protect fragile egos, to maintain regularity (by labeling other cultures as abnormal), to simplify the complex world we live in or to save time (by not investing time to learn something about the outgroup).13

3. The Climax of Stereotypes and Prejudices

"As long as stereotypes exist, prejudice will follow."14 This quotation demonstrates that stereotypes and prejudices are closely connected, but still not identical. While a stereotype can be described as a cliché, a synonym for prejudice could be bias. The term 'bias' includes a strong negative connotation, while a cliché is more neutral. This underlines the former statement: Stereotypes can be positive and negative while prejudices are perceived as negative.

Stereotypes and prejudices are related. Stereotypes are, for example, described as the cognitive component of prejudiced attitudes and prejudices are an inevitable consequence of stereotyping.15

Though, both terms do not definitely call for each other: "Knowledge of a stereotype of a group [does not imply] prejudice toward that group"16. Nevertheless, stereotypes "can support prejudiced structures"17 ; Devine thereby stresses on the verb 'can'. Stereotypes are learned in the socialization-process. So the society as an 'institution' teaches stereotypes, while prejudices are individual-specific.18

Judging people based on stereotypes and prejudices and acting differently towards these people is called discrimination. So discrimination can be defined as "verbal and nonverbal actions that carry out prejudiced attitudes"19. The next step in this climax is racism: "The direct effect of discrimination and its very practice is racism."20 Racism is carried out through actions, e.g. hate crimes and other, and is based on the belief that one race is superior to another.21

4. Stereotypes and Prejudices in Germany

4.1 Historical Background

Shortly after the Second World War ended in 1945, the allies divided Germany in four zones of occupation. This division led to the two German states in 1949: the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), arisen from the American, the French and the British zone of occupation, and the German Democratic Republic (GDR), arisen from the Soviet zone of occupation. Both states developed completely different in economy, politics, law and culture. The FRG was a democracy and member of the NATO; its economy grew to the third largest economy in the world in the 1950s. The GDR was a socialist state with a centrally planned economy, totally isolated through the wall from the other part of Germany and the west of Europe. In contrast to the FRG, it was part of the Warsaw Pact. In 1990, the German Reunification took place: The GDR and the FRG became one state, called the Federal Republic of Germany. 22 23

4.2 The Current Situation: One Country, two Cultures?

The division of Germany lasted more than 40 years and even now, 20 years after the Fall of the Wall, there are still differences between the eastern part of Germany (the former GDR) and the western part (the former FRG). The German politician Rainer Geißler describes it like this: "The East German general living conditions drew near the West German after 1989, but they are still not the same."24 West German households own more consumer goods; the unemployment rate in the eastern part is still higher.25 In the media, the east and the west of Germany are often mentioned separately, due to different levels in many sectors. The long division is the reason for the appearance of stereotypes and even prejudices between East and West, although both parts have an almost similar culture nowadays which will be shown in the next paragraphs.

For Ting-Toomey and Chung, culture is "a learned system of meanings", shaped by "traditions, beliefs, values, norms, meaning and symbols"26. Using the Iceberg Metaphor, the eastern and the western part of Germany do not differ on the surface-level. This contains the popular culture, like music, TV program, movies or brands, or the "doing" like Rocher calls it27. During the division, East and West Germany listened to different music, watched different channels on television and had different brands. Nowadays, the popular culture is the same in East and West. The reason for that is the fast change of popular culture in general.

For the next level, the intermediate-level, Rocher uses the term "thinking". It contains symbols, meanings and norms. On this level, differences between the two parts can be found. The language, as a part of this level as per Ting-Toomey and Chung, differs in Germany, for example, in accents and some expressions28 ; but altogether, standard German is the language in both the eastern and the western part of Germany. Another part of this level are social structures and social norms. The role of the women in the society, for example, differs between East and West; e.g. 50 per cent of the mothers in eastern Germany work full time which is more than twice as much as in the western part29. The role of religion in a society and history are also part of this level, which shows even more differences between the two parts of Germany.

The deep level, where traditions, beliefs and values are covered, shows no differences 20 years after the reunification.30 Rocher calls this level the level of "feeling". They are deeply fixed in a society and so it is assumed that they do not significantly change over a comparatively short period of 40 years. To talk about one country as one culture is consequently not correct.

4.3 Stereotypes between the two Cultures

The longtime division of Germany has led to cultural differences in the two parts, which the section above has shown. That is one reason while stereotypes arose. The following table shows exemplarily some stereotypes31.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


1 Data from the 20th Dezember 2011

2 Ting-Toomey, Stella and Chung, Leeva C., 2005; page 238

3 Ting-Toomey, Stella and Chung, Leeva C., 2005; page 236

4 Ibid.

5 Cf. Media Awareness Network, 2010

6 Devine, Patricia G., 1988, p. 5

7 Cf. Greenwald, Anthony G. and Banaji, Mahzayin R., 1995

8 Devine, Patricia G., 1988, p. 6

9 Ting-Toomey, Stella and Chung, Leeva C., 2005; p. 245

10 Ting-Toomey, Stella and Chung, Leeva C., 2005; p. 245

11 Cf. Ting-Toomey, Stella and Chung, Leeva C., 2005; p. 245, and Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, "Was sind Vorurteile", 2005

12 Ting-Toomey, Stella and Chung, Leeva C., 2005; p. 245

13 Cf. Ting-Toomey, Stella and Chung, Leeva C., 2005; p. 247f.

14 Devine, Patricia G., 1988, p. 5

15 Cf. ibid.

16 Ibid.

17 Devine, Patricia G., 1988, p. 12

18 Cf. ibid.

19 Ting-Toomey, Stella and Chung, Leeva C., 2005; p. 248

20 Ting-Toomey, Stella and Chung, Leeva C., 2005; p. 251

21 Cf. Grobman, Gary M., 1990 and Ting-Toomey, Stella and Chung, Leeva C., 2005; p. 251

22 The abbreviation 'FRG', although implying Federal Republic of Germany, is only used in connection to the time of division between 1949 and 1990. Nowadays, 'FRG' is a non-official abbreviation. Cf. Deutscher Bundestag - Wissenschaftliche Dienste, 2009

23 Cf. Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, "Deutsche Teilung - Deutsche Einheit", 2009

24 Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, "Wandel der Sozialstruktur", Rainer Geißler, 2009

25 Cf. Ibid.

26 Ting-Toomey, Stella and Chung, Leeva C., 2005; p. 28

27 Cf. Canadian Foreign Service Institute, 2011

28 There are different accents in all the federal states of Germany, not just in East and West.

29 Cf. Rostocker Zentrum für demografischen Wandel, 2010

30 Cf. Ting-Toomey, Stella and Chung, Leeva C., 2005; p. 28ff.

31 The data from the table originates from a poll, made via Facebook among about 15 people between 22 and 30 years of age. The data is not representative.


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Mid Sweden University – Management Information Technology
Stereotypes Vorurteile Ostdeutschland Westdeutschland Deutsche Teilung



Title: Stereotypes and Prejudices in a Country with two Cultures