SMIK: Tackling national stereotypes

The SMIK project has helped deal with national stereotyping, while enhancing Danish-German cross-border communication and economic development. 

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SMIK project team: Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel and University of Southern Denmark © Erla Hallsteinsdottir SMIK project team: Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel and University of Southern Denmark © Erla Hallsteinsdottir

" The cross-border aspect of this project was critical to its success. The project teams in Denmark and Germany brought different expertise and competences. In a project that explores stereotypes, a balanced team that represents different views is needed to avoid bias. "

Erla Hallsteinsdottir, Syddansk Universitet, Insitut for Sprog og Kommunikation

The project’s findings are particularly helpful for business development in sectors like tourism and culture. The information can also be used to develop better marketing strategies, helping both Danish and German companies expand into new markets by targeting new customers and expanding their sales base.

The project analysed Danish-German stereotypes and was very well received by the business community, especially those working in tourism and market research. The findings meant the project team could develop practical teaching materials on German-Danish business communication. One publication was a straightforward guide to communication, with cartoon illustrations and a checklist. The guide was produced in German for a perspective on communication in Denmark; and in Danish, for a perspective on communication with German clients. It helps business people understand both positive and negative stereotypes and how to overcome misunderstandings.

Breaking down barriers

The mutual expectations and ideas that we have of each other can become a barrier to cross-border cooperation. If we associate negative characteristics with a different nationality, it can deter people from working together and can stop businesses from exploring cross-border business opportunities. In contrast, positive stereotypes can help businesses to reach out and discover new markets. By cultivating a better understanding of both negative and positive stereotypes, people can collaborate much more effectively.

The project also targeted schools and higher-education institutions with the aim of ensuring that the lessons learned would reach a wider audience and the next generation. Teaching materials were developed to raise awareness of national stereotypes for those studying German and Danish as a foreign language. As part of the project, these materials were tested in German and Danish schools and high schools, and were received very positively by both students and teachers. Many events were held involving teacher associations, which encouraged the sharing of results and expertise.

Research on stereotypes had been carried out before, but much of it was dated. Stereotypes change over time and it was felt that a more up-to-date analysis was required. The research involved a very wide survey of more than 1 000 Danish and German respondents; this was supplemented by questionnaires targeting hotels, businesses and schools.

Through the project, a lasting network of experts on stereotypes and intercultural communication was established – this will ensure further co-operation across the border and greater mutual understanding.

Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “SMIK - National stereotypes and marketing strategies in the Danish-German cross-cultural communication” was EUR 683 062, of which the EU’s ERDF Fund is contributing EUR 443 991 from the Operational Programme “Syddanmark - Schleswig-K.E.R.N.” for the 2007 to 2013 programming period.

Draft date