Dutch and Italians 'meanest in Europe'

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National stereotypes are both reinforced and challenged with the publication today of an extensive survey on European consumer spending habits.

The phrase "going Dutch" is given added resonance with the revelation that the good burghers of Holland, together with their Italian counterparts, are the least generous in Europe. They spend a miserly 1.7 per cent of their annual household income on gifts for friends and family.

The Brits, on the other hand, emerge as the most generous, splashing out pounds 450 a year, or 4.4 per cent of their expenditure, on presents for friends and family. Only the Austrians are as munificent.

The survey by credit card company Visa also confirms that an Englishman's home remains his castle. Almost a third of UK average monthly spending expenditure goes on housing, a figure beaten only by the Swedes of the frozen north. But the notion that the French and the Italians are obsessed with style and fashion is comprehensively debunked. In fact, the Dutch and the Turks allocate the highest amount of their monthly income to clothes.

While Italians' spending is line with the European average, the French put aside a mere 6 per cent of monthly household expenditure on couture. Only the Brits and the Swedes are as down-at-heel.

As with most surveys, some of the findings are entirely underwhelming. For example, spending on holidays is generally lower in the warmer, Mediterranean countries.

Apart from wide differences in spending patterns the survey of 5,000 Europeans carried out for Visa also showed varied attitudes to payment methods.

Plastic is most popular in the Netherlands , where 92 per cent of those surveyed hold a payment card, followed by the UK on 72 per cent.