My Friends and Neighbors…

As it has been established time and again in numerous posts and places on my blog, I live in Europe – Germany in fact.

When I was 19-years-old and traveling throughout Europe by myself, I never made it to Germany. The closest I got was spending time in Berne, Lucern, and Zurich Switzerland  and physically spending but a moment in Austria while on the train from Slovenia to Switzerland in the middle of the night. That was the extent of my experience with the Germanic world until I moved here at the end of 2009.

Europe: not likely to scale

Germany really is in the center of Europe and that is rad! The problem is that for all of that German “efficiency”, especially with the Bahn, is that I live in the SW part of the country which apparently (I say that because I can find no proof of this in English on the web and thus have only been told) is the least connected regions of the country considering the population density. So, my husband and I find that if we want to travel west, locally within the region, or to Köln we can find pretty fast trains traveling north or any other direction really, is a bit more challenging, especially since my husband and I are attempting to get away with not driving on a regular basis in Europe. We can rent cars, no problem, we just don’t want to own them here. Both renting and owning cars are luxuries we would rather not feel we must be tied to. So, we will take the public transportation that we can get, besides I hear that it is better here than say, Belgium (for all their constant striking) or any points east, for their lack of resources and funding.

What I find most funny about living in Europe, especially Germany is the stereotypes that these little countries seem to have about each other and the ideas that they hold onto, even after centuries. Mind you, just as stereotypes go, not everyone holds these ideas.

Europe according to Germans, brought to you by Yanko Tsvetkov

According to the Dailycandor, Americans have something of a limited but friendly view of Germans that I would have to agree with. Unfortunately, we don’t really know a lot about Germany or Europe, well many of us Americans anyway:

“Unlike the Brits and other Europeans, Americans don’t have anything against the Germans. This is probably due to the fact that a plurality of white Americans have Deutsch blood coursing through their veins, and because Americans have fantastically short memories. Of course, if an American hates any particular German, he’s going to call him a Nazi, but Americans don’t think of them as the humorless, stiff, nazionalsocialistischer automatons that your average Brit, French or Czech does. Beyond that, the only perception of Germany is beer, sausage, sauerkraut and Oktoberfest. And maybe lederhosen.”

More stereotypes brought to you by Americans in general

Also according to the DailyCandor, this is what European think of each other:

The Germans — Germans are considered industrious but uptight and humorless, by just about all the other Europeans. They know WW2 is a sore spot for them, so other Europeans will often mercilessly tease them about it. As much as Germany is considered an economic powerhouse, the vast majority of Europeans don’t really want to learn German or study there (or send their kids there to study). The food is considered uninspired, too, and only Berlin has some cachet among younger Europeans for its vibrant underground club scene. The most anti-German sentiments are among the Dutch and Danish, who just hate them from invading their countries too often. When German ask for directions in Holland, they’re usually given directions to the shortest way out of the country, or told “Give us back our bikes!”, a reference to the fact that Germans confiscated Dutch bicycles during WW2.Danes hate it when you pronounce their capital as “ko-pen-HAH-gen”, because this is the German pronunciation. Either pronounce it the English way (with “HAY” instead), or the Danish way, which is literally impossible to put down here.Germans tend to like their Western neighbors far more than they are liked by them, but they look down on their Eastern neighbors, particularly Poles. They, oddly, have some mixed respect for the Czechs, who have resisted German aggression.

Ahh the French…which seem to get the most cracks from Germans of any of the other countries surrounding Germany. I liken it to a US vs Canada thing. And as I think I have said before, my students frequently ask why the US always seems to be picking on Canada and Mexico, to which I respond with my own question, “Why does Germany or Germans always seem to be picking on France?” Meaning therein lies your answer! It seems, with regard to European stereotypes at least, no one much likes the French:

The French — Disliked by some Spanish (particularly the Catalonians), for being arrogant. One woman from Barcelona told me, “Come on¦who really likes the French? Nobody!” The Swiss don’t like the fact that they have contempt for authority and are lazy. The Brits, of course, have the most mixed feelings about the French, though. One half the country hates them, the other half loves them. Those that hate the French tend to like the Americans, and vice versa. In the UK, they’re considered stinky, rude (they never line/queue up like decent people), and a bit yellow, based on their tendency to not fend off invaders like the Nazis.The French, in turn, dislike the British, look down on Belgians for being stupid, and don’t have much to say, in my experience, about Spaniards or Germans (oddly).

The Belgians and Dutch don’t seem to have a nice relationship with the Germans. I think this is the remaining remnants of WWII, but then again my pool for Dutch and Belgian is rather small. I don’t think the Dutch could hate anyone, but then again, they do obviously or they wouldn’t be changing their drug laws to befuddle the tourists, haters! No, actually, most of the Dutch that I have met have been amazing people and the same goes for Belgians. Hey, I even dated a Dutch man and was madly head over heals for him at that time. By their very nature, to me, they both seem very laid back and relaxed, but very driven at the same time. It is also fun to listen to their language being spoken. I can read it more and more as my German gets better, but speaking it is a different story altogether!

The Dutch — The Dutch, like the Scandinavians, have an enviable economy and social order that’s admired by southern European countries. However, they do have a reputation of being self-righteous “know-it-alls” and very similar to their German cousins in terms of their rigidity. But they do not like any comparisons to Germans, and if you remind them that the Dutch national anthem makes a reference to the Dutch being “van Duitse bloed” (from German blood), you might quickly get the silent treatment. The Dutch are also disliked for being the biggest misers in Europe, and because of this they incur the wrath of the tourist industry wherever they travel. The Dutch have been known to stock up on water before they take their campers down to the south of France.The Dutch, in turn, kind of look down on just about everyone. Yes, there’s a bit of a reason for the “know-it-all” smart-ass reputation they have.

Belgians also seem to be a pretty laid back and open people to me. I might just be in a little bit in love with the BeNe part of BeNeLux. Part of that might be because this is where I have spent most of my travel time outside of Germany and England. I could live in both the Netherlands or Belgium, but I do have to admit I would be somewhat picky as to where exactly that would be within the two countries. Furthermore, to actually be able to say that I could live in either country and actually mean it is something that often catches me off guard, I love it. My husband and I are such a twenty-first century couple!

The Belgians — Considered idiots by both the Dutch and the French. Belgians, in turn, consider the Dutch to be a bunch of cranky assholes, and French stuck-up.

Regarding the Swiss, I don’t have much personal experience with them. I have been to Switzerland, but it has been quite a few years (okay, a decade +) and I don’t feel comfortable discussing my ideas about them based on a long ago and limited experience. I will say however that it seems that Germany gets blamed for all the bad crap that comes out of Switzerland or Austria…like the “Chicken Dance” (from Switzerland) or Hitler (from Austria), the Sound of Music (filmed in Austria), Schnitzel – as in Viennese Schnitzel (from Austria)…If I find any more I might have to write a separate blog about it.

Europe according to the Swiss

The Swiss — Considered extremely rigid, even by the Germans. Blunt to the point of being rude, the Swiss probably have the least likely reputation for being characterized as “friendly” or “warm”. Note that there is a big cultural divide between French-speaking Swiss, and the German-speaking Swiss. The former are almost exactly like the French, except having a blander cuisine and more respect for authority, the latter being more like the Germans except even more stiff, rigid and cranky. However, everyone knows Switzerland “works” so the fact that foreigners comprise 20% of the population (mostly from EU member states) should make this clear.Note that the German-speaking Swiss also speak their own variant of German, which sounds very strange if you’ve only been exposed to standard “hoch-Deutsch”.

The Austrians — Considered a mix of the best & worst aspects of Germany and the Balkans, Austrians are considered laid-back but very nationalistic and racist. They’re said to be the birthplace of Hitler, but never came around to being fully apologetic about the Holocaust (unlike Germany). Neutral feelings from most ofWestern Europe, negative feelings from Germans (who consider them backwards, and not always the representing the best image of German-speaking people) and admired by Eastern Europeans (a throwback to the Hapsburgs).

To the north of Germany, is Denmark. I would love to go to all the countries north of Germany one day, but for now I will settle for their airports. Unfortunately, I have only been to the airport in Copenhagen, which I have heard is a beautiful city. I have to admit that I too, don’t know much about any of these countries north of Germany,  with the exception of the standard western or American stereotype, Socialist utopia, Ikea, blonds, and so forth. Here, it should be noted that the Dailycandor apparently upset some of his readers by lumping the three nations north of Germany together when they are in fact separate, oops. The reality of this is though is that even Americans get this mixed up too. I am guilty of saying “the Scandinavian countries” myself, which is apparently incorrect.

According to Wikipedia:  “The Nordic countries make up a region in Northern Europe …which consists of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden and their associated territories, the Faroes Islands, Greenland and Åland. In English, Scandinavia is sometimes used as a synonym for the Nordic countries (but excluding Greenland), despite the fact that that word is most strictly defined to refer only to Denmark, Norway and Sweden.[1]“I can see Germany being happy and friendly to their neighbors to the north, in my opinion, many Germans look like they come from the Nordic countries being all tall and various shades of blonde. I am frequently amazed at the number of tall Germans I see and meet on a regular basis. I am still not used to looking up for most of my conversations. Perhaps that is why my neck has a kink in it so much.

The Scandinavians — Widely respected by most other Europeans, because of their high standard of living …and blond hair and blue eyes. However, within Scandinavia there are some persistent stereotypes. The Norwegians, Danes and Finns all think the Swedes are stupid and uptight. Norwegians are considered racist. Danes are considered more blunt than the others, maybe a bit more cranky, and the Finns are oddly introverted, even by Scandinavian standards. Except for the Danes really disliking Germans, and Finns really disliking Russians, they don’t really have anything against other Europeans.

To the east of Germany is Poland and the Czech Republic. While I have never been to Poland, I have a few amazing friends from there. I have been to the Czech Republic twice and would go back to explore more of the country in a heartbeat!! The people there, in my limited experience, seem laid back and friendly, in spite of the horribly cold weather they are dealt in the winter. Plus, Mucha was Czech, so they have been doing something right!He not only helped fuel the Art Nouveau movement at the turn of the twentieth century, but also the resurgence of it again in the 1970’s and 1980’s. What Dailycandor says about the Polish here, I have heard myself from expats who have lived here much longer than myself and from a few Germans themselves.

The Poles — Not much seems to register about Poland and the Poles except that they’re quiet. They are a relatively big country (40 million people) so the supposed scare of being overrun by Eastern Europeans when a bunch of Eastern European countries joined the EU in 2005 focused in on the Poles. The Germans really don’t like Poles, and among Germany’s 9 neighbors, are disliked the most. Poland is considered a country of car thieves by the Germans. Really, the relationship between Germany and Poland is similar to that of the United States and Mexico, and often for many of the same reasons (differences in income, history of war, different languages, etc.).Poles really shore up their hatred for their eastern & southern neighbors, primarily Russia and Ukraine, although they don’t like Czechs, Slovaks or Lithuanians either. Oddly, they don’t really mind the Germans, and probably still fear them a bit — you never, ever hear jokes about Germans in Poland.

The Czechs — Considered a relatively bright spot of Eastern Europe by Western Europeans, but I think primarily because Prague is such a gorgeous city and a popular tourist destination. Czechs are a bit like Germans, though — a bit rude, blunt, and cold. Poles don’t have much good to say about them.

Well, that is all my friends and neighbors.

As always, stereotypes are not set in stone nor do they fully represent a people. They are based on assumptions and can be both positive or negative. My point here was to share Dailycandor‘s experience, along with Yanko Tsvetkov’s and mine, not to make definitive claims to be understood as fact. I always teach my students to begin where ever you are, meaning with stereotypes, reality television and pop culture or limited personal experience, but the point is that you strive to move beyond it.  You may likely have a different experience with each of the countries listed here and I hope you do, and share your own.

Not-So-Political Map of Europe, according to Americans

4 thoughts on “My Friends and Neighbors…

  1. Pingback: What Americans notice about Germans…(part 4 of 4) « living the american dream in europe

  2. Pingback: What I know about Germans… | living the american dream in europe

  3. What a great article! I disagree with only one thing – the thing about how Poles dislike Czechs. Czechs are the most likeable neighbours in the eyes of Poles (according to survey recently held by CBOS agency).

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