Stuff White Germans Like

In comments to my posting of a few pictures from Berlin, the indefatigable Mr. Moehling (where were you Friday?), who surfs the web for Kulturkritik so we don’t have to, points us to the Internet sensation that’s taking white America by storm: Stuff White People Like

There’s a list of Stuff White People Like, including coffee, Asian girls, dogs, non-profit organizations, having black friends, wine, marathons, Barack Obama, film festivals, organic food, threatening to move to Canada, having two last names, The Daily Show, marijuana, free healthcare, irony, not having a TV, religions your parents don’t belong to, and Asian fusion food. 

This sort of thing is shooting fish in a barrel, and has been done before umpteen times.  Still, the site has its charms.  And let’s face it, because fashions change so quickly, yesterday’s yuppie-mocking dates quickly.  Of course, judging by SWPL’s standards, I am intensely white.  White-hot, you could say.  How could I not be?  After all, I actually moved to the very source, the Pangaea, the ancestral homeland of whiteness — Northern Europe.  I set foot here, and felt a stirring deep in my blood: "This is my Volk."  The free healthcare, the farmers’ markets, the wine — they’re are all around you, everywhere you go.

And, unlike in the New World, they’re pretty much taken for granted.  Europeans were designing "walkable urban spaces" before the New World was even a glimmer in Vespucci’s eye.  Even if you do shoehorn what you thought was a sophisticated reference to wine in at a dinner party, you may be sitting next to someone who knows much, much more about wine than you do, because her family has owned a vineyard for 300 years.  Further, northern Europeans nurture topoi of ultra-whiteness that will always remain out-of-reach for New Worlders: avant-garde (or, increasingly, any) classical music, anomie, hereditary royalty, Roman law, the word topoi.

Aside from these areas of ueber-whiteness, though, white Americans and white Germans have much common ground.  As sociologists never tire of pointing out, elites from countries on opposite sides of the globe have more in common with each other than they do with poor people in their own country.  Yet there are some uniquely German rules of whiteness.  Here’s my list:

1.   Furniture, in this exact order:

  1. "Discovered" at flea market.  Bonus points if discovered abroad.
  2. Purchased at dusty antique shop
  3. MannMobilia
  4. IKEA (cachet almost totally expended, but still dimly flickering)

2.  Friends with the following qualities (in order of desirability): Jewish, born in impoverished third-world nation, gay, born in non-EU country in Europe.

3.   Balkan disco music.

4.   Non-profit organizations.  Bonus points if it operates in third-world countries, rather than at home.  No points if it operates in Germany.

5.   Custom-designed bookshelves.  Bonus points if actually filled with books.  Extra bonus point for every complete edition, deductions for books that have colorful spines or embossed titles.  As in the U.S., Dan Brown is radioactive.  Europe’s answer to Dan Brown is Paulo Coelho.  One Paulo Coelho book can cancel out an entire library of first editions.

6.   Playing an acoustic musical instrument normally found in an orchestra (piano, violin, recorder, clarinet).  Bonus points for playing it together with other white people.  Extra bonus points if playing music by obscure 18th-century court composer from the region you live in.  This is called musizieren, and people did it all the time in the 19th century.  Generally, anything people did all the time in the 19th century is something white Germans will like. 

7.   Writers who were born in non-EU countries.  Bonus points if they now write in German, and enjoy gently teasing Germans for being so stuffy/car-obsessed/socially awkward.

8.   Contemporary art/theater/dance.  Bonus points if your apartment features works of art.  Extra bonus points if the art features nudity or contains "social commentary."

9.   East German design.  Not the hairstyles, clothes, music, or politics.

10.  Socialist writers who died long ago enough to no longer be controversial: Liebknecht, Luxemburg, Marx, Lassalle.  Generally, if a leftist has had a public square named after him, it’s OK — and may be de rigueur — to say you admire his principles.

11.   Paul Auster.

12.   The European Union.

13.   Arts subsidies.

14.   Berlin.

15.   (Being disappointed by) the Green party.

16.   Speaking good English, but maintaining a "critical distance" from "Anglo-Saxon culture" and loudly denouncing English business jargon.

17.   American roots music.

18.   Reading Latin.

19.   Max Goldt.

20.   Bildblog.

OK, that’s all I’ve got for now.  If I’ve missed something, let me know in comments.

32 thoughts on “Stuff White Germans Like

  1. Being a dentist from Gummersbach. Sorry, probably the most obscure reference ever; kudos to anybody who gets it.

  2. “Friends with the following qualities (in order of desirability): Jewish, born in impoverished third-world nation, gay, born in non-EU country in Europe.”

    So a gay, Jewish Albanian friend gets full points here? 🙂

  3. I think my main gripe with sites like this is that they generalise to an unbearable extent. I came across “Stuff White People like” a few months ago and couldn’t see anything in their lists that I liked, a white man from Southern Germany. Someone on the site also remarked that the title of this blog should rather be: “Stuff white (upper?) middle class American professionals born to well-to-do parents in or around New England” – or something to that effect (sorry, just can’t be bothered to unearth the exact link to that quote). Which already makes it sound a lot less interesting.

    Waste of time. Sorry to be so blunt 🙂

  4. I have to fully agree with Andras. Your personal “Stuff White Germans Like” in fact reveals sociologically interesting details about the rather elitist social groups and circles you are in but it’s a rather mistleading caricature of general trends in Germany or the “average” German, whoever this should be.

    Custom-designed bookshelves? Playing an acoustic musical instrument normally found in an orchestra? Contemporary art/theater/dance? Socialist writers? Reading Latin??? What kind of grass are you smoking?

  5. Love your list – I’ve been living abroad (=away from Germany) for a decade soon and this brings back some sweet memories. Thank you!
    Oh, I think you might like Funny van Dannen’s song “Lesbische Schwarze Behinderte” (not by Toten Hosen as google might suggest)

  6. Elfmeter and Andras, my brothers, you haven’t done your homework.

    White Americans, like White Germans, are anything but ordinary. In fact, “Stuff white (upper?) middle class American professionals born to well-to-do parents in or around New England” is not a bad summary. I won’t explain the joke any further, but simply point you the title of the book that the author of “Stuff White People Like” has written: “A Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions”

    http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780812979916

    And pray tell, KP (Kommunistische Partei?) what is the Dentist from Gummersbach reference?

  7. @Don

    “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joke”

    Fair enough, just don’t relate to it. And what do I call jokes I don’t relate to and that go on for ages? Waste of time.

  8. @ Andrew

    You’re right, looks like I haven’t done my homework. I had no idea this blog was written by someone who also wrote a book about … hmm, can’t quite see from your link what the book is about. Nor is Amazon any help here (http://www.amazon.com/Stuff-White-People-Like-Millions/dp/0812979915). I suppose it’s the blog in the shape of a book.

    However, I found this interview with the author, Christian Lander: http://www.heebmagazine.com/blog/view/588. And there, in the first paragraph, the first joke: White people like coffee. Confirmed by the fact that at (an American) school the first person to drink coffee is usually white. And he/she will usually add something about their appearance when fresh out of bed. Aha. Didn’t actually know that. I guess it’s funny if something in that description relates to your own memories of school and coffee. Which isn’t the case with me. And that leads me to a rather more generalised confession about American humour, which I also direct

    @Don

    which is that usually I don’t find American humour (of which there is a fair bit on British telly) very funny. I struggle to get the joke. Seinfeld completely passed me by, as did “Friends” or the American version of “The Office” which I accidentally exposed myself to. (Not to mention even inferior stuff like “Shoot” or “Frasier”). It’s all a bit strained and very, very obvious.

    The original British version of “The Office” however reduced me to tears of laughter, probably because I recognised the situations. And British humour has a dark edge and fast wit which I just never see in American comedy.

    Having said that, I thought “South Park” was brilliant. Even after I realised that I never understood more than 50% of what was said..

  9. @Andrew,

    I partly agree that “I haven’t done my homework”. By the way, this is a rather brilliant German idiom, isn’t it? I really like it, especially when used by politicians, and surely because of my dirty phantasies about naughty little schoolgirls and deserved punishment. Hey, just kidding…

    My problem with the expression “white German” was rather simple: It makes sense in the American context to speak of “white people”, “White American”, “white trash”, “(Angry) White Male” or WASP because race/ethnicity is somehow important. But for Germany with its nationality law that was based on the principle of Jus sanguinis until the year 2000 and a completely different history concerning “racial”/ethnic identity? Speaking of explicitely *white* Germans virtually is a truism and even the majority of the seven million foreign citizens are from European states like Italy, Serbia, Greece, Poland, and Croatia.

    Of course, you can discriminate different lifestyle groups and social milieus in the German society and some of them are similar to your concept of “white Germans”, see the thesis “Lifestyles, social milieus and voting behaviour in Germany : A comparative analysis of the developments in eastern and western Germany” for some popular classification schemes. But “race” or “whiteness” are rather misleading labels or indicators when analyzing German society.

  10. A question – do Jews “count” as white in the German context? And what about all of the Turks in Germany – are they “white”? As we say in the United States, race is socially constructed – so who is it in Germany that “counts” as white?

  11. Playing a bit of Telemann with your friends: Hausmusik. Nice, yes.

    What you describe are “Bildungsbürger”, people who know topoi is the plural of topos because they learned Ancient Greek in school and who – of course – had a private piano/violin/recorder teacher since age 7. But I think they are getting rare.

  12. @Don

    What makes you think Andrew’s exclamation that by the site’s standards he is uber-white is a joke? Have you read this blog at all? Plus 9 out of 10 Harvard folks are like that. Sorry mate.

  13. Bother commenting, I mean.

    However, esteemed host, the “New York Times” reports today: “The U.S. has less than 5 percent of the world’s population but almost a quarter of its prisoners.”

    Yes! Go to it. What a delightful post you could make of it. That veneer of sociology. Some statistics, maybe a graph thrown in. A photo of an abused prisoner. This topic is made for you. Don’t let it pass you by!

  14. Andrew, sorry about the implicit snobbery of my post, I wasn’t trying to be clever when I was trying to be clever, if you get my meaning. It is, or at least used to be (in Bucerius’ time) the official target demographic of the ZEIT. Which I suppose fits the bill for this. BTW, I score about 16 on the scale, lacking even the faintest sense of musical skill. But then, I do enjoy Balkan disco and the odd bit of Mitropa ware… Quick count all ’round for your scores? Sorry again for being an arse.

  15. > A question – do Jews “count” as white in the German context?

    Most Jews in Germany come from the former Soviet Union, so the answer should probably be “no”. East Europeans score even lower than turks on the average German’s whiteness scale.

    On the other hand, this might be the reason why there is not much physical violence against Jews, in spite of the frightening degree of antizionism among Germans of all classes.
    Any suburban bully that tries to mess with Russians, leave alone members of caucasian warrior tribes like Tates or Mingrels, is asking for a Darwin award.

  16. Elfmeter and Andras, you so didn’t get it. White isn’t a colour, it’s a state of mind, and there are, ugh, scientists, who will, err, narrate you all about it. I’m polka-dotted, so critical whiteness studies is my game.

    > where were you Friday?
    I was busy discriminating migrants, which is a full time job in my hood.

  17. Bit late to answer but then…

    > White isn’t a colour, it’s a state of mind … critical whiteness studies is my game

    Blimey, seems I’ve come up against a professional here, so what else is there for me to do than admit my ignorance and hang my head in shame… … except…

    … except last time I checked, White still _was_ a colour (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_%28disambiguation%29).

    And when I’m called “Whitey” or “White boy” in certain places here (doesn’t happen often, I admit it) I’m not sure those people refer to my state of mind. And I usually then don’t stay around long enough to ask _what_ they mean… 🙂

  18. about the joke, the only thing that came to my dirty mind was:White Stuff pepole like/Stuff white people like.

    Well, I do agree that “White isn’t a colour, it’s a state of mind … critical whiteness studies is my game”. That´s what I´ve always tried to tell Andrew: although no american or european considers me as a “white person”. At least my brazilian conpatriots say I am white: It´s on my birth certificate, it´s on a recent police report (nothing too serious: I got involved in a minor car accident), and now I can say the “whitness” is in my cultural and social habits too: I can´t stand Paulo Coelho and have not only 2 but 3 family names (ok, that´s normal in Latin America…but how about that: I´m married and kept my maiden name!)

    My “whitest side”: I can´t dance samba, lambada, salsa, merenge, rumba, mambo, tango.. and whatelse you may think a latin american “should perform very well”.

  19. I’d say the list is about the current Bildungsbuergertum. Some references go explicitly to 68er and their adult children (like being disappointed by the Greens), who form a large intersection but are not subsets of the Bildungsbuerger.

    Manufactum is a great addition, and is a perfect example why the list is about educated elites.

    For example, if this is supposed to be a list about the generic white German, where are soccer, beer, Tatort, grillen, Schuetzenfest?

    I’m not 100% sure the “American roots music” applies in general, in particular to younger people. At the height of anti-americanism (maybe 2004) I had the unfortunate luck get stuck in a Kneipe with some braindead medical students which seemed to agree that “no good music ever came out of America”.

  20. I would add to the list:

    – Nordic Walking
    – The song “Africa” by Toto
    – Milchkaffee (“Lah-tay” in the US)
    – Marcel Reich-Ranicki’s autobiography
    – Having a winter garden in one’s house
    – DuMont Travel Guides
    – do-it-yourself paperkites
    – Allnatura horsehair mattresses
    – Having a job in the local university’s “Wissenstransfer” (transfer of knowledge) department
    – Will Quadflieg audio books
    – General skepticism towards any kind of leniency rule (or only accepting them in return for a relaxation of the conditions for lifelong sentences)
    – Ginseng-Kombucha from the “Basic” bio supermarket

  21. Don’t forget how popular it is in Berlin to rent an “Alt-Bau” apartment, keeping the bedrooms and living room “old-looking” which basically means peeling and or crumbling walls that are lacquered in just the right places so as to cause no discomfort while complaining about something, but of course haveing a brand new kitchen and definately a brand new bathroom. Someone once told me, after I had commented on that fact that the apartment was not quite yet finished due to the appearance of what seemed like moss on the walls, that you Americans just dont understand how amazing it is to read a book by candlelight, in a bed made in the 1800’s and to surround yourselves with the past. ?????
    But that bathroom was sure nice.

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