Never in my classroom – avoiding stereotypes

Discussing characteristics that are associated with a particular culture is littering with a minefield of cliches, stereotypes, faux pas and potential conflict. So of course, finding the right way to lead into teaching the subject has its challenges.  I have switched between differing approaches but was pleasantly surprised my recent method had success.

I adopted a humorous way to lead into a lesson on the much more dense topic of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory, namely –

  • Power distance index (PDI)
  • Individualism vs. collectivism (IDV)
  • Uncertainty avoidance index (UAI)
  • Masculinity vs. femininity (MAS)
  • Long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation (LTO)
  • Indulgence vs. restraint (IND)

This subject may suit a University lecture but not so much an English as a Second Language lesson on Business Economics: Luckily the group had come across Hofstede in their previous studies.

I opted to focus the spotlight on my own original culture and guide the lesson in this way by exposing the students to the wonderful source of VeryBritishProblems on twitter. This tongue in check and sometimes serious account has a wealth of statements to dissect and develop into a good debate.

Although I had prepared some suitable slides, the tech side in the classroom was down, so I left it to the tech-savvy students to find ten good examples and what it says about the British. This ranged from drinking a lot, not really having seasons, the tea and biscuits ritual to the more controversial statement that Brits are backstabbing.


Although I could have simply argued some of these points, I guided the group as I knew they were aware and diverse enough that some students forced these statements to be qualified or adjusted by

Brits –

  • drink a lot of pints,
  • and no they are not backstabbing, but simply too diplomatic or polite to say what they really think.

The next stage was for them to think about Very German Problems and if there were any regional differences. They came up with

Germans –

ritual time for coffee and cake

  • are pragmatic and not so emotional
  • work hard
  • will not allow someone to walk on the grass
  • complain a lot

produce a lot of beer. But likewise, drink a lot so do not export so much.

This then led into a discussion on if they thought Americans were closer to Germans or Brits if they were to place them on a scale based on Hofstede’s cultural dimensions.

Finally, we looked at their own corporate culture and how much it reflected the typical German cultural dimensions. The most heated discussion on this subject was pertaining to how long it took to get tasks done was not a reflection on their corporate culture being long-term orientated just that there was a lot of internal red tape. This surprised me as there was no mention of external red tape, which with their heavy Amt (civil servant)  system is often a comment made about the German culture.

It was also nice to hear that they are moving away from the typical German masculine corporate culture and focusing more on family and giving women more say and power within the company.

For homework, I gave them the task of writing a 4oo word essay on The

The national and corporate cultures that will clash with their own corporate culture and how to resolve these potnetail conflicts. I am intrigued to see the results.

The lesson did get my thinking about typical EuroBrit problems and how I have adjusted since I have moved here. So my next blog entry will be about that, so tune in for my sudden craving for crisps and white bread, and other comments on my time here as a Brit in Europe.












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