Americans as Unwilling Diplomats

Der Spiegel has a story on American exchange students (G) in Germany who’ve had the same experience I have: being forced into ultra-tedious conversations about U.S. foreign policy everybloodywhere they go.  The story of one lad, Edward Janssen (my translation):

Edward Janssen describes the typical conversation with a German classmate. First question: What’s your name? Second question: Where do you come from? Third question: Did you vote for Bush? And then he’s right in the middle of a discussion of the Iraq war, the death penalty, gun laws, and environmental protection.

A German professor of American studies argues that the discussion culture is different in Germany, politics are the stuff of everday conversations, and direct questions about political views should not be seen as attacks.  An American college student who goes to schools to talk about the U.S. as part of a ‘Rent-an-American’ program has a slightly different take.  Noting the smug self-righteousness of the students she meets, she describes younger Germans as opinionated and knowing ‘exactly what’s right and wrong.’

I’ve got my own strategies for avoiding yet another conversation about politics (yawn) with a finger-wagging German, and I’ll share them when I get back into regular blogging rhythm (late July). In the meantime, have fun with the article.

9 thoughts on “Americans as Unwilling Diplomats

  1. “strategies for avoiding yet another conversation about politics”

    I assume these ‘strategies’ do not include an invitation to the converser to apply an intimate salute to one’s gluteus maximus. I mostly refrain myself – it’s tempting but only a short-lived satisfaction.

    No, I mostly feign ignorance. Play into the stereotype. When really offended I trot out my thickest faux ‘tixan’ accent (I’m from Wisconsin) and talk about my gun collection and my pickup trucks (both of which are completely chimerical).

    One good stereotype deserves another.

  2. That’s interesting! I was expecting such comments when I moved here but I haven’t really had any–even when I initiate them. I’m more of a “willing” diplomat (er…activist) when given the opportunity. Hmm…maybe no one starts the conversation because they can tell I won’t fit into an Uncle Sam stereotype?

  3. I find it extremely rude to jump into a conversation with questions on politics. That is equally annoying as starting a conversation with a German with the question “Why did Hitler kill all these Jews?” (… happened not only once to me).

    But Americans are not the only ones who get attacked about their government, I have a friend in Italy whose favourite T-shirt for the last years had written “I didn’t vote for Berlusconi” in about 10 languages on the front 🙂

  4. America is the most powerful, richest and most successful country in the world. That will never go down well with other peoples. Face up to it, you whiners! Learn to deal with other peoples inferiority complexes!

    We Germans have a similar problem and manage pretty well. I have always got a good punchline on hand for Brits, who accuse me of fascist perfectionism….. ^^ 😛

  5. Now, the discussion on this post has been going on for two days or so and no one felt compelled to comment on the article’s statements that a) America should not be held to higher standards than Russia, China or any Arab country and b) it is somehow outrageous that people that claim to live in a democracy should be held responsible for what their government does. So there is silent consent to these points? Ick.

    While we’re at it, the article repeats the statistic that I’ve somewhere seen before, that the majority of Germans think that the U.S. are more dangerous than Iran, as if to say that it sould actually be the other way around. (Iran really being more dangerous than the U.S.). WTF? By what standards is Iran more dangerous than the U.S. and does anyone else here think that too?

  6. The US is not only the most politically and economically powerful, rich, potent and so on country, but also undoubtedly the beacon of freedom, democracy, human rights, chances, free markets, etc. etc., so in a nutshell, it’s the best place in the world to live. Therefore to have had the luck to be born there is like a lifelong lottery win. (some crazy Brit once said that last part about Britain BTW)

    Now if you’re blessed like that, that’s still not enough? On top of all that, you also want to be loved and kissed everywhere you go? 😉

    You have to face it when you come to Germany that you’re very likely meeting people with a HUGE inferiority complex and that you’re probably not in a lifetime going to cure that complex (why would you want to do that, anyway?). Best advice yet: keep it simple and try to make fun of these people in a nice way. As Will Smith says, if you’re making someone else laugh, they can’t possibly bring anything against you.

  7. @ Norbert:
    “Therefore to have had the luck to be born there is like a lifelong lottery win. (some crazy Brit once said that last part about Britain BTW)”

    So you wouldn’t agree with him/her?!

  8. I have been living in Germany for 10 years and I think I have answered the question “where are you from?” about 100000000 times. I don’t think it’s necessarily to do with being from the US/the iraq war etc but rather a sort of mild xenophobia. Coming from the “new world” I know that very few people would ask this question (esp. when first meeting someone) because the emphasis is more egalitarian ie finding reasons to include people rather than to make differences. I might be asked if someone felt hard done by, disadvantaged, threatened, and/or wanted to make it clear “where they came from” ie was a sort of flag-waver, someone who needs their country to support their personality. Hey but this is Germany, the beer is good! A German woman once told me should we have no inhibitions going up to a afro-american etc at a party and saying that they admired their particular shade of skin colour… maybe she should try that on holidays in NY.

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