Apr 16, 2013

Anti-American Sentiment

written by Kelly Smithson

One of the things I enjoy doing on the Internet is keeping up my German by reading international news in that language. Articles on the website I visit for this purpose are usually followed by a link that can be used by readers to comment on and discuss the news. While I myself don’t ever leave any comments (not wanting to get involved in a discussion that might put me in a foul mood), I find it interesting to see what other readers have to say, especially with regard to US news.

I notice quite a bit of anti-American sentiment among commenters. The issues addressed include the presence of American culture in Germany and the role of the US in global affairs. Anyone (like me) who’s traveled to Germany can attest to the influence of American culture on society there: fast food, clothing brands, music, and films, to name just a few aspects. One of its manifestations comes in the form of English words inserted into the German language. I was in Germany just this past December, and apparently, the most popular English word among the youth there right now is “chill,” which is used in its slang connotation and at the same time adapted to German grammar. For example, most infinitive forms of German verbs end in “en,” so the term “to chill” is translated as “chillen.” In terms of pronunciation, the English rendering of “ch” is maintained, while the l’s are soft like all other German l’s.

I understand the concern over the invasion of German society by US culture. However, Germans aren’t completely helpless in that situation. If parents in Germany feel that there’s too much American culture in the lives of their offspring, they must not be taking the time to instill in them a greater appreciation for their own culture, especially as a lot of parents think that they both have to work full-time to make ends meet. According to my father, a retired teacher, schools don’t foster that appreciation, either. Literacy receives less attention than it used to, and in terms of writing, content is given priority over grammar and spelling. The result is that a lot of German pupils have neither a solid command of their own language nor an appreciation for their own literary culture. In the end, Germans do have the choice to explore, practice, and commend their own culture; they aren’t forced to incorporate American culture into their lives.

When I see some of the negative remarks on the role of the US in global affairs, I want to tell their authors the following: It’s downright hypocritical to throw all Americans into one pot (thereby ignoring the vast multiplicity and individuality inherent in American culture), as Germans themselves don’t like to be treated that way, especially in association with the Third Reich. There are rotten apples in every culture and generation. It’s not fair to hold the entire US population and all American generations responsible for atrocities committed against non-Whites in the US and against innocent civilians in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. Not all Americans believe that the US is a perfect role model for the rest of the world and that it has the right to govern other countries.

Having said that, I do understand from personal experience – as a half-German, half-American who lived in Germany from birth until the conclusion of ninth grade in high school – that Germans are sick of having the Holocaust beaten into their conscience. Of all periods in German history, the Third Reich receives the most coverage in history class. It’s no wonder, then, that German criticism of the US is prompted in part by envy. American kids are taught to be proud of their country in spite of all the bloodshed it has caused in the name of freedom and prosperity, including the near extinction of its original (Native American) population. Germans, on the other hand, are expected to be modest at best in terms of national pride, as the atrocities associated with the Third Reich far outweigh the sum of positive contributions Germany has made to world history. Apparently, not enough time has passed since the end of World War II for Germany to truly move forward as a new nation. 

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