Believe the Lack of Hype

Whenever I go back to the U.S., I feel raped by hype.

Everybody has shiny white teeth; everything’s fantastic, wonderful, or inspiring; Jesus and/or God loves everyone (yes, even you!); stores in which you’re buying stuff feature expensive flat-panel television screens everywhere telling you to buy even more stuff; colorful new creams, gels, auto cleaning products and medicated inserts boast of miraculous powers; and tough, smart "winner" lawyers are promising you nothing less than justice itself. As in the following ad. Note that it consists not of sentences, but of clusters of words and phrases that evoke associations of trust and authority in focus groups:

Then I come back to Germany, and breathe a sigh of relief.  Nobody’s trying to be superhuman here, not even the lawyers.  Here’s a video from the homepage of the law office of Werner Siebers (G) quite obviously made by Siebers himself, quite obviously working without a script:

For those of you who stubbornly refuse to learn German, he begins by noting how uncomfortable it makes him to talk about himself, then describes his practice areas (criminal defense and auto accidents), and ends by asking you to visit him if you have a relevant legal problem, because "maybe something will come of it."

I call it Germany: A Place to be Human™.

16 thoughts on “Believe the Lack of Hype

  1. As far as I know German lawyers are severely restricted by legislation when it comes to advertise their services as do their US colleagues – and any other participant of free markets for that matter. Therefore, I wonder if it’s a good case in point to show dass die Welt am deutschen Wesen genesen solle.[1] Humility and restraint are certainly to be praised, but much less so when being enforced by Standesrecht.

    So, yes, I resent the conflation of this rather specious point with a denunciatory depiction of consumerism, quite popular all over the world, not only over the pond. Frankly, I expect to read stuff like that in the junge Welt – muss less palatable than the taz, which I don’t cherish overly any more.

    1. “Am deutschen Wesen soll die Welt genesen”. Approximately: German ways should heal the world. A romantic stance by a German 19th century lyricist, quite popular among Nationalists later on.
  2. First, as to the lawyer-advertising question, you’re not getting root causy enough for my tastes. True, there are more restrictions on lawyer advertising in Germany than in the U.S. But ponder this: why exactly have American lawyers been permitted to advertise much more aggressively than lawyers in every other country?

    As to consumerism, sure it’s an easy target. Like shooting fish in a barrel, as Americans say. But remember, ‘easy targets’ are easy to hit because they’re big. I grew up in Houston, Texas, so I know whereof I speak.

    So, Marek, been to a mall in a major American city lately? Or driven on any billboard-choked American freeways? And when I talk about major American city, I’m talking about the ordinary cities in which 90% of all Americans live, not places like Boston and New York, which are the only cities most Germans ever visit, and which leave them swooning at how unexpectedly ‘European’ American cities are.

    Visits to a typical, bread-and-butter America city usually unsettle all Germans, even those who considered themselves radically business-friendly by German standards. Before they saw what radically business-friendly city planning looks like.

    And if that sounds like something from junge Welt (a left-wing newspaper), then so be it. To nearly-quote George Orwell, just because something appeared in the Daily Telegraph doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

  3. Humility and restraint are certainly to be praised, but much less so when being enforced by Standesrecht.

    And what’s so bad abou that? You make it sound as if the Standesrecht was something that was forced upon the legal profession by, say, the bakers or the carpenters. As you must know, nothing could be further from the truth. Even where this legal framework is imposed by the courts or the parliaments, lawyers are behind it every step of the way.

  4. “been to a mall in a major American city lately? Or driven on any billboard-choked American freeways? And when I talk about major American city, I’m talking about the ordinary cities in which 90% of all Americans live, not places like Boston and New York, which are the only cities most Germans ever visit, and which leave them swooning at how unexpectedly ‘European’ American cities are.”

    Cities in the US tend to follow a pattern. There are the ‘billboad-choked’ highways and freeways, and there are heavily commercial mall districts. The city centres tend to be relatively ‘european’ (many of them at least), although with the exception of Manhattan, Chicago, San Francisco, and a few others they are no longer the major commercial districts of the city. Those lie far out from the city centre in ‘mall’ districts.

    When I lived in these places I learned to tune out the more objectionable parts except when I had a need. Billboards can be useful when trying to locate a hotel or restaurant – I found the lack of billboards disconcerting at times on driving trips to France.

    In the US one can have unplanned ‘spontaneous’ car journeys because of the information readily available; in Europe (particularly France) one is ill-advised to try this. I use an excellent guidebook in France – the Guide Routard guide to French Hotels and Restaurants, and call ahead for hotel accomodations. I only wish there existed similar guidebooks for Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK.

    I’m not nearly as disturbed by all thais as Andrew seems to be, though. One frequents the mall districts when one wants to shop (they are very convenient and relatively inexpensive), and ignores the billboards when one has no interest. In most of the US the billboards tend to cluster in a few miles before freeway exits and are not allowed to dominate the landscape in any case. There are long stretches of country where you won’t see anything like this, even on the freeways.

    Finding nice lesser highways to drive used to be a kind of art form for me – when driving between Washington DC and Wilmington I used to go via lower Delaware rather than take the tollway. That route took longer but ran through beautiful marshes, along the ocean front, and through small towns. Very pleasant.

    Driving Europe one often finds it difficult to avoid the commercial – in most of the US it is easy to do so. Very possibly BECAUSE the ‘commercial’ sections are so very commercial and commerce-friendly’ commerce tends to flock there and not be spread about everywhere.

    The US is many things, and sometimes I question whether some focus too much upon the crass aspects without recognizing that they are limited. If you don’t like it – take another route!

    As for ‘unsettling’ Germans – it’s been my observation that EVERYTHING about the US tends to unsettle most Germans – this should be different somehow? 😉

  5. @Moehling

    > I resent the conflation of this rather specious point [yadda yadda yak yak]

    Shhht, go easy on Andrew, willyaplease? From Muegeln over rent-seeking in the economy to the Bee Bunker in Drecktown, Germany hasn’t been kind to Andrew as of late. In particular, he’s run out of the kind of rosy tales of socialism that made up the early years of this blog and is now desperate to keep justifying his ongoing presence in freak world abroad to relatives at home. In an emergency, a village lawyer from Bumfuck, Idaho Braunschweig, Niedersachsen will have to do to lighten the mood.

  6. “been to a mall in a major American city lately? Or driven on any billboard-choked American freeways? And when I talk about major American city, I’m talking about the ordinary cities in which 90% of all Americans live, not places like Boston and New York, which are the only cities most Germans ever visit, and which leave them swooning at how unexpectedly ‘European’ American cities are.”

    Cities in the US tend to follow a pattern. There are the ‘billboad-choked’ highways and freeways, and there are heavily commercial mall districts. The city centres tend to be relatively ‘european’ (many of them at least), although with the exception of Manhattan, Chicago, San Francisco, and a few others they are no longer the major commercial districts of the city. Those lie far out from the city centre in ‘mall’ districts.

    When I lived in these places I learned to tune out the more objectionable parts except when I had a need. Billboards can be useful when trying to locate a hotel or restaurant – I found the lack of billboards disconcerting at times on driving trips to France.

    In the US one can have unplanned ‘spontaneous’ car journeys because of the information readily available; in Europe (particularly France) one is ill-advised to try this. I use an excellent guidebook in France – the Guide Routard guide to French Hotels and Restaurants, and call ahead for hotel accomodations. I only wish there existed similar guidebooks for Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK.

    I’m not nearly as disturbed by all thais as Andrew seems to be, though. One frequents the mall districts when one wants to shop (they are very convenient and relatively inexpensive), and ignores the billboards when one has no interest. In most of the US the billboards tend to cluster in a few miles before freeway exits and are not allowed to dominate the landscape in any case. There are long stretches of country where you won’t see anything like this, even on the freeways.

    Finding nice lesser highways to drive used to be a kind of art form for me – when driving between Washington DC and Wilmington I used to go via lower Delaware rather than take the tollway. That route took longer but ran through beautiful marshes, along the ocean front, and through small towns. Very pleasant.

    Driving Europe one often finds it difficult to avoid the commercial – in most of the US it is easy to do so. Very possibly BECAUSE the ‘commercial’ sections are so very commercial and commerce-friendly’ commerce tends to flock there and not be spread about everywhere.

    The US is many things, and sometimes I question whether some focus too much upon the crass aspects without recognizing that they are limited. If you don’t like it – take another route!

    As for ‘unsettling’ Germans – it’s been my observation that EVERYTHING about the US tends to unsettle most Germans – this should be different somehow? 😉

  7. Poor MartinTroll. He’s concerned that Germany “hasn’t been kind” to me lately, and has discovered that I’m “desperate”! He counsels me to come right on back to good old America toute de suite, so that I no longer have to explain to my puzzled relatives why I’ve chosen to live in the “freak world abroad.”

    To my non-American readers, I should explain that it’s common among my countrymen to regard people with the bad luck to be born inside The Foreign Countries as “freaks,” because of their incomprehensible and frightening tendency to do things in ways differently from the ways they are done in America. Plus, they speak weird languages 24/7 — even to close relatives — and sometimes smell. Their women don’t even shave their armpits, for God’s sake, and you have to wait in line a lot.

    Freaks, I tell you — freaks!!

    But wait a sec — presumably, Martin has taken his own advice and returned to the Shining City on a Hill. Why, then, is his blog the bitterest corner of the web?

  8. Well, call me freak because of the weird latin language I speak and my crave for straight men in speedos, but curiously I shave my armpits everyday!

    As for the lawyers I am really sorry about both videos. Couldn´t they find a in-between solution?(a not too artificial and not too amateur video)

  9. @Andrew

    Man, I love you. If we ever get to meet in the real world, I am going to give you a big, big hug and buy you all the beer you want! This is not a joke. Cheers.

  10. RE your comment on the city on the hill

    Winthrop’s original quotation (source: Bartleby):

    “For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. Soe that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.”

    No harm in following Winthrop’s advice, even if you don’t believe in God but in some other source of morality. Conduct yourself well if you wish to be thought of well.

    A conservative republican and a liberal democrat could equally avail themselves of Winthrop’s metaphor. We should only ask of them that they live up to their own rhetoric.

  11. Whenever I go back to the U.S., I feel raped by hype.

    While I agree with the sentiment of the article otherwise, that phrasing seems in the unpleasant…unfortunate continuum at best.

  12. To my comment below I would add that the “city on the hill” trope is increasingly cited in Germany as yet another example of American political arrogance. It seems to be emerging as the successor to another cliché encountered in the German press and ascribed to American politicians, “God’s own country.” (BTW “God’s own country” is used by New Zealanders to describe their homeland.)

    Andrew, I don’t quite know what your quarrel with Martin concerns since I haven’t been following your blogging for a while (not for lack of interest but of time.) So perhaps my comment isn’t quite relevant here. Just what did you mean?

    Don,

    I would second you: “The US is many things, and sometimes I question whether some focus too much upon the crass aspects without recognizing that they are limited. If you don’t like it – take another route!”

    The U.S. is a very large country with a complex, multifaceted social reality. Critics tend to focus on just one aspect and blow it out of proportion.

    There are many parts of America that differ greatly from the American Moloch you portray, Andrew. As someone who has spent his youth in the Northwest and New England, I seem to have come from a different country than you have. And states like Texas and Connecticut in fact might as well be two different countries.

    Some of my American expatriate friends, because of recent political developments, have been contemplating the final step: handing in their U.S. passports. One already has, in fact (on the day the U.S. invaded Iraq).

    I wonder if statistics show increasing numbers of American expatriates giving up their citizenship.

    In my case, after over 25 years in Germany, it would seem to be a logical step. But I can’t. Even after all this time, America is still inextricably wound into my soul.

    What about you, Andrew? Have you thought of becoming a German? And if not, why not?

    I ask not to provoke but to stimulate….

  13. Paul,
    Speaking for myself, I’m more tempted to focus on the “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” bit because it makes for such a useful quote in the days of the “War on Terror”, in the US and Germany both. What’s the world coming to if (out of context) Reagan quotes begin to make so much sense?

  14. Azundris,

    One of the ironies of the so-called Reagan revolution is that the U.S. government was not smaller, but considerably larger, at the end of Reagan’s term.

    While I find myself assenting to much of Reagan’s “shining hill” speech, I can’t imagine John Winthrop, whom Reagan, by the way, misquoted, showing much enthusiasm about U.S. political developments in recent years. Nor any sincere Reaganite, for that matter.

    For, as Winthrop warned, the U.S. government, at the latest since Abu Ghraib, has indeed become “a story and a byword throughout the world.”

    That neoconservatives love to quote Reagan’s misquotation as a justification of their foreign policy is another crowning irony.

  15. > And if that sounds like something from junge Welt (a left-wing newspaper), then so be it

    Andrew, I don’t mind the paper to be left wing, I mind it’s vicious anti-Americanism. To quote one of it’s main contributors: “Wer keine antiamerikanischen Reflexe hat, ist hirntot!” (those lacking anti-American reflexes are brain dead – jungle-world 03/07). btw: jungle world is the junge Welt’s spin-off – they decided that they could do without anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, and National Bolshevik Querfront sympathies for Nazis and nationalists – one of the few decent left-wing papers left. The authorities feel they belong to the extreme left wing – but that’s a different story.

    > So, Marek, been to a mall in a major American city lately?

    No, but in all likelihood I wouldn’t be thrilled at all. However, I reckon that you wouldn’t set up a piece ridiculing the Islamic World’s many and severe shortcomings, ending in “I call it Western World: A Place to be Human”. And “remember, ‘easy targets’ are easy to hit because they’re big.” But you wouldn’t hit them by ways of wholesale accusations, breathing a “sigh of relief” when coming back to more, say, civilised spheres. Political correctness tells you when to hit and when to be, um, considerate and cautious in order not to offend sensitivities.

  16. Germans are delightfully ” paradoxal” types IMHO. I was doing some research for an academic assigment when I bumped into this:

    http://www.uni-bielefeld.de/lili/studium/faecher/daf/personen/koester_lutz/index.html

    Firsty I got scary with the Dr. Professor: he doesn´t ytr to show that, professors could de a little bit charming too (why not?) If I´d met this guy on the street with “that” face expression I´d definitely think he´d be some freak. He looks unhappy and somehow angry.

    But he has a good heart: on the background, to the left you´ll see a cute toy Elefant, a well-known character from “Die Sendung mit der Maus”. Isn´t Dr. Professor Köster lovely?

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