The United States Armed Forces maintain a number of military bases in Germany as a legacy of the Second World War and the Cold War. Today there are far fewer of these installations than there were in the past and the remaining bases are also smaller. Almost as a favour to the local authorities the US happens to maintain a small military facility in the Eiffel, a rural region neighbouring greater Trier. This should not be taken as irony, the Eiffel region is relatively isolated and the local economy grew reliant on the US Armed Forces.
Because the Eiffel is so isolated many Americans working at base commute to Trier for larger shopping trips, entertainment and even to use fitness centres. As a result I, on occasion, am forced to come into contact with them. Generally I avoid them – something easily enough done as they tend to stick with each other almost exclusively. Usually they travel in groups of 2-5, enough to fit into a car. Their dress stands out. They virtually never purchase clothing locally. Instead, they purchase it on base or have it posted to them from the United States. After all, we Europeans are too primitive to have clothing readily available in all price ranges. They also generally avoid purchasing anything but fresh food at local shops. Meats and fresh fruits/vegetables are socially permitted, but only grudgingly and too much culinary experimentation is not seen favourably.
At the same time, it is not uncommon for them to eat lunch in Trier. Generally, they congregate in a limited number of restaurants which are known to cater to them. Strangely enough, one of the more prominent examples is Greek-owned. On occasion, a few of the more open-minded go to restaurants with German-language menus and attempt to communicate in some approximating English with younger waiters and waitresses. It isn’t always easy for Germans to communicate with them. After all, Americans are yet to prove that they are able to communicate to even the most rudimentary extent in English. Still, the Germans do their best to make themselves understood.
Despite my best efforts, however, I have sometimes had the misfortune of having to deal with said people. Last week I had just finished my daily work-out routine. Waiting for the shower, I saw a fairly new, expensive water bottle sitting by the sink. I picked it up and showed it to a man putting clothing in his locker. “Ist das ihre Flasche”? He responded “nein, die kenn’ ich nicht” Two men finished their showers and walked into locker room. I asked them the same question: “ist das ihre Flasche”? Both of them glared at me contemptuously without even a grunt in response. Slightly taken aback, I simply re-placed the water bottle and went in to shower. From the other room I heard one of the terrible two saying to the other in a most grating American accent “bro’, what the f**k was that about”? “Yeah, whatever”. They continued to chat away. They also addressed the other men in American. It then occurred to me that neither one could speak German.
These experiences remind me why I live in Germany. For as gratingly pedantic and bureaucratic as the country is, Germans are surprisingly warm. When Germans surprise others it is generally positive. They tend to be more interesting than many would think at first. Germans are also rarely clannish or cliquish. We may not hold together as well as others, we often lack a sense of greater common purpose but we are also more likely to give people a chance to carve out a niche with time. Slowly, but surely, I am losing my taint and being accepted back into the German fold. Having to deal with Americans hasn’t made me miss Canada’s blessed southern neighbour in the least.
28 thoughts on “Living With Huns Volume something-or-another: the Yankees are coming!”
As a child ( 5 – 12 )I had two ( X 2½ year ) periods of living in Germany where my father had been posted.
We lived in a sort of British ghetto and went to BFES schools. Consequently I don’t speak German although the language sounds familiar to me and I feel at home whenever I go to Germany.
I had the ‘pleasure’ of working for Americans during my last years at sea. We had a saying. ” somewhere there was a pleasant unassuming Yank. None of us had met him yet but there must be at least one. ”
We were dealing almost exclusively with oil industry folk, so it was probably an unfair criticism.
Many years ago I frequented a pub near a US airbase in Oxfordshire. The landlord employed various stratagems to keep US attendance at his establishment to a minimum and in this he was generally successful. This may sound mean, but the Americans would have swamped out the locals and spoilt the atmosphere of the place.
However one lunchtime a large posse of American wives pitched up and colonised a couple of tables. They obviously posed a threat, the food was excellent and they’d probably come again.
Brits however are far more resourceful than given credit for, and someone started a loud debate about the Virgin Mary. That cleared the joint PDQ.
C, while fully understanding your feelings, I can offer you the comforting thought that one’s countrymen abroad can often express willynilly what we like least about our country. I have quite often felt as you feel. Having said that, I realise that you identify with both countries – so perhaps that makes your reaction rather complicated?
I recall wandering around Penang in the early 70s ( had few hours off the ship ) and coming across a bus load of British Tourists disembarking outside some new air conditioned hotel (possibly a Hilton ) and knew then even in my youthful naivety that this represented the end of something.
In the early 60’s I spent a bit of time travelling in Japan. The US seventh fleet was based in Yokohama and had been there for a sufficiently long time to remove virtually any vestiges of traditional Japan, but as they stuck pretty closely to their “home” ground it didn’t seem to affect the rest of the island much.
Jazz: there are some pleasant, unassuming Americans but they are a minority. Americans abroad are often even worse than they are at home. Many have a grating sense of entitlement and seem to expect everyone to bow down to them in gratitude for their lowering themselves from their “city on the hill” and blessing the poor, benighted locals with their presence. Earlier today I nearly had a spat with two American tourists. Both women, middle-class and middle-aged they treated both employees they dealt with with absolute contempt and condescension. One is a long-term, African-born resident of Germany. He speaks impeccable German and English. He is always well-dressed and pleasant. The other is a North African woman who speaks German with a slight accent and fluent French, but little English. Because she couldn’t communicate well, they stormed off in a fit. Brilliant story about the Oxon pub! The British have always had a way about them. As for Penang, many places have faced that. Cheaper travel brings far more tourists. While that can stimulate the economy, it can also turn formerly pleasant locales into over-run dives.
Janus: oh, there are no confused of mixed feelings at all. I am not an American and I have no empathy for the people or the country. My mum decided to move there and I had no choice but to go along with her. I had wanted to leave for some time but either the timing wasn’t quite right or I was pressured to stay a little longer. When I finally had the chance to leave, I purchased a one-way ticket to Luxembourg. Were it not for the bloody Chinese I’d not even return. I can’t stand the idea of going back. I sometimes wake up at night shaking and sweating because I know that in a few months I will have to be there again. I relish the day I can simply cut all legal ties with the country. Really, I have far more sympathy and affection for the Chinese and Russians than I do for the Americans.
James: the Japanese prefer to keep the US military and its staff close to their “homes”. The Koreans are little different in that sense. Out of necessity, the US military complies and makes it difficult for Americans stationed in the region to travel freely. In both countries being German has been a great asset. The Japanese generally feel more comfortable with Europeans and there is less reluctance to work with us. The Koreans do not show us any of the (usually) quiet hostility that Americans meet.
C, I’m trying to picture that ‘ contempt and condensation’ routine. More than a wet blanket, I suppose. 😊
Janus: it was always a bit of a damp squib. That isn’t to say that everyone from the US is a tosser or that everything about the country is bad. Nor is that to say that it is impossible to do well in the US. My experiences there have been decidedly mixed with much of it deeply unpleasant. In the past few months I’ve been going through a process of catharsis. When in Ireland, I will probably write something here concerning my former “life” in the US and why I chose to go home.
I think a lot of tourist exhibit the worst of national characteristics. Incumbent No2 and I used to travel widely in Europe on business. We were always correctly dressed for the occasion, quiet and never pissed in public! Many times we were assumed to be continentals in hotels, bars and restaurants and generally addressed in German by waiters, staff etc. Bit of an embarrassment to them when we politely pointed out that neither of us spoke German! Some actually blurted out that they had made the assumption based on our dress and demeanour!! Ouch!
Doesn’t say too much for the average British tourist does it?
I can’t say that I think many of the denizens of the NW USA conform to your stereotype but I have to agree with you that many do from elsewhere, especially the Midwest.
CO: Nehru was not entirely incorrect in mentioning that the British, usually very considerate and sensitive at home, lose all sense of tone and decorum while abroad. I have really never had many unpleasant experiences with British tourists, but then again have tended to avoid any place where the lesser order might congregate.
The problem with people from the Pacific Northwest, I’ve found, is that they tend to be so very dull. Generally not unpleasant, but with little interesting to say. The worst are New Yorkers. They tend to be convinced of their innate superority and have no qualms making everyone else hear it. I once asked to change tables because I couldn’t stand to listen to a group of them for another second.
Just seen this, Christopher, and I sense a ‘crie de coeur’ there (Sorry, don’t know the Hun for that and the French is probably dodgy too). Presumably, to get five Murcans into a car these days you need at least a Hummer or larger, but your thread reminded me of the Aussie diplomats posted to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, generally regarded as more dangerous than Beirut in its day if you didn’t follow the local rules.
They had a razor-wired compound where they lived with double gated access/egress to the embassy and back with nil contact with the local population whose interests they were supposed to benefit. Those of us who lived normally in the community referred to this abomination as ‘Fort Shitscared’.
Oz: I suspect much of it is fear. Many Murcans who actually bother to learn German, make friends with Germans and explore the country remain in Germany and eventually become German citizens. Murcans are educated to believe that they’re so very superior, possessors of a most-advanced heritage. When placed in a position of having to, perhaps, accept the fact that the USA is more often than not merely mediocre and unexceptional in most other circumstances they panic. These are generally military-type Murcans and actually of healthy-weight.
Te he he. I always did like the name “Fort Shitscared”. It’s the old colonial mentality. Clueless, not dominant and more often than not dominated by paranoia.
You see, it’s all down to stereotypes. I have some friends of a Murcan persuasion who are absolutely sound, perhaps because some or all of them are third or fourth generation immigrant Hun to the Land of the Brave, but the stereotype is the one to hate – The Hawaiian-shirted and shorted Ethel and Wilbur on the European cruise, etc., ABC World News from ABC World Headquarters…”We start with the headline story from Wisconsin, oh, and by the way, the North Koreans have just exploded an atomic bomb over Seoul and I have no idea where either of them is either. More later In sport, the Nicks/Redsox/Pachyderms have won the ‘world’ series in some game or other nobody else in the World plays”.
And they won’t even contemplate an invasion somewhere unless some tubby graduate of West Point with a rich, politically-connected daddy, laden with scrambled egg, rainbow lines of good conduct and ‘I may have been in the vicinity’ medals and stars all over his uniform is in charge because Murcan heroes don’t take orders from anyone but a Murcan general in order to ‘save the world’ and then orders our own SAS and UK troops in to sort out their self-appointed problem.
Yes, and London is in England – you don’t have to specify it every time. Where else would it be in the news? And ‘aluminium’ has five syllables, you illiterate colonials.
As you may gather, my fur has been well and truly fluffed earlier this morning. 😉
I spent 12 years working with Murcans….or against them. The worst had ‘done’ the UK and Europe and had no intention of finding out whether anything I did or said was worth their attention. The best were the most loyal colleagues ever.
Oz: stereotypes exist for a reason. Recently I read an article about which nationals are the most well-travelled. Per capita, the Nordic countries travel the most with Germany being the largest contributor in total spending. Then again, the fact that Germany has over 75,000,000 passport-holders at least partially in residence in Germany might help in respect to totals. On average, Germans travel abroad at least once yearly and twice domestically. We Trierers one-up the rest of the country with our tendency to travel to Luxembourg at least weekly in order to take advantage of the Grand Duchy’s relatively low petroleum, tobacco and alcohol duties. Oh, and their coffee is half the price at most. Murcans, on the other hand, are rather different in this regard. Only 1out of 5 Murcans will travel abroad each year and under half even hold passports. Of those who do travel, a large part only go to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean. As a result, Americans are generally not only disgustingly ignorant, but are more than content to be so. There are, however, still a number of good people in the country. I’d never have managed to survive my sentence there if there weren’t at least a few good apples mixed in!
Janus: some Americans are very good people. Generous to a fault and welcoming in excess. People in certain parts of the US are also not quite as obnoxious as others. For example, people from the Midwest aren’t always the most open-minded but they tend to at least be decent people who mean well. Californians are far more open, but are often rather nasty and unpleasant. People in the Pacific North-West are insipidly dull, generally not the most open-minded and possessing an exaggerated opinion of themselves. Southerners are often interesting in small amounts, but not the kind I’d prefer to mingle with too frequently. In general, however, I’ve found that while there are good things in the US and good people in the country, the bad outweighs the good.
Tee hee Christopher. A very good friend of mine is Norwegian and speaks English so well he could pass as a Brit any day. I asked him once why Scandinavians, and the Dutch for that matter, speak English so well. “Simple”, he replied, “We are all small countries with small populations. Once we have spoken to everyone else several times, we need to broaden our horizons”.
Probably explains why the Brits, or at least those who can speak English (and I’m not talking about immigrants here) at even a half-decent level don’t have a clue about any foreign languages. And that is NOT a stereotype, sadly.
I speak English and Portuguese as you know and some French and German if I really screw up my eyes and concentrate, all of which serves me well enough after the thirty minute drive to Ethpanha, but few here are fluent in the pidgin English of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, the only other language in which I am comfortable. There was a lady over on the Dark Side once whose name escapes me now who lived as a child on Bougainville Island, PNG and with whom I exchanged pleasantries in that language.
I think you are referring to Cymbeline, Oz.
Arrers, always on hand when needed! 😊
Oz: a Dutch acquaintance once told me that the main reason why the Dutch have long been such good linguists is because they are traders, not manufacturers. A small, flat, damp country surrounded by powerful neighbours they had little to offer on their own and much to fear. Thus, they learnt how to take advantage of what they had. For the British it is not so much an issue. There isn’t this issue for Britons, nor is there a shortage of new people to talk to as your Norwegian-type chum mentioned. In Germany people are keenly aware of how difficult the language is. As Germany lacked a great empire similar to that of the British, French, Spanish or Portuguese there is no sense of there being a global German-speaking community. There are only a few continental states where German is spoken and even then, we do not necessarily all like each other. With the limited appeal of German and its limited range, we have no choice but to learn other languages. I learnt English because I had to, French because I wanted to and learn Japanese because in Japan, there is little other viable way to communicate. And Japan is worth the difficulty even if no other country speak it.
Yes, that was Cymbeline — the terror queen of Martinique! And interesting person at good moments.
Lots of assessments here aren’t far wrong!
I lived ten years in the deep South, Memphis and Atlanta.
I was never bored. People were urbane, amusing, social, totally racist and splendid company. Suited me fine!
I year in Dallas and I was fit to bomb them myself. Nasty mucky provincial town that thought the sun shone out of their arse, arrogant beyond belief, the absolute worst America could produce in every way shape and form. Couldn’t WAIT to get out. Issued spousal unit with final fatwah/ukase that we were MOVING. To where was totally irrelevant, anywhere would be an improvement!!
!2 years up here, I tried, I really tried. Wonderful scenery, wonderful climate, wonderful gardening. But oh the people, grey, badly dressed, crap mentality, no sense of humour, most of them just plain thick, totally conforming, unutterably PC, non judgmental to the point of total effacement, the ultimate “I didn’t like to” brigade. Can’t be bothered with most of them anymore, a few foreigners that we see and screw the rest of them. I spend at least an hour a day on the phone to the UK, costs me the princely sum of $5 per month for unlimited calling! I can honestly say that I get more laughs in a couple of hours in the pub in Upper Carmarthenshire with a bunch of so called yokels than I would in years here.
Can’t wait to get out but where to? Can’t take the heat anymore, so we stay here by default of the climate.
I would disappear back into rural Wales in a moment but spousal unit, I don’t think so!
Mind you, I only have to listen to the radio to the North and realise how lucky I am to not be living in Canada, now there is PC ultimateland for you!
It is all relative, you just have to make the best of it and get your laughs where you can.
But I can certainly say that wouldn’t include China in my book! Good luck with that Christopher I reckon you are going to need it!
CO: one of my mates moved to Houston last year for a job. In his case, it was because one of his father’s mates manages the company and would sponsor a visa. Save for that, he’d have to return to his native Zhejiang Province. He sometimes tells me that he isn’t quite sure that he didn’t die and go to hell. Another one of my mates was born in Memphis and lived there until he was 10 when his parents moved to Dallas. He’s an honest enough person to admit that Dallas’ chief redeeming feature is that it isn’t Houston. He’s fully embraced Texas otherwise.
Canada is a county I would like to holiday in, but never live in. Too cold, too dull and too “nice” in that passive-aggressive, superficial Minnesota way. Still, very pretty and there is far less aggro than in its benighted southern neighbour. For travellers, at least. Murcan aggro is largely the reason why I can’t be bothered with the place. It seems as if everything has to be a bloody nuisance and hassle and it only seems to be getting worse. As for Southerners and being racist — are they really more racist than those in the Pacific Northwest, California or the North-East — or are they simply more honest about it? Most people I’ve met from other regions, when pushed, are really no more enlightened.
As for China — I am too small and too dull for them to even worry about. The Chinese are far more pragmatic than you think and I trust them more than I ever trusted or trust Americans. Play their game and all is well, just don’t see, hear or speak evil. The only foreign teacher who has ever had trouble at that school was a man who struck several students in class. They had to deport him to Canada’s blessed neighbour. Considering that the police tried to plant drugs on me in the US, fabricate evidence and even attempt pressuring neighbours to make false reports against me I am not at all scared of the Chinese. If anything does happen, I will insist that the bloody-minded pedants of the German Foreign Ministry involve themselves. Just the thought of having to deal with them made the Americans drop their antics.
Thank you, Janus. It’s good to be appreciated. 🙂
Love it. Must say the southerners are just more honest, the rest just talk the talk, no walking involved!
Amusingly the Southerners hate the ‘damn Yankees’ far more than they do the blacks. The Mason Dixon line is all too solid. I think one of the things the rest of the USA can’t cope with is the Southern nomenclature, they will call the blacks ‘nigger’ which really is so sedulously avoided elsewhere at least in public. What they don’t appear to realise that it is a culturally embedded word for 300 years plus which is going nowhere fast.
In upper Carmarthenshire, when trying to be ultra polite the locals will use the term ‘darkie’, they have no idea that it is supposedly derogatory in current thinking. How would they? They are a pretty closed society that watches the news in Welsh! I never say a word, tend to sit there with an idiot grin on my face.
The majority of cultural interactions between European-Americans and African-Americans have also taken place in the South. Whatever the political correctness of the nomenclature might be, the South at least allows for predictable social interactions and cultural cross-pollination in ways that the North would never countenance. Northerners, of course, frequently come in with a holier-than-though superiority complex and insist on telling Southerners what their flaws are and demand that they become exactly life Northerners. Without, of course, actually learning what the South is really about and how things actually work.
Carmarthenshire, as you describe it, reminds me a bit of rural Baden. My grandmother, when she visits, is always warmly embraced by her old friends and neighbours. They act as if she only left a week before. However, when her daughters or grandchildren come with her, they are met with a polite wall. “We will not be overtly hostile, but we don’t know you and don’t think that we want to, either”.
Thank you, Araminta. That were her, I believe she had ‘form’ on MyT going back a long way, but we got on just fine.
Christopher – I do not find German a difficult language previously Latin having learned. Portuguese, on the other hand, is a right bugger. It looks like Thpanish on the page, but sounds like Romanian apparently. And down here they don’t speak the equivalent of Oxford English, more like Zommerzet, my old dear, my old beauty, aar, and is equally impenetrable.
OZ, I recall that Madeira folk sound like Russians.
I too found German relatively straightforward to learn – alles in Ordnung usw.
PS Danish by contrast is simple but impossible to pronounce correctly – even for endemic speakers.
I couldn’t possibly comment.
Oz: after learning Latin German would not be especially difficult. Both are very precise languages. Portuguese is infamously obscure and many Portuguese are very happy with that. Brazilians, for their part, are much the same. Dialects, while in theory simpler than “formal” speech are even more opaque and impenetrable. I only learnt to speak High German and any efforts to speak dialect — be it Trierer or Badenser are met with shrieks of laughter especially by my grandfather who more often than not speaks in dialect.
Janus: my Viking-type chum enjoys listening to me speak Danish as my pronunciation is miles-off. He refers to it sounding like a German trying to speak Danish with a Swedish accent. Or a poor immigrant in central Copenhagen. It really depends on how charitable he is at the moment. I would put more effort into learning the language, but it often sounds as if Danes choke on words.
Sheona: that is Germany. Everything imaginable MUST be regulated and explicitly so. It’s part of the German legal system and culture. Under English Common Law judges are able to apply discretion in reaching decisions for individual cases. Under German law, judges can only use their discretion in choosing which part of the Civil Code they thing is most applicable. It’s more predictable, but it creates some most amusing cases.