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!