Wednesday, 30 September 2009

"Das ist Deutschland Hier"

Oh SNAP! One expects this kind of thing from the French, but from the Germans??

Here is video of the new German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle admonishing a BBC reporter who asked him a question in English on Monday, snapping: "We're in Germany here."

The snippy retort has raised eyebrows in Germany and across Europe, most notably because Germany has long been one of the European countries with the least “language pride”, happy to operate in English as the ‘lingua franca’ of international diplomacy and business. Westerwelle’s comments are particularly surprising coming from a soon-to-be foreign minister, who presumably will need to use his command of English frequently when meeting with foreign dignitaries from around the world.

And incidentally, this BBC reporter was actually reporting for the World Service, which is an English language global news service that doesn't broadcast within the UK, but rather across the world to Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.

The French are notorious for this kind of defensive language pride. Could this be a sign that the Germans are starting to feel more confident about defending their own national identity? The BBC reporter’s question was about how German foreign policy would change with Westerwelle as foreign minister. Though he grumpily refused to directly answer the question, his rant may have revealed plenty about how Germany's foreign policy will change under his leadership. Was this a calculated signal to the international community, or a momentary bout of crankiness?

Germany is now the largest and most economically powerful country in Europe by far. Yet Germans are also renowned for their humble and realistic approach to their relative size and importance on the world stage. They have historically accepted the fact that German is not a world language and that English is the lingua franca (hence even though there are three co-equal working languages of the EU – English German and French – German is not often used in an official working capacity). This has set them apart from the French who many view as delusional about the importance of their language in the world. Germany, because of it’s WW2 legacy, has for the past half-century been very self-effacing and accommodating – particularly with English. As is often noted, 'it's not allowed to have German pride'.

Does Westerwelle’s rant signal the rebirth of a newly assertive Germany?

10 comments:

Eurocentric said...

It would probably be his style as Foreign Minister; he's made several comments about the need for German national interest to be defended at a European level.

It would be a pity if nationalism increased - I've long liked Germany because of its grown-up pragmatism and the liberal self-scrutiny. We could do with more of that over here.

Dave Keating said...

I agree, it's what I've long admired about Germany as well. It would be a shame if it were starting to lose that characteristic...

Tarik said...

I'm actually thinking good for him. Sadly though I must admit that this response has less to do with newfound language pride and more to do with his English just not being all that good...

Tanja said...

I knew when I saw that yesterday that you will post it. Just embarassing even if he was to be the minister of INTERNAL affairs. I don't know why he's so pissed off in general

Björn Erikson said...

What a jerk! This is very surprising coming from Germany...what does it mean? He should not be foreign minister I think.

Chris said...

I'm blown away by that clip, it's exactly the direction Germany needs to stay away from going. Sad. Sad. This is that German "schnauze" that you hear about, displayed in full form. And I used to respect this guy too...

Tarik said...

What?? Do u people even speak German??! He was actually very polite for a German person, they are normally a lot more direct. He even said to the reporter they can go for a beer together and then speak in English. And he didn't want to answer any questions about his foreign policy because he already told the last few people with the same question no. Honestly Germans are always seen as rude just cause we say what we think and don't sugar cite everything like the yanks.

Funmatien said...

I find it annoying and embarrasing as well. But you have to give credit to him for offering to talk to English speaking journalists after the formal press conference.


I do think Germany has become more patriotic (especially since the World Cup in 2006). For example, you see more people showing the flag. But they still have a good portion of self-scrutiny. And if you ask people here, they will for the very most part say that Germany's future is definitely within the EU. I don't think that's going to change.

Btw today the country's culture is a lot more open towards migrants and people from abroad than it was even 10 years ago.

So I think while Westerwelle's behaviour was a bad start as the most likely future Foreign Minister, it was more a personal "slip" than a characteristic of Germany.

David said...

He was totally fine and polite - it probably just jars a little in translation. I think there's a bit of a misconception about how many Germans actually readily understand and speak English and it seems a bit silly for the BBC to send a non-German speaking reporter to cover a press conference in Germany about an internal matter.
You can presume English as the lingua franca if you're at a conference with lots of different nationalities but not if you're a brit in a room of Germans.

Duncan said...

Uh, even though I don't understand German, it's pretty clear to me that, from his open and expressive demeanour, Westerwelle was responding in a firm yet polite and generous manner.

What I just can't believe is that anyone - especially the BBC World Service - would send to a briefing in Germany a journalist who can't speak German...