Smashing a few German Stereotypes – Or Just Clearing them Up
I’ve come out from behind my computer keyboard a few times lately to do promotion for various projects, and as a result, I’m being asked some strange questions. Now, I realize that stereotypes come from somewhere… but you would think that a few of these German people stereotypes would just vanish because of their ridiculousness. Someone actually asked me if I play the SPOONS? WHAT?? WHY?? And even stranger, someone asked me to YODEL for the camera. I didn’t even know what to say.
So I feel like I should talk about some of these stereotypes, and maybe (hopefully) send them to the ash heap.
German People Stereotypes
First, let’s define Stereotype-
A stereotype is an over-generalized belief about a certain group of people, and is therefore the expectation that every person of that particular group of people behaves that way.
Basically, it’s the picture people get when someone says Germans.
And for some reason it looks like this...
But, like far too many stereotypes, they are wrong… and in some cases quite silly. (Goodness, I don’t even expect many Alpine people to know how to yodel).
What’s interesting to me is how so many stereotypes seem to come out of Bavaria. Now, don’t get me wrong… I love Bavaria, I even have Bavarian friends (insert winky face here). But there are 15 other states! (Not to mention Prussians, Silesians, Volga Germans….) And Germans emigrated from all over Germany… Maybe it’s related to the American sector after WWII? Maybe it’s where tourists go first? I honestly don’t know.
Here are a few German Stereotypes that make my eyes roll….
1. All Germans wear Lederhosen and Dirndls.
And even weirder, there seems to be an expectation that Lederhosen and Dirndl are worn daily.
This seems to be the biggest misconception/stereotype of all. While Lederhosen and Dirndl are traditional Tracht (folk garments or dress) in Bavaria, they are not universal German clothing. In Bavaria these clothing items are worn to Fests, and a recent resurgence in traditional culture means that there are Lederhosen/Dirndl Fridays. But outside of Bavaria, you don’t see a lot of adult men wearing them. And for festivals, there are other types of traditional dress, depending on what state or region you are in. (Side note- you might see children wearing Lederhosen in other German States, but that’s because they wear like IRON… and can be passed along… quite practical, and practicality IS a real German trait!)
2. All Germans drink mass quantities of Beer from giant Beer Steins
During my childhood, I don’t think I ever saw my father drink from a Stein at home (note- in Germany, a Stein is called a Krug… Steinkrug if it’s made from Stoneware). He drank from a glass. A footed Pils glass, a Hefeweizen glass, a Kölsch glass… but never a Steinkrug (oh, and very very very seldom straight from the bottle). And when we visited family in Germany… Glass also. And here’s the kicker… when I was on a beer tour in Bavaria, we were generally served in glasses. The shape of the beer glass is important to the enjoyment of the beer (bit like a wine glass). Monasteries and some restaurants still serve in Steinkrug, but most places use glass, because it’s easier to keep clean. (My favorite quote comes from Angela, who is quite German- “I hate drinking out of a Steinkrug, it’s like drinking out of a flowerpot”. She’s not wrong)
3. There are no German Vegetarians or Vegans
This one is nuts. According to studies, over 10% of Germans are active Vegetarians or Vegans, and 35% of German households consider Vegetarian products very important (70% want MORE Vegetarian products), and 63% of Germans are trying to reduce their meat consumption. (For health and environmental reasons) Per capita, Germany is one of the most vegetarian places in the world. The German Diet has always been seasonal, meaning people eat Fruits and Vegetables that are in season. Consumers get over the top excited about White Asparagus or Pfifferlinge (Chanterelle mushrooms). That level of excitement doesn’t generally extend to meat products. Every Markt (Farmer’s Market) is awash in delicious vegetables and fruits, that are bought and happily consumed. Yes, you still find meaty dishes on restaurant menus and at home, but heavy meat dishes aren’t necessarily everyday, and right next to Rouladen, you might find a vegetable Eintopf (one pot meal) or delicious roasted Vegetables on the menu.
4. Germans are Nazis
Want to lose a German friend forever? Greet them with “heil Hitler”. I’ve been driven to tears more than once over this. (Unbelievably someone sent me a message calling me one just last week…) I’m not saying that WWII wasn’t a horror show of epic proportions… I’m just pointing out that it’s been a few years. Criticizing those of us who are German descendants for the “sins of fathers” is not right. Besides, Germany is much more than one period of history. I’m not trying to wash it away, or re-write history, or make excuses… I’m just saying I promise I will never behave that way, so stop calling me names. (A few great books on the Topic- Tearing the Silence by Ursula Hegi and Belonging by Nora Krug)
5. Germans are all Blonds
Despite what you might have learned from the Movies, Germans are not all blond haired with blue eyes. Even over just a few generations of my family we have everything from Tow-heads (white blond) to dark brunette. (And some of those blonds may or may not come from a bottle… but I’m not outing anyone).
6. Germans don’t have a Sense of Humor
I still see my very stern Opa laughing until his eyes watered over silly jokes (Ostfriesen Witze were his favorite… I never said he was PC). The humor may not always translate (and I never could figure out Otto), but they laugh! Don’t believe me? Spy on a ladies Kaffeeklatsch some time. It’s talk talk crosstalk then BAHAHAHAHAHAAH! Very fun, and also happily reassuring for the kids in the next room. Funny stories, Literary Satire, and crude cartoons… Germans will laugh at it all.
7. Germans are all Work and no Play
Honestly, Germans do work hard… but they also play VERY HARD. They just manage to compartmentalize it very well. When at work, they do the job. Efficiently. No fooling around on Facebook, no getting distracted (I need to relearn that)… WORK. But then when “Feierabend” rolls around, they relax and enjoy life fully. And work around the house is the same. Windows are washed with the right tools, and after a meal the kitchen is cleaned, not just dishes stacked, but they can walk away knowing that it won’t be gross next time they walk in. This is why they can enjoy weekends without fielding emails from work… or take vacations for weeks on end… Have you ever been to a German wedding? The band plays and the guests enjoy themselves until the next morning. And German Festivals? Always the best time!
8. German is an Ugly Language
Someone once told me that German sounds like people clearing their throats at each other. Sigh. Seriously, he’s never heard a German mother sing a lullaby, or the joy in my Oma’s voice when we arrived. It’s a language of love (“Schätzchen” has to be my second favorite word). Who can call German poetry ugly? German voices lifted in song makes my heart swell with joy. This language of my family feels like home, even when I’m far away on a telephone. While it can be a rather precise language ( my absolute favorite word is “Dudelsack”) and a language of incredibly long compound words… it’s not ugly.
9. Germans are Cold and Unfriendly
This one makes me sad, because I realize it means people are missing out.
Here’s the thing. Most Germans don’t greet you with giant smiles wanting to know about your day. They can be a bit distant, and not always easy to get to know. BUT! Once you have made a German friend, you have real friend. A true friend. One you can count on. Sure, you may not get to have long conversations with a check out person at the Edeka (frankly, that person doesn’t care about you beyond ringing up those groceries at light speed… you should be bagging, not chatting), but when you make friends with a German, you have a “Kaffeeklasch-Dinner Party- Feed the Cat -Nurse you When You Are Sick” friend for life.
And who doesn’t want a friend for life… even if they have no idea how to play the spoons.
Yep, being a German girl in America is not easy. I have been here in the USA 65 years, and have no accent, just a give-it-away name – Helga. You are right – there are so many stereotypes!! The Nazi stereotype has haunted me all my life, There is always someone who needs to give me the Heil Hitler salute, and ask me if I am a Nazi. My fourth grade teacher, back in 1962, greeted me every morning with that salutation, until one day he was gone ( fired I presume). As an immigrant, I know that my father and mother left Germany after suffering through WW II, and the whole Nazi thing, and wanting to get away from it, and come to a better place – the USA. My dad’s side was caught behind the wall, in East Germany. But, frankly, immigrating at that time(1954) was a very difficult thing, because so many people just hated Germans, and wouldn’t recognize educational degrees, banks wouldn’t give loans, hard to buy land, etc. Another stereotype is that we are super clean and must sweep everyday. Well, this German girl considers it a chore, and do it when needed! I had a fellow using my woodworking shop for a while to make some projects. One day I ask him to sweep up the sawdust after himself ( ‘cuz I think it’s “not my job”) and he retorted, “Oh, that’s right, you are German.”
ugh… (I’m a do it when I need to person too)
I was born in Berlin and grew up in the US. I was proud of that and it always felt that made me special. When I was in the 4th grade we had a Nationality Week celebration. I noticed that there was no German flag. Never thought about it but when I brought in my precious items for show and tell, one of the girls asked me why I was celebrating Germany. I told her my history and she replied “Well then you and your family must be Nazi’s. I had never heard of them before so I said I will check with my mom. I can still picture her face when I asked her. The next day I told the girl that we were not Nazi’s. She said I was wrong and that my grandparents killed her grandparents. How sad. This was around 1974. The hardest part of this was that my Opa’s first name was Adolph. I asked my mom what type of clothes she wore as a little girl (thinking of the Bavarian clothing) and she told me just regular clothes. Have to say I was a bit dissapointed.
Karin, you weren’t alone. I was in elementary school in the 70s too… kids were stupid and cruel.
I’m glad you found us. Know that there are others here with the same background and hurts.
You might relate to this post.
Karenanne is right. You are not alone; this happened to me in elementary school too. And like you, I had a grandfather named Adolf. Plus I’m blonde, and my name is Heidi! Some of my parents’ German immigrant friends deliberately did not teach their children any German, nor kept up any German customs for exactly this reason — so that the kids wouldn’t be teased. Mine wanted us to be proud of our background, and now I’m glad they did, but it wasn’t always easy.
It was hard. Kids are the worst. I am glad that I got the language and customs.
You might like this book by Nora Krug. https://germangirlinamerica.com/belonging-by-nora-krug/
I also was called a Nazi in 6th grade from one of my classmates (female). I was never so hurt in my entire life as I was that day and still remember is vividly.
Last Year my book club was reading and discussing the book, “All the lights you can not see”. One of the main character is a young, 18 year old German man. The book was great and so was the discussions. We talked about the life of the young German. It seemed no one really knew too much about the lives of German soldiers. So me being German and my dad was a German foot soldier I told them about my dad and what it was like to be a soldier during the war. I woman raised her hand and actually asked me if my father was a NAZI! I was never so shocked in my entire life to hear such a comment from an adult. Another one of our book club member whose parents also came over from Germany prior to WW2, spoke up. I guess she was kind of afraid of making any comments about Germans but after what the woman called my father she stood up and backed me up as to what life was like for ordinary German soldiers. It’s so hard to believe what some people think Germans are like especially when you mention your father was a German soldier.
I hear you. People just don’t understand.
I remember leaving a University history seminar in tears. A Jewish girl called me Nazi, blamed me for what happened to her family. Wouldn’t stop.
It was so horrible. I tried so hard to clarify that not everyone was responsible. My parents were infants during the war, refugees after. But nothing mattered except that I am German.
I never felt so small
Entschuldigung Sie mir bitte aber I kann nur ein bischen Deutsch sprechen. Dass tut mir leid. Vielleicht Sie kann mir verstehen weil ich ohne wortebuch schreiben . Ich studiert Deutsch fur zwei Yahre im Hochschule(1963-4) und besser, meine Frau, Teresa Goertzen, und ich liebt im Ulm, Deutschland von 1970 zum 1972 mit die Vereinigten Staten Militar. Niemand mit mir spricht Deutsch fur funfzig Yahre und dies ist zu schwer. Ich glaube dass Sie sprechen und verstehen Englais besser so. . .
I will switch to English. Danke. It was fun just now to try to remember German from so long ago. I was sent to Germany to work with Pershing missiles and we got to live “on the economy” with only German neighbors for two years. We had a neighbor, Ute Sraga(sp?), who was so much fun and we got to spend time with her and her boyfriend, Holger. My son was born in Augsburg and was thus a German citizen for five years. My grandparents spoke German and my wife’s grandparents and great grandparents(Hamm, Dick, Goertzen, and Quiring) were all German. While I have no friends here to practice the language with, I have for several years enjoyed singing along to German worship songs that have the lyrics accompanying them. I discovered this site because my son sent me information about our Kargel ancestors and it made me recall my Kargel (nee Blaumer) grandmother a pastry that I loved. I thought it was called grapfa but in Google searching I came across krapfen which looks like it. She also made a flat noodle soup which she called fleklas but I have not discovered it online by that name. I am finding that I can recall a few German words and like to try reading German sometimes but my sentences above must sound like a two year old’s to you. Aufweidersehen. Bis spater. Garry Kargel
Hi Garry! I’m so glad you found us. (Ich bin so froh, dass du uns gefunden hast). I will ask the facebook group about the noodles. I’m sure we will find them. (Ich werde die Facebook-Gruppe nach den Nudeln fragen. Ich bin sicher, wir werden sie finden.) I have a memory bouncing around in the back of my head, maybe someone can shake it loose! (Ich habe eine Erinnerung im Hinterkopf, vielleicht kann jemand sie losschütteln!)
Welcome Herzlich Wilkommen! Karen
Both of my parents were German immigrants, , my grate grand parents migrated from Germany to Russia , and then to Canada, then to North Dakota to start a Farm, My mom and dad did not learn English until they were about 5 years old, when they start school, When they started school the were told to speak English now, since America was their home. My Dad served as a sailor in the US navy during WWll , It was unfortunate my parent did not teach us to speak German as we grew up because of the stereotype some people believe. My family move to California when I was very young , where my dad was able to find work . When we would go back to North Dakota to visit my grand parents we would have the whole family reunion, I would meet new cousins and aunts and uncles I did not know I had, but the food was amazing . I have been trying to find some the German dishes ,and the Kuchen was one I was looking for, I hope to make some his week end with Rhubarb, that what my mom made it with. Is there any different then the North Dakota and South Dakota recipes?
I can’t see it… but I’m sure one of your family members in North Dakota might spot a difference.
I do know that different Omas put different twists on things. Compare what you know to the one on my site. Then let me know how I can improve.
I, too, am first generation American. Both parents immigrated from Deutschland. We only spoke Deutsch at home, when I started Kindergarten I was often called a Natzi. The worst time was early 80’s, I was a legal secretary and one of the attorneys had an elderly German client. I always enjoyed greeting her and practicing my Deutsch with her, it was all very innocent conversation. One day her attorney walked into his partners office and exclaimed “did you know we have a God d— Natzi working for us”. Left the office in tears for the day. Yes, I too have been made fun of because of my name!
My Oma was an Elfriede… I LOVE that name. People are so awful sometimes. I’m really sorry.
Some of the best people I know are of German descent or still live there. I’ve enjoyed every visit to Germany and looking forward to my next trip later this year. I’m 1/4 German with my North American roots traced all the way back to when George III brought Hessian soldiers over to the colonies to put down the uprising. Not surprising when the uprising succeeded, he didn’t send them home and they became the “Pennsylvania Dutch” and part of my ancestry.
My family came to America in the late 1800’s. My grandparents spoke German but did not pass along the language. I am trying very hard to learn to speak German, and planning a trip to Germany next summer. I enjoy reading all of the comments here and learning more!
My ancestors came to America in 1732 from the Palatinate. I live about 1/2 mile from the land they bought from William Penn’s sons. My father’s family spoke German/Pennsylvania Dutch through all the generations until my father who was born in 1941. At that time many of the PA Dutch started speaking English and trying to play down their heritage due to persecution. I am very proud of my German heritage and am thrilled to be fulfilling the dream of a lifetime going to Europe next spring and spending some time in Germany.
WOW! your family does go back a long way. What a great history! Are you familiar with this book -> Pennsylvania Germans
I’m delighted that you get a chance to go to Germany. Will you be visiting the place your ancestors emigrated from?