Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Mob is my Shepherd

After years of defending the American people abroad, it was strange on my trip to feel called upon to defend the Germans. On the other hand, maybe I wasn’t being asked to defend the Germans, I was only being asked not to say anything negative about America.

At one point, after visiting two restaurants, I mentioned that American restaurants serve large portions. Boy, did I say the wrong thing. An acquaintance literally bristled, and countered with the accusation that also Germans serve large portions. Has he ever been to Germany? No. Do Germans serve large portions? Actually, in comparison, no, but my observation had nothing to do with Germany. I didn’t intend to enter a competition. I brushed this off as “guy with a problem.”

At another point, I mentioned that, because of the media, some people have the impression that America is full of gun-toting fanatical Christians (the last mention of this came during media-sponsored Burn-the-Koran week). Believe me, I am always ready to stand up and say this is not true, that America, like any country, has plenty of normal, moderate people who use their reason and read decent books and care about the environment and have never held a gun, etc. Still, this acquaintance found it intolerable that this impression of America could exist, and immediately set in to criticizing the Germans, who, as everyone knows, murdered 6 million Jews in WWII, not to mention all the Poles, gypsies and handicapped people, etc.

What the Germans did in WWII is indefensible, so indefensible they cannot even ask forgiveness. Should I get up and start defending them? Did I compare right-wing nutty American culture to Nazism? Uh, not that I recall...

If you want to hate Germans for their history, I’d find it hard to blame you. But to damn them to hell as a race is akin to what the Germans themselves did, and involves a kind of willful ignorance that is itself offensive. Ironically, there is an association of German Jews and I’m not Jewish (or German) but I get their newsletter, and I see nothing in it but sanity, even-handedness and a ready desire to move on, even as they are against “forgetting.”

The last straw hit the camel at my college reunion, where I attended a talk on displaced persons in the Civil War. I was sitting with a friend before the talk started discussing German. She’d minored in German and wondered if I ever think in German. Mostly I don’t, but there some words that lack English equivalents that I want to use even when I’m speaking English. One of the best is “doch,” which indicates a kind of a refutation of a refutation.

A guy who was sitting nearby eavesdropping decided to add that the Germans have words that suit their culture, “doch” being an example of their brusque arrogance. We ignored him, but all I could think was ‘what a prick,’ and what irony that the lecture spent no small amount of time on racism and prejudice, with mr. know-it-all there nodding right along.

Song of the day: Just So


Kathleen said...

Sigh.... And how interesting that Germans have "doch," and Americans now have "d'oh," thanks to Homer Simpson.

ArtSparker said...

Conversation is abused sometimes, it is ideally an attempt to communicate, a mutual experience, rather than an opportunity to parade one's (self-assigned) moral superiority.

ron hardy said...

I have made that observation about restaurants on several occasions Sarah. Especially the chains. More food, higher prices. Like it or not. Maybe you have heard of this rather obscene tv show called Man vs Food. I say obscene in the face of hunger in the world today.
The thing that scares me today here is what scares Noam Chomsky. He said recently that he remembers the atmosphere in Germany around the time the Nazi Party came to power. And he sees that same atmosphere growing here. A lot of faulty thinking people jockeying for position are being heard and believed. All the ingredients are there.
The last kid to defend the bridges on the Rhine is probably in his 80's now. Soon no one will be alive who fought the great wars. Only the sins of our fathers.

Maggie said...


I have visited your blog over the years and love your poetry. I do not know who you chose to hand around with in America, but I can tell you that I can't think of anyone I would chose to be with who would say the things you heard or have found your statements absurd (too much food on the plate!). I am sorry that happened to you.

Far too much food on plates here, and the past is the past. I have German, Scottish, Irish, Native American blood in my veins. I am pissed at what my (white) ancestors did to my Native American family, and I am sorry, oh so sorry for what Hitler did to the 60 million and more, but you did not do that. And you did not take the land away from my tribal ancestors.

I am just trying to assure you that the people I am with do not share the negative feelings of those you spent time with on your trip. I hope you realize there are many in this country who would not say such things and who do not believe them either. So sorry for your experience!

Come to the Bible Belt and hang with those of us who can't take the lies any longer. I love this country, but I will not cover up its lies. I am smack dab in the middle of some of the radicals with guns and lighters ready, but I don't espouse that, and neither do the friends I know. Believe me, we are here. The ones who know all the wrongs and are not afraid to admit them about this country. I am ashamed that these attitudes re: race, culture, sexual preference still exist in this country. But they do.

Let the good folks of all countries continue to do the hard work of trying to come together in peace and understanding.

SarahJane said...

Of course I saw many normal, moderate people who use big vocabulary words correctly, too! The weird part about the experience was feeling called upon to stand up for the Germans. I failed.

Charmi said...

Many Americans are feeling very defensive, I think, and react poorly. It's a shame and it wears everyone out. I'm exhausted living in America.

SarahJane said...

I've always felt defensive, too, mostly because the media makes the rest of the world think there's nothing but foaming at the mouth, drive-by shootings, office and school and church shootings, rampant consumerism and ultra-rich sickos, and leaders who somehow left school at 4th grade.

oh well!

but honestly, i love america. it is to me the most beautiful country in the world and i'm always delighted to be there because people are so much friendlier. I was waiting for the bus one morning, and every person who went by (5-7 people in 20 minutes, say) said "hello" or "good morning" and smiled. Hardly unusual, but it is if you live in Germany or other places in Europe, where "it's just not done."

I read such a good aphorism that reminded me of this recently, but I don't have the book at hand. Will look up later...

Charmi said...

I guess what is exhausting me is the defensiveness itself. I'd like to wake up in the morning and enjoy what I have w/o having to sing the rah rah song! Mine is a quiet patriotism, to be sure.

SarahJane said...

Yeah, it's good and natural to love your country, and no need to pretend that everything about it is THE BEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO PEOPLE ON EARTH.

ron hardy said...

Sarah, you have had a perspective that very few of us will ever have. You have lived in places outside the U.S. that have given you a sense of comparison, whether good or bad. So you see the importance of things that we just take for granted.
And I don't think you failed the Germans. On the contrary, I think any German would be proud to have you as a citizen.

Related Posts with Thumbnails