What is the most misunderstood stereotype

Italian clichés : Lazy then, now dolce vita

Their reputation is bad, but they are needed: If we did not have prejudices that reduce the complexity of reality, they would overwhelm us every day. It gets tricky where stereotypes are no longer a door to reality, but rather obstruct the view of them. How this works was demonstrated at a conference of the Free University and the Italian Cultural Institute in Berlin, where the Germans' ethnic clichés were best ad absurdum: using the image of Italy and the Italians.

It wasn't long ago that the Italians took the place of the Turks in the German stock of prejudice: poor, criminal, backward. In Munich, according to the Berlin historian Olga Sparschuh, who is researching southern Italian migration to northern Italy and Germany, citizens complained about the "Balkanization" of their main station, the preferred meeting place for Italians, who were the first to be systematically recruited as migrant workers from 1955 onwards. Courses were called for teaching the southerners to behave towards women even before they emigrated and to inform them that their concept of honor did not fit in Germany, and the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" headlined "With the knife at hand" - although the crime rate of the Italians in Germany was almost two thirds below that of German men of the same age. Further north, in Protestant Germany, the Erfurt migration historian Roberto Sala reminded, it was their religion that exposed the Italian migrants to suspicion of cultural inferiority and backwardness. The Catholics then made the same judgment as Muslims today.

The picture changed in the 80s - which, as Patrick Bernhard showed in his outline of a consumer history of the “dolce vita”, had little to do with the real Italians and Germans, but much to do with the world in which they lived. The Italian luxury goods and food industry had meanwhile succeeded in catching up with the help of US know-how and in producing competitively Italian noodles and oil, as well as shoes, clothes and furniture, and marketing them worldwide. Changed production methods in Italy met abroad, not only in Germany, at the end of the 70s and beginning of the 80s with media companies in which images could be created and implemented. And on changed values: What the Germans had previously considered typical Italian laziness is now called enjoyment of life, "the Italian" mutated into a role model and parallel to the model migrant.

The reality was and is clearly dreary: Italians, just before the Turks, still belong to the drop-outs of the selective German education system 55 years after the recruitment contract - Berlin excepted, as the political scientist Edith Pichler from the HU reported. The “dolce vita cliché” has negative consequences not only for their Turkish image heirs, for whom they are gladly presented as role models. The pink image of the happily integrated Italians also prevents one from noticing their problems. Peter Graf, professor emeritus for intercultural education, therefore called for multilingual education to be made an integral part of the German school system.

The fact that the positive Italian cliché still works like the negative of the Turkish - social issues are ethnically misunderstood - analyzed the "Zeit" correspondent Birgit Schönau using the example of the customer "Maria, he doesn't like it". The author Jan Weiler describes with amusement the pink trims and shell basins in the bathroom of his Italian in-laws as typically Italian. It is simply furnishing the home in milieus that “can't do so much with minimalism”. Weiler's plot “German citizen son marries Italian guest worker daughter” would also have worked with “Hamburg dentist's daughter meets Pfaffenhofener's cemetery gardener's son,” says Schönau. "But it wouldn't have turned out to be a bestseller."

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