Forgive me, I am German!

A good thing about living in Mexico is that we finally are living in a soccer enthusiastic country. Hence, we can watch the Euro 2012 everywhere right now – which helps, since we didn’t sign up for cable.

German soccer fans in Aachen cheering after Ge...

German soccer fans in Aachen cheering after Germany’s victory over Sweden in the World Cup (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How I missed soccer! I never got into football or baseball, and since Seattle had lost the Sonics, there was no basketball to explore. Yes, Seattle got their soccer team the Sounders, but that wasn’t the same… Only too well do I remember the worldcup 2006 in Germany that was BIG. Really BIG. Worldcup and Euro are THE times when Germans put out flags, paint their faces and wear silly clothes in German colours. And for once, we don’t feel bad about it. Because let’s face it, other than during important sports events, Germans never display patriotism. I even daresay that Germans don’t feel patriotism. At least, I don’t. (I guess, I am up for some mean criticism now. So ok, let me have it!)

Living abroad, though, has taught me a valuable lesson: Germans are in fact well respected. Huh, that was a huge surprise to me, because for me being a German always meant to live with a feeling of shame. Maybe I am just a little stupid, for I know that other fellow Germans don’t struggle the same way that I do, but ever since I learnt about the cruelties of the holocaust, I hated to say that I am German.

A lot of people, Germans or non-Germans, don’t understand my dilemma. After all, it wasn’t ME committing all those terrible crimes. Not even my generation. Not even our parents’, nor possibly grandparents’ generation. But to me, that doesn’t matter. To know that seemingly ordinary people (in my case, my (great-)grandparents) were able to act that way or, if not acting, to look away so persistently, for me was always enough to feel ashamed.

I remember my first trip to New York (my dad lent me his credit card, oh, he shouldn’t have done that!): I had bought so much that I needed to buy another suitcase. Where better to go than to Macy’s? The guy in the luggage department asked me where I was from and upon hearing that I was German, he started laughing saying: “Oh, yeah, yeah, Germany. Hitler, Hitler.” I felt my cheeks burning and tears dwelling up in my eyes, so I left the store. And I remember thinking that it was a terrible fate to be German. So next time when someone asked me where I was from, I would say Switzerland, and everybody would just think chocolate and cheese. Hooray. As Basil Fawlty would say: Don’t mention the war!

Maybe the next generations will do better on this subject than I do. Who knows. But our history was not the only reason for me to be so unpatriotic. For me, it was also the image of “the Germans”. Italians are said to be funny and sensual, the French are supposed to be gourmets and great lovers, the English have their wellies wearing Queen and that alone makes them delightfully quirky – but Germans? It’s all about puncuality and efficiency, isn’t it? Oh, and bad clothing when on vacation. Amen to that.

At least the image thing is something that I apparently share with many fellow countrymen: We try to get away from each other when travelling. My husband and I shut up the minute we hear German language somewhere. We just give each other a meaningful look and refrain from talking until the danger is averted. The danger of talking to someone in GERMAN! God forbid! I have noticed those looks, too, when apparently German couples overhear us talking in German, and I keep thinking: Germans are like old people.

You know, the way old people always try to stay away from other old people? They say, oh, I can’t go there, there are only OLD people! And you think, what the heck are you talking about? You ARE old! That’s how Germans act abroad. Oh, I can’t go there, there are Germans!

English: Meals on Wheels 'HotShot' delivery ve...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So honestly, what do we do once we get old? We will have no place to go, because there will always be either old people OR Germans OR both. But I guess, if we go back to Germany then, at least our meals on wheels will be on time!

15 thoughts on “Forgive me, I am German!

  1. So the Germans have a great futbol team this year, they might even beat the Italians! :)
    They have wonderful beer. Oh yeah! And of course precision cars. I went to Berlin for the first time last summer and fell in love with it. What a great city!! I have also been to Dachau and “eagle’s nest” amoung other places, But I would never compare hitler’s germany to today. Besides, have you ever encountered American tourists?? OMG!!!!

    • Haha, yes, I believe that the Italians can already go home!
      No, of course, you can’t compare Germany then to Germany now, but still, I believe that we never ever must forget what happened if we want to make sure it will never happen again.
      Yes, I come across American tourists everyday. :-) there are nice ones and stupid ones – like with every nation. But it is only our own nation that we feel embarrassed for when encountering tremendous stupidity, isn’t it? ;-)

  2. This is so enlightening. And this whole time I thought that only Americans abroad felt a sense of shame and self-loathing! (IMO American tourists are equally bad.) A very educational post and I’m learning that we all are actually not that different! LOVE your Fawlty Towers video clip! I remember watching it on PBS growing up and it STILL cracks me up! John Cleese is a genius!

    • You are right, I have noticed that a lot of Americans talk really bad about their fellow countrymen. Isn’t it weird how we tend to feel kind of responsible for the whole nation? Glad to know it’s not only me…
      I am a Fawlty Towers addict! Such a shame there are only 12 episodes. And “The Germans” is one of my favourites! :-)

  3. When I lived in Seoul, I would often lie and say I was Canadian. There is a huge US Army base in the center of Seoul which many Koreans are unhappy with (especially after random accidents such as the time a US army tank ran over two middle school girls who were walking home form school :( Once I moved to Vietnam, I thought I would NEVER admit to being American, considering the Vietnam War and all. I was speaking to my Vietnamese boss about this one day and asked him how Vietnamese people were able to be so friendly to Americans considering the past. He said that they all understood that the war happened in the past and that it was a choice made by the US government at that time – not by me or any other American tourist. I thought that was pretty amazing that they could put that all behind them and had such a positive outlook considering the war was really not that long ago. I don’t think Americans could forgive and forget so quickly if the war had been fought on our soil. Don’t ever feel ashamed to be German because you aren’t the one responsible the past. And next time you hear another person speaking German in public, rather than ignore them – ask them if they need a good plumber ;)

    • Haha, thank you for your kind (and funny) words!
      I can only imagine how hard it must be for an American to live in Vietnam! And I agree, it is amazing that they don’t hold a grudge against America. They must be very wise to let go of the past so generously.
      Being American must be tough at times. People always expect so much from the US and are so quick to blame them if something goes wrong. I always felt that was a very lazy attitude.
      No, you are right, I am not personally responsible for what happened just as you are not responsible for Vietnam. In my case, though, there are a lot of questions. How can you apparently not notice when your neighbours get deported? How do you decide that your neighbours’ child is evil all of a sudden? How can you look in people’s eyes and not feel anything when they get killed? I know that at that time there was a lot of fear and uncertainty, and people were very overworked and tired, so it was the easy way to just close your eyes. And that’s what scares me, because then it could happen anytime again, if we choose to look the other way. I was only lucky to be born at a later time, it doesn’t make me a better person. Who can tell what he/she would have done in that situation?
      Ah, well, that’s a huge subject. Plumbers are so much more fun to talk about! ;-) I will remember your advice the next time I bump into Germans!

  4. Whenever you live abroad you become an ambassador for your country – you become status quo for the folks around you. It’s daunting sometimes for me and at other times funny. Sounds like you’re embracing it though.

    • You are right! The first person you meet of whatever country basically defines your view of that nation. There should be a basic expat salary for representative tasks!
      Gosh, I hope I am doing an ok job with my students…! ;-)

      • I’m sure you are. And you’re right – a small retainer for the public appearances would be greatly appreciated!

  5. Aw Kristin. This post made me sad. :-( I love being German and whenever i meet people abroad they are so fascinated with the German culture and language.
    I do admit I’m trying to avoid German speakers though. My american hubby’s the other way around :-)

    • Hi Suze, Sorry, I did not intend to make anyone sad! Glad to hear you are a proud German, we certainly could do with a little more patriotism as I agree, German culture and language are beautiful – German food not so much, I find, haha! But why would you then avoid German speakers?? Yes, I know a lot of Americans who are very annoyed when bumping into fellow countrymen. :-) Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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