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Friday, 4 January 2013

What would you do? What would you say?

I have already mentioned that Polish people- and their language do not enjoy a high status in the Netherlands (or elsewhere, for that matter). And while it is often based on misunderstandings and unfair stereotypes,  I think that sometimes we are to blame as well.

When we were flying back from Warsaw, I could overhear a discussion between two Polish people, a man and a woman. Not that I actually wanted to overhear this discussion, but they didn’t use their inside voices and I could hear every word.

They discussed technology and life in the Netherlands, but at some point they started to talk about Germans, and this is where the alarm in my head went off. Polish people don’t like Germans and that feeling is pretty much mutual, even though the relationships between these two countries are definitely improving.

Still, said couple in the airplane were talking about Germans, and how they differ from Poles, and not in a good way. The woman shortly mentioned the former Eastern Germany, and that the people from there are more like Polish people (a good thing in their opinion). The man answered: “Never say that! The only thing they have in common with us is the communist past, but other than that we are totally different”. It’s like he felt offended by Germans having something in common with him.

The woman then said that whenever she hears “these Hitler voices”- and that is a direct quote- she cringes. Again, a little explanation is needed, I think. You would hear from many Poles that German sounds hard and it is a good language for issuing commands. Whenever somebody speaks German, Poles automatically think of Hitler (who by the way was Austrian so his accent was totally different!). 

And to me, German doesn't sound hard at all, and in fact it may even sound softer than Polish with its rolled “R” and all these “sh”-sounds. Also, in Germany, regional differences in accents are huge, so the impression you may get of the language may depend on where your speaker comes from. And to me, German is the language of affection, the language my children hear from their father, the language I am also very proud of speaking.

But that woman wasn’t interested in knowing all that. She just wanted to convey her hate of Germans. When a German asks her for direction, she sends him elsewhere, and not because she doesn’t know the way. She does in on purpose.

I translated this discussion for my husband to understand. I then went on to ask him what I should do. He answered that he doesn't want me to do anything. I was surprised at first, as these people clearly offended his country and language. But maybe he was right. First, he didn’t want me to get all worked up or to have an argument with them. And then, they practically offended themselves.

So instead, I didn't say anything, but it stayed in my head, and now I wanted to describe this situation in a blog post, for the whole Internet world to see. Let’s make these words speak for themselves.

But did you have a similar experience? Did you say anything? Please share- I am very interested in ways to deal with situations like that and then I would write a post about it!

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  1. Olga, I grew up with people disliking Germans, calling me "Hitler's daughter" (well, even if I'm not that old!...) since I was 6 etc.. I'm blond, have blue eyes, a white skin... this didn't help either. – If you grow up in such a climate, even if you love your german family and get to like the language (it took me 20 years to do so), you'll never feel comfortable to tell that you're German. I sometimes overhear similar conversations like you did in the plane. When I was young, this kind of comments did upset me so often, that I got really tired to argue. Now I don't bother anymore. I can't change other peoples view and "forma mentis" in 10 minutes, so I try not to get upset or sad. Today I'm much more worried that my children overhear such conversations and question their German nationality. – I've never been proud to be German and I will never be, mainly because of the way Germans are usually perceived by others.

    1. Yes, even Germans themselves wouldn't say that they're proud to be Germans because of these negative perceptions of them. Ute, I am so sorry this happened to you. And I agree that saying anything wouldn't change these people's minds- it just may get us more upset or stressed. I also worry about my children hearing this kind of comments, and maybe it would be a good idea to talk to them about their heritage, and to prepare them for such talks...But then, I know Germans are proud of their country and its cultural and economical achievements...they just won't say it out loud, or only among themselves. This is an extremely complex situation...

  2. I think that if we tell our children what happened in Germany and why people still has resentments, explaining the human nature in this kind of situations, they will understand. The fact that Germans are proud of their country and its cultural and economical achievements is per se a positive sign, but even if I'm German, I don't feel comfortable when someone else (German) says it out loud...

    1. Yes, I feel the same way, even if I know that everybody has the right to feel proud of their culture. We have to talk about this topic, and we have to do it right (without blaming)...but I also think that the resentments will disapear- I do hope so so that we can have meaningful discussions about this topic. I see this in Polish-German relationships, as they are definitely getting better!


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