While most of us know more or less that such stereotypes are very dangerous (if not complete rubbish) we still haul them out and use them and we all need to relax and realize that this is not a mortal sin. Let's lighten up and stop being so hard on ourselves or each other. If I held a grudge for every stereotype used against (or for) me I'd spend my life in a state of permanent resentment.
It often starts out quite innocently as we search for some way to make a connection with someone who is "Other" and so we grasp for something witty and interesting to say. This does not always work out so well. Sometimes before we know it we are saying something we really really regret.
If I may give an example: I was presented to a Frenchman one day and as he was shaking my hand he pulled out one of those stereotypes in a very misguided attempt at Gallic gallantry. "Madame," he said, "It is not possible that you are an American. You are not fat."
Bernard Pelletier says that our thinking and use of stereotypes is natural and universal. "Face à l’inconnu, le premier mouvement de chacun est d’en penser quelque chose plutôt que rien." (Face to face with the unknown, the first instinct of all of us is to think something rather than nothing.)
Stereotypes are also something that we can all play with. Using clips from three films, Pelletier illustrates three possible attitudes we could take toward cultural stereotypes if we are feeling a bit mischievous: la moquerie (humor), le faux-semblant (play along - the clip about the Swiss by the Swiss is excellent) and l'inversion (turning it around).
Of the three I prefer using humor and playing along because if they are done right, the point is made gently without hurting anyone. As for the last, inversion, it is, I admit, very powerful and yet it feels mildly aggressive - like a counter strike. I'll let you decide for yourself. Here is the video called Africa for Norway that Pelletier uses to demonstrate how it works. I must say that it did make me laugh and they do get their point across quite effectively.