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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Germany

The Nationality of Hot Dogs
In Defence of German Culture
Lois Tietzel

After endless discussions and lots and lots of hours spent churning and burning inside about all the terrible torturous things in U.S. history you begin to see the points of the very analytical, drilling and more than direct German students and their criticism of the U.S. and its role in the world (keep in mind, this is VERY pre-Obama, like 10 years).

You feel the shame, the guilt, the helplessness of wanting to change an entire nation, its history, its leaders and its industries. Then after a few days, then a few weeks and then months of this strain you have the realization that every country has a bad history, bad leaders and bad industry, but you really can't change that single-handedly. You can't change anything. You can't even change your own thoughts.

Of course, this can be quite frustrating – even depressing in its own right, but it is also a huge relief to know you are not the only one with a bad rep abroad just because of your Nationality. But you do not have to tell this to the Germans, you discover. They invented the phrase "national guilt trip".

Instead of blurting out this exciting and relieving eureka it is best that you keep your remarks reduced to positive reinforcements, such as: the Germans are liked in the world, its just the history that makes it difficult and that most people are ignorant of it anyway and aren't interested in the Germans themselves, culturally. You must keep it light, otherwise you will have a bunch of sullen Germans on your hands silently contemplating their doomed fate while staring into their red wine. This can be depressing, but they invented that word, too, along with the French, I believe. (The French would argue that they had invented red wine on the same evening as they invented the word depressing, but I wouldn't believe them.)

But, really, Germans have it rough in the world. The facts of the Holocaust make it difficult to have a "happy-go-lucky" outlook, which is really only possible if you wear your rose-colored glasses and live in a bubble all day long while reading Don Quixote. The Germans have a lot of baggage that each and every one of them carries around 24-7. Although it may be slowly wearing off, the stains of their history are most visible to themselves, which is a quite humbling – something a lot of Americans could use as well. But not many Americans feel like they should take personal responsibility for the atrocities committed against the Native Americans and the inhumanities of slavery, for a start.

On a light note (We have to keep this light, here folks, it's getting gloomy!): the Germans have an appreciation for all things Swedish, which makes them, as a Nationality, somehow vulnerable and endearing, kind of softer. Sure, they appreciate Italian shoes like the next person, but it's really Sweden that everyone secretly dreams of. From the amazing and successful school system to large sturdy cars to meat balls (Kotbullar) the Germans admire – yes, even worship – everything Swedish. (I have purposely avoided the semantically-laden word IKEA here, although it is at the center of and probably the catalyst for the Germans' Swedish-fetish, leading us into the wonderful and enduring topic of globalization. But let us postpone that jaunt until next time.) The big yellow and blue sign is Sw eden's number one export – they have no problem exporting their nationality and everything that goes along with it.

Germans have their Mercedes, BMW and beer. Did I forget something? Oh, beer. People appreciate the highly tuned powerful machines and the highly refined tasty belly juice, but there is no further interest in German style of decoration or German style shoes (Birkenstocks are not a style, they are just comfortable.) There's the English Garden, the French Lifestyle, Italian shoes, Swedish design, Spanish architecture, Swiss watches, Hungarian grapes, Greek houses and even Romanian lettuce. Well, I mean Romanian castles with mad counts in them. Every imported good carries the smell, background and essence of a culture, a nationality, a people. While most of these goods go a much longer way than their initial function or use, enlightening, brightening and enriching our lives, there is always a slight hesitation when the topic is imports from Germany (not counting hot super models). There is this, "Oh. ...[pause]... Nice!" attempt to salvage the sudden awkwardness, but a little of that aftertaste lingers. Appreciate their great work ethic and all, but that's it, thanks.

To make it short: Germans are the opposite of patriots – they feel too guilty to have any national pride, or at least show it. However, thank goodness for soccer and the World Cup in 2006, which breathed life back into the German flags and the people holding them. Now it's European Cup time again and the patriotism is back and thriving. Carefully and quietly, but they are enjoying this new found feeling and freedom.

The Germans are so careful not to show any patriotism that they do not even have a national hot dog at sporting events. I think every nation obsessed with sports should have a national gourmet hot dog style. (Although I admit, there are limits to what you can do with hot dogs. But where's the sense of excitement there?) In the U.S., it is decorated with ketchup, mustard and relish, in Denmark with mustard, chopped pickles and cronions. The Germans have borrowed this and are crazy about Danish hot dogs. (Of course, an American would understand something very different under the bakery title "danish". But the Germans have an answer for that: "Americaner", as in a pastry, as in a thick sweet pancake dipped in a sugar coating on one side. (Perhaps inspired by the pancake. Or maybe an attempt to honor American culture: flat but sweet.)

At any rate, instead of reading a really thick book on world culture and it's evils and thrills, all you need to do is go to a soccer game in Europe or a baseball game in the U.S. The food, the smells, the fans, the people and the atmosphere is what unites them: they all eat hot dogs, yell names at the umpires, drink their beers and cheer insanely for their team.

Doesn't everyone have the right to do that, no matter what their history is?

© Lois Tietzel Feb 2009
loistietzel at

On Being Nowhere
Lois Tietzel
Purgatory for the brain - the delightful bliss of being nowhere at all – flying over the Atlantic Ocean: how places shape the way you think, be, type, eat, view the world in its entirety.

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