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"Perhaps we have to learn to laugh too, at us, at them," said Christoph Muecher, head of the commission for marketing at Germany's cultural arm, the Goethe Institute. The alleged French obsession with odd culinary dishes which earned its people the term "frog" in the English vernacular, has earned Paris the reputation as the world's gastronomic capital, even when other cities now arguably have equal claim to the title.

German industry has long benefited from an international reputation for ruthless efficiency from untiring workers, even though their working day is now shorter than most and their holidays longer.

Usually they were pictured stabbing Christ, or lambs.

Women, for their part, had to contend with being typecast as nags or temptresses, hysterical or otherwise.

The chances are that Europeans will just have to learn to live with the odd inaccurate portrayal as a fox-hunting obsessive or as a flamenco-dancing bull-fighter, despite increasing integration.

When stereotypes exist not just at the national level, but also between north and south, between neighbourhoods, between gangs in the playground, the chances of an occasional cross-border jibe are likely to remain.

Rod Parkes, Hong Kong A stereotype, like a good joke, often has a grain of truth to it. The trouble comes when people see others only or primarily by means of stereotypes.

However, it's sometimes fun to think of ourselves in relation to our past - we'll probably laugh it off or put it in our jokes.Growing up One school of thought would suggest that forming and propagating derogatory perceptions of our rivals is inevitable, an almost ritualistic exercise designed to boost our own sense of identity."When people are uncertain of themselves and feeling insecure, negative stereotyping does tend to follow," says Dr Adam Rutland, a behavioural analyst.And even if a handful of well-worn clichs persist, it may be worthwhile not to be too po-faced about them.As one German cultural official conceded to BBC News Online, Germans had to work out whether they really cared if some people in some countries occasionally poked fun at them.

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