The Customer is Sometimes an Abbot

My day job occasionally requires me to don respectable-looking clothing. Yet, I don't like ironing and can't afford to send my clothes to the cleaners. The solution? Walbusch! It's a mail-order firm that offers impeccably stuffy clothing for the petty, and even the not-so-petty, bourgeoisie. There's nothing, literally nothing you can buy from Walbusch that would raise an eyebrow at a regional managers' retreat, or a seminar on the idea of nature in von Liliencron's late work. Plus, most of their stuff is ironing-free. You get it out of the washer, hang it up, and it pretty much looks wearable, without that cheap perma-press look. And it's not even all that expensive!

So I was sending them an email to get an order straight recently, when I happened upon the 'Titel' field in their email-contact form. One of the charmingly 19th-century things about Germany is the obsession with titles, which seems not to have slackened one micron since, say, 1867. And if there is any group of Germans likely to be persnickety about their titles, it's the kind of people who would order deeply respectable clothing apparel from Walbusch.

Walbusch understands their clientele. Oh yes, they do. Most certainly. Go to this page and click on the 'Titel' dialog-box, and you will see something truly majestic: a list of just about every title a German could possibly ever carry. The list starts with Abt (Abbot(!)), and then dazzles us with a cavalcade of social distinction, from Architekt to Botschafter (Ambassador), Baron, Prinz (Prince), Graf (count), zillions of kinds of Ingenieure (engineers) and Paedagogen (teachers educators), and some truly exotic creatures who perch in the higher echelons of administration: Oberamtsrat, Oberstudienrat, Hofrat and even Prokurist (no, it's not what you're thinking). The only one that's missing is Santitaetsrat. But if you're a MIN-RAT., whatever the hell that is, Walbusch has got you covered.

And why, pray tell, does a Prokurist give a shit whether a box of underpants comes with his title prominently displayed on the address label? Easy: because then all of the poor schlubs who took his order, packed his clothes, shoved the box in the cargo plane, drove it to his neighborhood, and delivered it to his front door will — like his neighbors — know that Maximilian Halbschmarotzer is a Prokurist, dammit!*

* Not that I fancy cultural tit-for-tatting for its own sake, but it's useful to remember things like the Walbusch 'Title' dialog box next time you hear some haute-bourgeois German sniffing that Americans' desperate need to display their wealth must point to a terrible sense of insecurity.

12 thoughts on “The Customer is Sometimes an Abbot

  1. LMAO! I especially love the distinction between Dr. and Dr. med. — hey! My own title is missing! I should e-mail them a complaint!

  2. Teh people at Walbusch seem to understand their clientele even deeper.
    The List only contains old and respected titles, not all that newfangled gibberish the young folks spend all their time with nowadays. “Computer Science”, as if those calcualtors were a science, ha!
    And none of those inferior “Bachelor” and “Master” degrees either.

  3. It used to be like that at Manufactum, but they’ve shamelessly cut it down to a mere four—that is, the permutations of “Prof.” and “Dr.” plus the rare “Dres.” (multiple Ph.D.s): see here.

    Manufactum by the way, they’d probably provide countless subjects for German Joys.

  4. Not only in Germany. Mothercare.co.uk has “Lord”, “Lady”, “Dame” and “Reverend”; but the Detoit Opera House is the best, after “Sister”, Colonel, and a long list of BTW mostly religious and military titles, we have “King” (no queen), because, as we all know, so many kings visit Detroit.

  5. Not that I fancy cultural tit-for-tatting for its own sake, but it’s useful to remember things like the Walbusch ‘Title’ dialog box next time you hear some haute-bourgeois German sniffing that Americans’ desperate need to display their wealth must point to a terrible sense of insecurity.

    Fair enough, but you should be ready concede that

    (1) the Walbusch Title dialog box is an absolute exception, not the rule
    (2) there is no evidence about how many Prokuristen actually tick the box to cure their insecurity – perhaps Walbusch has statistics?

    That said, I don’t mind at all that you still rub the Walbusch title list in the haute-bourgeois faces, they deserve it.

  6. As far as I know “Dres.” does not mean that one has earned multiple PhD degrees. That would be “Dr. Dr. XY”, or say “Dr. phil. Dr. jur.” or “Dr. rer. nat. Dr. med.”, or when one has received several honorary degrees “Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Dr. h.c. mult.”

    It rather means that both spouses have a doctorate like “Dres. med. dent. Peter und Gisela Zahnstein”

    The Walbusch case is not representative, usually only Prof. and Dr. are included in the address. It’s different in Austria though, where they really are obsessed.

    (BTW I am shocked to learn that Andrew cannot afford to get his shirts ironed…)

  7. Prefixes such as “Dipl.-…” or “Professor” are called “Akademische Grade” in German and are not properly considered titles. Admittedly that’s nitpicky and legalistic, but still correct. However, things like “Architekt” or “Prokurist” are not titles at all. They don’t belong in front of a name, except in a purely descriptive sense. One might as well include “Tierpfleger” or so.

    Even accepting their standards for what a counts as a title, the list is completely arbitrary, contains lots of duplicates, is inconsistent about how it treats female versions, and a number of entries are wrongly in all-caps. Another highlight in the form is the country “TR”. The whole thing is a disgrace for the profession.

  8. Not only in Germany. British mother-baby care enterprise mothercare company. Britain has “the Lord”, “lady”, “lady” and “priests”; But Detoit opera house is the best, in “sister”, colonel, by the way, a long list of major religions and military title, we have “king” (not the queen), for, as we all know, so many of the king’s visit to Detroit.

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