Cultural views hampered by stereotyping

By Mark Gates

Although the Woodstock music festival took place over 20 years ago, many people in Germany still think hippies are a part of the American scene.

This was one of the discoveries made by a group of American consultants, including NIU political scientist Manfred Wenner, sent to Germany to help Germans and Americans better understand each others’ societies.

“Both countries have major misperceptions of the other,” Wenner said. For example, Germans believe in the American dream or the “Horatio Algier myth,” as Wenner called it.

Germans think “that anything is possible in the United States, that no matter who you are, or what you are or what your background is; you can succeed in the U.S.,” Wenner said. He said this is no longer the case in America.

On this side of the ocean, the false image of Germans is either as Nazis or beer-guzzling students, Wenner said.

Wenner said he hopes the findings of the project will improve communication between the two countries and dispel some of the myths that have arisen.

The German-American research project began this summer at the University of Tuebingen, West Germany. Wenner and other American consultants were given material written by Germans to evaluate for accuracy. The essays he helped edit and revise were about both societies.

The project, which should be completed by December 31, 1989, is intended to produce manuscripts of the essays for two books, Wenner said.