In honour of the day, with a little help from Google's autocomplete function, we compiled a list of the top preconceptions about citizens of nine European countries.
While the predictive autocomplete may not be the most scientifically reliable source, it does give us a good idea of the assumptions and questions people have about Europeans.
We typed in phrases like “Why are Italian so…”, “Why is Italy…” and “Why do the Germans…”, and Google provided the rest.
So here's what Google users are saying/asking about Italy and other European countries.
Italian guys are so cute
The Italian stallion is alive and well – at least as far as Google users are concerned. But is it truth, or myth? Are people basing this impression purely on the classically handsome Al Pacino, or the Italian World Cup-winning football squad of 2006? Either way, Italian men certainly hold their allure.
Italian families are so close
There is no getting away from it, most Italian families are close-knit, looking after their old until death do them part and making sure their young get off to a good start in life (and are well-fed in the process).
Italian restaurants are always closed on a Monday
Not strictly true. Many take a “day of rest” on a Wednesday or Thursday. But that’s because, for the most part, they stay open on a Sunday.
Why is Italy shaped like a boot?
Screengrab: Google maps
This question has indeed puzzled many Google users. In response, one said it was because of Italian womens’ love of boots. “When Italy was founded in 1961 [sic – Italy was founded in 1861] they decided to carve it into the shape of a boot because Italian women like to wear boots”. An interesting theory. Another said: “On the 7th day……God rested, and turned on a soccer game to relax”. It took an Italian to step in and put peoples’ minds at rest, telling them, “I think that Italy has the boot form for the natural formation.”
Why is Italy so poor?
The southern Italian economy has suffered perenially, and today fares worse than that of Greece. There's an entirely different story from Rome upwards, but Italy is most definitely not a “poor” country. In fact, with its competitive industries such as fashion, cars and wine production, Italy is one of the richest countries in the world.
What Google says about the Spanish
With so many scandals sweeping Spain, this search isn’t surprising. But the answer is far from clear. Is it something cultural, an extension of the idea of ‘enchufe’, or ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’? Or perhaps Spain’s corruption has something to do with a lack of institutional transparency, or with the tendency to make hay while the sun shines?
Yes, the old stereotype of Spaniards taking siestas and not liking work is one of the main questions English-language users ask Google. Is there scientific proof? Not really. Some experts would say people from warmer climates have more of a carpe diem attitude towards life and that Spain turned to hedonism after the end of its dictatorship. But recent studies actually suggest that Spaniards work longer hours than the rest of Europeans.
What Google says about the Austrians
They’re actually German
Ouch. Many predictive Google searches ask questions that revolve around this theme. The country shares a long and troubled history with its neighbour to the north-west, but whoever has the naivety to ask an Austrian why they are not part of Germany is likely to receive a nasty look, or maybe have a schnitzel thrown in their face. Though it is smaller and has many similarities, Austrians take pride in their sovereignty as a separate nation from Germany.
Surely not! Maybe this is all those Germans writing questions into Google just to fix the outcome? Are Austrians really stupid? They've had a few famous scholars and academics over the years.
What Google says about the French
Doesn’t seem much doubt about this one. Lots of recent studies have confirmed that the French, despite having a high standard of living and good healthcare, are “trapped in a malaise”. The suicide rate is much higher than the European average.
Claudia Senik, a professor at the Paris School of Economics, told The Local it may be tied to the French education system, which is too rigid and sets them up to fail. Plus she also said they'd be happier if they spoke more foreign languages (yes, even English) because they would not feel so isolated.
Firstly it's important to point out that some French people do get fat, especially outside Paris. However France is the country with the lowest obesity rate in Europe. And though France has all kinds of rich desserts, cheeses and other fat-filled food, the French consume with moderation. They generally eat smaller portions and save the rich, heavy stuff for special occasions.
What Google says about the Swedes
Photo: Let Ideas Compete/Flickr
They’re all blonde
Ah, one of the most common stereotypes about Swedes. The answer, in truth, is that so many Swedes dye their hair blonde. That's (partly) why there are so many of them.
Swedes have a reputation of being “weird”? Really? You mean, a nation where the locals eat fermented (read: rotten) fish, dance around a phallic pole singing about little frogs at Midsummer, and celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December? It's all a perspective thing, perhaps.
What Google says about the Danes
This one is hardly a surprise, given Denmark’s dominance of various ‘happiness’ surveys over the years. Is the answer the country’s generous welfare system, the work-life balance or maybe it’s just all of that cycling? It’s hard to say for sure, but clearly it’s not the weather.
The Danes may be seen as extremely happy, but when you are consistently ignored on public transportation, at the grocery store and even by fellow parents while dropping off your children, it’s easy to answer a firm ‘no’ on this one. But most Danes will argue that they are not being unfriendly, they are merely respecting each other’s right to privacy.
What Google says about the Germans
Photo: Angela Merkel/AFP
It's no secret that Germany's economy is Europe's biggest by the standard measure, Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But when considered with population, Germany's GDP is just ninth out of the 28 member states in the EU – behind Denmark, Sweden and Netherland, among others – suggesting that while Germany might be wealthy, many Germans are not asset and cash rich.
Germany's modern status as the economic heavyweight of Europe has put it in a more influential position within the EU than ever before – and apparently this power has piqued people's curiosity. Maybe it's the fact that at critical points in the years of economic crisis, Germany has been seen as a tough paymaster by its neighbours.
What Google says about Switzerland
Photo: Phillipe Lucke/AFP
They are so bloomin' wealthy
Academics have long asked what fundamental qualities helped Switzerland get rich. An early appreciation of the value of the service sector is one theory. Not being blasted to smithereens in two world wars undoubtedly also played its part.
Photo: Happy Will Cyclist/Flickr
Well, here the world seems to be impeccably informed too. Switzerland tops the World Economic Forum’s index for health and welfare, boasting the highest life expectancy in the world. Perhaps the fact that it has the world’s second best healthcare quality, second most accessible healthcare and best water sanitation in the world has something to do with it.
And last but not least. Norway?
They're also so happy…grrrrr.
Norwegians are happy apparently and its probably something to do with how wealthy the country is and safe (normally) and the beautiful scenery. And they get a white Christmas every year, or at least snow in winter. And when they go abroad they must be staggered how cheap a beer is or a coffee.
In case you're wondering what Google says about the British, the top results are asking why they're so rude… and also why they're so polite. Another response that popped up was “Why are the Brits so full of grief and despair”.
Unfortunately we were not able to look at every country in Europe but here's a map we drew up showing the main results.