National Stereotypes in Peter Mayle’s "A Year in Provence" (1989)

Seminar Paper, 2011

15 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Stereotypes in Intercultural Communication
2.1 Definition
2.2 Characteristics
2.3 National Stereotypes
2.3.1 Positive Effects
2.3.2 Negative Effects

3 National Stereotypes in Literature: Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence (1989)
3.1 Peter Mayle: A Year in Provence (1989)
3.2 Plot
3.3 Provence revealed in A Year in Provence
3.3.1 Gastronomy and Cuisine
3.3.2 Climate
3.3.3 Folk and Culture
3.4 Depiction of National Stereotypes in A Year in Provence
3.5 Functions and Effects of National Stereotypes in A Year in Provence

4 Dealing with Stereotypes

5 Works Cited

1 Introduction

Since every nation and its members have its own ideas about the world, about people and other cultures, stereotypes play an important role in intercultural communication. Thus, existing stereotypes about members of social groups or countries such as “women are fragile” or “Frenchmen are romantic” make it easily possible to conjure up a portrait of what certain cultures or groups are like (cf. Schaller; Stangor: 3). With stereotypical messages applying to all members of different cultures or social groups without regard for individual differences, communication between these members is often restrained. Due to living in multicultural societies, intercultural communication has become an important theme in a world of globalization and hence stereotypes have not become less important. In the first part of this paper the definition and basic characteristics of the term stereotype as well as the main features and effects of national stereotypes as a particular kind of stereotyping will be presented. Afterwards, in the second part, national stereotypes in literature will be outlined using the example of the travelogue A Year in Provence published by the British author Peter Mayle in 1989 focusing especially on its depiction and function. Finally, against the background of stereotyping playing an important role in intercultural and literary communication, the importance of appropriate and conscious dealing with stereotypes will be outlined.

2 Stereotypes in Intercultural Communication

2.1 Definition

The Oxford Dictionary of English defines the term stereotype, which derives from the Greek words stereo (solid) and typos (impression), as a “preconceived and over-simplified idea of the characteristics which typify a person [or] situation” and as “an attitude based on such a preconception” (OED: 651).

In his book Public Opinion from 1922 the American journalist Walter Lippmann used the word stereotype for the first time and characterized it as “pictures in our head” (Lipmann, quoted in Florack: 10). In his definition Lippmann points out “how people’s views of the world are colored by a whole series of prejudices and preconditions, transmitted from generation to generation” (van der Merwe: 1). Lippmann calls these unconsciously shared views by a group of people “stereotypes” (cf. van der Merwe: 1). Thus, “stereotyping involves a form of categorization that organizes our experience and guides our behavior towards ethnic and national groups. Stereotypes never describe individual behavior” (Adler: 254).

Moreover, stereotypes can be seen as “opinions held and expressed in the course of everyday life and during normal communicative interaction” (Duijker; Frijda: 115), although it must be kept in mind that “stereotypes are partly determined by context and situation” (Duijker; Frijda: 115). In general, stereotypes can be seen as quick positive or negative judgments about people that are characterized by simplification (cf. van der Merwe: 1)

However, it must be differentiated between two forms of stereotyping: auto-stereotypes and hetero-stereotypes. Auto-stereotypes are stereotypes which refer to what members of a group think of themselves as a group and are thus self-perceptions, for instance what the Germans think of themselves (cf. Ting-Toomey: 161). Hetero-stereotypes, however, are stereotypes which a group has of another group and are hence external perceptions, for instance what the English think of the French (cf. Ting-Toomey: 161).

2.2 Characteristics

According to definitions made by Lippmann, Allport and Adorno stereotypes can be summarized as “an important integrative element of society, of motivations of social actions, of structure of ideologies and of political propaganda” (Berting; Villain Gandossi: 14). Although Walter Lipmann refers to the resistance to change of stereotypes (cf. van der Merwe: 1), which is “connected to the fact that the stereotype is almost independent of the actual experiences of people” (Berting; Villain Gandossi: 15), Gordon Allport notes in his seminal study on the nature of prejudice that stereotypes “adapt to the prevailing temper or prejudice or the needs of the situation” (Allport, quoted in van der Merwe: 2) and thus can undergo change. Besides that, stereotypes are not only used to define differences between gender, social or religious groups, but to define differences between nations.

2.3 National Stereotypes

National stereotypes are “stereotypes referring to national populations” and thus refer “to a category of people (a national population, a race, etc.) and suggest that they are all alike in a certain respect. It is therefore an undifferentiated judgment” (Duijker; Frijda: 115). Consequently, national stereotypes can be seen as generalizations that “refer to “outsiders”, to other peoples, countries and their “cultures”” (Berting; Villain Gandossi: 22) and can be negative as well as positive.

In their book National Character and National Stereotypes, H. C. J. Duijker and N. H. Frijda remark that a national stereotype always “contains, implicitly or explicitly, an evaluation”, which can be either “favorable or unfavorable” (Duijker; Frijda: 115). The former European Centre for Research and Documentation pointed out that national stereotypes are “social constructions of reality” and “are shared by members of a people or nation” (Centropa; quoted in Berting; Villain Gandossi: 25).

With national stereotypes being “regarded as rigid shorthand descriptions of a complex outside world” (Berting; Villain Gandossi: 22), they consequently have various psychological functions in intercultural communication (cf. Duijker; Frijda: 123). So H. C. J. Duijker and N. H. Frijda state that national stereotypes are “one of the most important tools of thought” in intercultural communication and help to make “our world more tractable, more manageable” (Duijker; Frijda: 124).1

2.3.1 Positive Effects

In contrast to the wide-spread believe that stereotyping has exclusively negative and harmful effects, it can also be positive concerning intercultural communication. Jan Berting and Christiane Villain Gandossi remark that national stereotypes “provide the members of a community with ready-made, shared frames of reference which enable them to structure in a socially significant way the outside world, the other peoples” (Berting; Villain Gandossi: 23). Similar to this thesis, national stereotypes are indicated as “categorial statements”, which “provide man […] with some relatively stable categorizations and […] with some implicit guidance for conduct” (Duijker; Frijda: 124). Hence, national stereotypes can help to simplify the task of guide our behavior towards and to understand other nations and cultures allowing people to behave appropriately when getting in contact with them. However, this function assumes that the person is aware of using stereotypes and is willing to modify the stereotypes adding new information and experiences about the individual person. People being involved in intercultural communication, should therefore be aware that stereotypes always describe a group norm and never an individual behavior. Consequently, “stereotypes increase effectiveness only when used as a first best guess about a person or situation prior to having direct information” (Adler: 255).

2.3.2 Negative Effects

With National Stereotypes being overgeneralizations about national populations and their culture without regard for individual differences, they can of course also have negative effects and create barriers to successful intercultural communication. The problem of national stereotypes lies in its accurateness describing other nation’s population and culture, although David Schneider remarks that “it is not to say [...] that all national stereotypes are necessarily inaccurate” (Schneider: 527). Even though national stereotypes may contain valid information, they are too broad and shallow and thus often lead to the wrong presupposition that people’s culture can easily be summed up in a few sentences and that they reflect reality. In this context, it must be pointed out that national stereotypes depend less on objective descriptions of the character of the people being stereotyped but rather on other factors, such as political relationships (cf. Duijker; Frijda: 129). Additionally, national stereotypes “are often based not on personal experiences, but on contacts with stereotype-holding persons (or mass-media)” (Duijker; Frijda: 130). For example, the national stereotype of Americans about the French being “Anti-American” thus can have negative effects on communication between American and French as the following statement made by Nancy Adler shows: “If a subconscious stereotype also inaccurately evaluates a person or situation, we are likely to maintain an inappropriate, ineffective, and frequently harmful guide to reality” (Adler: 255).

Furthermore, national stereotyping can also have negative effects on intercultural communication when people are not willing to modify their stereotypes about other nations and cultures. In order to leverage the positive effects of stereotypes when getting in contact with other cultures as described in chapter 2.3.1, national stereotypes must be used effectively by “be[ing] aware of cultural stereotypes and learn[ing] to set them aside when faced with contradictory evidence” (Adler: 256). Consequently, people who are not willing or failing to change their opinion concerning other groups will always have problems in intercultural communication.

In conclusion, “stereotypes become counterproductive […] when we confuse the stereotype with the description of a particular individual, and when we fail to modify the stereotype based on our actual observations and experience” (Adler: 256).


1 The positive and negative effects of national stereotypes concerning intercultural communication described in 2.3.1 and 2.3.2 are also to the greatest possible extent valid for other types of stereotyping.

Excerpt out of 15 pages


National Stereotypes in Peter Mayle’s "A Year in Provence" (1989)
University of Passau
B(r)its from Abroad: British Accounts of Life on the Continent
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
832 KB
national, stereotypes, peter, mayle’s, year, provence
Quote paper
Stephan Katzbichler (Author), 2011, National Stereotypes in Peter Mayle’s "A Year in Provence" (1989), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: National Stereotypes in Peter Mayle’s "A Year in Provence" (1989)

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free