“Look what I’ve got!” Eamon triumphantly pulled out a glass sugar dispenser from the inside of his voluminous flak jacket. “It’s from the hotel!” His acquisition was met with near-universal approval in the packed minibus of 15 young trainees and not so young tutors. Anything that could be liberated from the German hotel was fair game it seemed and if this meant the relocation of a sugar dispenser to a new home in Liverpool, then so be it. This was just one more way of settling the score, after their national football team had beaten us at penalties in the World Cup the previous year.
The approval was not quite universal though as a few of us in the minibus thought that the liberation of a sugar bowl by a young Scouser (particularly a young Scouser who has just been on a week’s cultural programme which involved arguing that stereotypes were terrible things, and that he, along with many others of us in the minibus, had had enough of being stereotyped as bin robbers) just reinforced the stereotyping he had been vociferously campaigning against all week.
Thankfully, the irony was not lost on anyone and the journey continued soberly through to Belgium where we found ourselves driving the wrong way around the Belgian Grand Prix Race track in Spa Francorchamps before our map reader realised he’d been holding the map upside down and soon put us back on the right track for Antwerp.
Eamon offered his immediate apologies and did the right thing when he got home by posting the sugar dispenser back to the hotel from whence it came with a profuse apology.
Stereotypes are a kind of cultural weed: easily established and infuriatingly difficult to get rid of. They not only affect our own preconceptions of how ‘the other’ behaves, but also shape how others’ preconceptions of us reinforces our own ignorance.
Our minibus trip from Liverpool to Trier may not have fully transformed those young people’s perceptions of ‘the other’, they did at least get a glimpse of how ‘the other’ looked at them. And one hotel at least got its sugar dispenser returned.