We are not new to living in Germany. I’d like to think that after more than a decade, I’ve matured with regard to my GMV1 and mellowed the ire that rises in me when someone paints me or My People with their broad brush.
Two anecdotes this week indicate this may be wishful thinking.
#1 “…und dann werden die blöden Amis das sofort abkaufen…”
I was standing in line at the coffee shop at work with my colleagues in front of a couple of middle-aged white guys in suits who caught my attention with their animated conversation about getting the upper hand on the “die blöden Amis”2 in some market-related situation.
I didn’t have any further context. I didn’t have any other reason to assume these were racist, nationalistic, snide people, but “die blöden Amis” still gets my dander up. I think I’ve managed to get over the erstwhile pejorative connotations of Ami as an abbreviation for Amerikaner, but apparently not when it’s combined with a definitely-not-neutral adjective like blöd.
I turned around, faced them, interrupted them and said “Entschuldigung? Was war das über die blöden Amis? Erzählt bitte mehr über meine Nationalität.” 3
The guy who used the term hemmed and hawed and explained that it wasn’t intended as a racist or nationalistic statement about Americans, but that it’s just a common term for Americans, just like the Chinese use of “Langnasen”4 to describe Westerners. “Oh, like Schlitzaugen, which they probably also condone,” I thought to myself. “This is not a person who will entertain a discussion about what it implies to refer to an entire nation of people as stupid, if it’s comparable, to him, to classifying people by facial feature.”
I let it go at that point, turning back around. A moment or two later, while they were standing at a table near my colleagues and saw me approaching, they packed up and left before I got there.
#2 “…die reden Englisch” = sie können kein Deutsch?
Last night Sarah and I hit a local restaurant for dinner. It’s a burger bar attached to a parking garage, popular on Friday nights. We’ve been there a few times. There was a table for two available next to another table for two, where two biker-gang-looking types sat. Black denim jackets with patches sewn on, mohawky haircuts, piercings, the works.
Sarah and I were discussing the menu options — in English, like we always do. The waitress came over and asked if we’d already decided on drinks. Before either of us could get a word out, biker-gang-dude next to me interjects to our waitress with “Du musst mit ihnen English reden — sie reden Englisch miteinander.”
I looked over at him and said “Ja, wir reden nur Englisch untereinander. Mit Deutsch kommen wir aber auch gut klar, danke.” And Sarah told him “Wir wohnen hier. Wir können Deutsch.” He seemed to be feeling a little sheepish; after we got our drinks order in, he said “tut mir leid, wollte nur helfen,” to which I gave the typical local “apology accepted” response in my best Bavarian accent:
I guess that is the kind of assumption I mind less — at least it came from a desire to be helpful.
You never know who is listening, and even when you think you do, you could be wrong.
- gesunder Menschenverstand — sort of like common sense, but with emphasis on neuro-typical human behavior [↩]
- The stupid, silly, foolish, dense, fatuous, imbecile, etc. Americans. Blöd is a Schweizer Offiziersmesser of an insult. [↩]
- Pardon me? What was that about the blöden Amis? Please tell me more about my nationality. [↩]
- Long-Noses — perhaps akin to “Round-Eyes”? [↩]
- Lesson [↩]