Courtesy Among Communists

I’ve dipped into the German manners guide from 1982.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a book for the ages.  On the inside of the dust cover, the publisher proudly asserts that the first edition ridiculed many fusty old traditions into impotence.  The second one sailed into the "taboo" area by suggesting ways for unmarried people to show attraction for one another. The third and fourth editions (the one I have) positively "affirm" this state of affairs.

There is nothing this book does not tell you how to do, except perhaps invade Poland [disgusting! cheap! — ed.]  You’ll learn how to use a fish-knife, smoke a cigar, help a lady sit at the table (hint: never shove the chair into the backs of her knees!), when to make an ironic comment to a conversation partner (never against those who are too dull to defend themselves in kind), how to drive, how to dance, how to begin and end your letters, how to watch television, how to travel, when to call people (never during the evening news!). The advice is generally damned good, and delivered with panache.

If you need proof of the authors’ broad-mindedness, consider that they tell you not only how to greet a university president (Eueure Magnifizenz) or dean (Euere Spectabilitaet), but also a Communist:

For and Against the address "Comrade"

There is basically no objection to the address "comrade," when, for example, a former Social Democrat or Communist meets another former Social Democrat or Communist. After all, the Social Democrat or Communist intends to show the other a token of friendship: he wishes to refer to common interests or memories, and does so in the expectation that the other person will take pleasure in the reference to the things that connect them.

In the post-war era, there have been many discussions of the pros and cons of this address among Communists and Social Democrats. The exchange of opinions between old and young comrades has not quieted to this day.  This is understandable, since for many, the word "comrade" is tainted by associations with "Volks-comrade" or "party comrade," just as others entertain the suspicion (greatly overgeneralized, to be sure), that by using the address "comrade" outside of certain closed circles, one is possibly attempting to identify oneself with comrades of all nations, who are trying to spark a global revolution.

Umgangsformen Heute, pp. 117-18. The discussion continues for five more paragraphs. Complicated country, Germany.

18 thoughts on “Courtesy Among Communists

  1. The described manners of greeting university officials are still common among the more traditional universities.

    I had my graduation ceremony at Kiel University in July and they really addressed each other as “Eure Magnifizienz” and “Spektabilitäten”. But I thing it often depends on the branch of study. I met a former university president two weeks after the ceremony and had to address him in a little speech. He is a physicist and I am sure he would have laughed, if I had called him “Magnifizienz”.

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  2. The described manners of greeting university officials are still common among the more traditional universities.

    I had my graduation ceremony at Kiel University in July and they really addressed each other as “Eure Magnifizienz” and “Spektabilitäten”. But I thing it often depends on the branch of study. I met a former university president two weeks after the ceremony and had to address him in a little speech. He is a physicist and I am sure he would have laughed, if I had called him “Magnifizienz”.

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  3. Niels, I agree he would have laughed because the title is Magnifizenz, not Magnifizienz. Nowadays, even in Germany most people have become oblivious of titles, since with the superdominant Anglo-Saxon business culture everything boils down to “Hi Michael!”. While this may seem a relief and a sweep of the “dust of 1000 years” to most, me included, I wouldn’t be surprised if one day we will miss what we have given away. Tu felix Austria, where the use of (often inexistent) titles still flourishes.

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  4. Niels, I agree he would have laughed because the title is Magnifizenz, not Magnifizienz. Nowadays, even in Germany most people have become oblivious of titles, since with the superdominant Anglo-Saxon business culture everything boils down to “Hi Michael!”. While this may seem a relief and a sweep of the “dust of 1000 years” to most, me included, I wouldn’t be surprised if one day we will miss what we have given away. Tu felix Austria, where the use of (often inexistent) titles still flourishes.

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  5. I completly agree with Niels. I am very sure that Magnifizienz and Spektabilitäten would rather araise laughter – at least in West Germany.

    I was told however from colleagues working in Jena, that elder scientists being raised in Eastern Germany have still a very old-fashioned view on titles. According to him it is not uncommon to have Dr. rer. nat and Dipl. Ing. etc. printed on the door bells where he lives in Weimar. Whereas in the West this would rather be regarded as – well, how should I say – boasting.

    My colleague ascribes this to the fact that in Eastern Germany there has never been – for obvious reasons – a student movement. So at least many elder scientists still cling to their titles and demand respect for that.

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  6. I completly agree with Niels. I am very sure that Magnifizienz and Spektabilitäten would rather araise laughter – at least in West Germany.

    I was told however from colleagues working in Jena, that elder scientists being raised in Eastern Germany have still a very old-fashioned view on titles. According to him it is not uncommon to have Dr. rer. nat and Dipl. Ing. etc. printed on the door bells where he lives in Weimar. Whereas in the West this would rather be regarded as – well, how should I say – boasting.

    My colleague ascribes this to the fact that in Eastern Germany there has never been – for obvious reasons – a student movement. So at least many elder scientists still cling to their titles and demand respect for that.

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  7. Careful – old-fashioned titles and fancy hats and robes are coming back to German academia, as even the University of Niederbrabach a. d. Weinstraße tries to be more like Yale.

    @Koch:

    Does the book have anything to say about “Abschiedsformel” such as “mit der Ihnen gebührenden Hochachtung”?

    That’s no Abschiedsformel, that’s a tired old joke.

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  8. Careful – old-fashioned titles and fancy hats and robes are coming back to German academia, as even the University of Niederbrabach a. d. Weinstraße tries to be more like Yale.

    @Koch:

    Does the book have anything to say about “Abschiedsformel” such as “mit der Ihnen gebührenden Hochachtung”?

    That’s no Abschiedsformel, that’s a tired old joke.

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  9. @ Sebastian – you’re probably right. However, one of the things that makes a new language interesting for the non-native speaker (i.e. me re: German) is the number of stale expressions that are suddenly fresh and new. Du Bremsklotz am Siegeswagen, Du.

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  10. @ Sebastian – you’re probably right. However, one of the things that makes a new language interesting for the non-native speaker (i.e. me re: German) is the number of stale expressions that are suddenly fresh and new. Du Bremsklotz am Siegeswagen, Du.

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  11. @Koch:

    However, one of the things that makes a new language interesting for the non-native speaker (i.e. me re: German) is the number of stale expressions that are suddenly fresh and new.

    Well yes. By the way, I find this to be a short-lived pleasure, because for some reason I’m much more aware of clichés in English than in German. And annoyed by them. By now, I really want to punch the speaker or writer in the face when I just encounter, for example, the phrase get the job done instead of do the job. It’s not such a terrible offense against good taste, just pretty unoriginal, and I’m sure we have lots of similar phrases in German that I use every day, but in English it just sticks out like a so… sticks out, period.

    Du Bremsklotz am Siegeswagen, Du.

    Hey, I didn’t know that one, and since I know more or less everything, it can’t be tired 😉

    Oh by the way, there is something in Andrew’s translation which I find suspicious:

    There is basically no objection to the address “comrade,” when, for example, a former Social Democrat or Communist meets another former Social Democrat or Communist.

    Could it perhaps be that the attribute in the original German is “alt,” i.e. “wenn ein alter Sozialdemokrat oder Kommunist …”? In that case “former” wouldn’t be correct, and it should be “old” or something to that effect. That would make more sense, because there is no reason why this advice should refer to people who have abandoned their socialist convictions. But the address “Genosse” was common in the 1920s to 1940s and became somewhat of a rarity – and a souvenir of questionable merit – afterwards, and it would make sense for the book to clarify the use of the word “Genosse” between people who experienced those times together, whereas the case of two former adherents of these movements would seem a bit too specific, or esoteric, for even such a detailed book.

    (To clarify, “alt” can indeed sometimes mean “former,” although it’s a relatively rare meaning.)

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  12. @Koch:

    However, one of the things that makes a new language interesting for the non-native speaker (i.e. me re: German) is the number of stale expressions that are suddenly fresh and new.

    Well yes. By the way, I find this to be a short-lived pleasure, because for some reason I’m much more aware of clichés in English than in German. And annoyed by them. By now, I really want to punch the speaker or writer in the face when I just encounter, for example, the phrase get the job done instead of do the job. It’s not such a terrible offense against good taste, just pretty unoriginal, and I’m sure we have lots of similar phrases in German that I use every day, but in English it just sticks out like a so… sticks out, period.

    Du Bremsklotz am Siegeswagen, Du.

    Hey, I didn’t know that one, and since I know more or less everything, it can’t be tired 😉

    Oh by the way, there is something in Andrew’s translation which I find suspicious:

    There is basically no objection to the address “comrade,” when, for example, a former Social Democrat or Communist meets another former Social Democrat or Communist.

    Could it perhaps be that the attribute in the original German is “alt,” i.e. “wenn ein alter Sozialdemokrat oder Kommunist …”? In that case “former” wouldn’t be correct, and it should be “old” or something to that effect. That would make more sense, because there is no reason why this advice should refer to people who have abandoned their socialist convictions. But the address “Genosse” was common in the 1920s to 1940s and became somewhat of a rarity – and a souvenir of questionable merit – afterwards, and it would make sense for the book to clarify the use of the word “Genosse” between people who experienced those times together, whereas the case of two former adherents of these movements would seem a bit too specific, or esoteric, for even such a detailed book.

    (To clarify, “alt” can indeed sometimes mean “former,” although it’s a relatively rare meaning.)

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  13. Re “comrade” (Genosse) it should be added that even arch-conservative Helmut Kohl addressed Gorbachev with that title when he begged for the Soviets’ approval for German reunification.

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  14. Re “comrade” (Genosse) it should be added that even arch-conservative Helmut Kohl addressed Gorbachev with that title when he begged for the Soviets’ approval for German reunification.

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  15. You’re right, SK, it was ‘alt’ in the original. I thought describing people as ‘old’ didn’t really fit in with the tone of the passage, but then again, ‘former’ implies that they’re no longer Social Democrats or Communists. I think the author’s trying to convey that they were formerly active in the movement, but now retired from active political agitation. Hard to express that with one word, so I chose former, which was probably not ideal. Sorry about the confusion, but remember, this is just a blog!

    As for Magnifizenz and Spectabilitaet, you will most definitely hear them used in West Germany, even in the Rhineland, at formal academic occasions. I think a lot depends on the particular branch the professor’s in — law professors tend to be among the stuffiest and most status-obsessed, but it’s probably a different story with physicists, for instance. Or Communists.

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  16. You’re right, SK, it was ‘alt’ in the original. I thought describing people as ‘old’ didn’t really fit in with the tone of the passage, but then again, ‘former’ implies that they’re no longer Social Democrats or Communists. I think the author’s trying to convey that they were formerly active in the movement, but now retired from active political agitation. Hard to express that with one word, so I chose former, which was probably not ideal. Sorry about the confusion, but remember, this is just a blog!

    As for Magnifizenz and Spectabilitaet, you will most definitely hear them used in West Germany, even in the Rhineland, at formal academic occasions. I think a lot depends on the particular branch the professor’s in — law professors tend to be among the stuffiest and most status-obsessed, but it’s probably a different story with physicists, for instance. Or Communists.

    Like

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