What Does a German Look Like? Dealing with Stereotypes
I’ve been thinking about stereotypes a lot lately… and what does a German look like? Whenever Germans are portrayed in advertising, or in festival invitations, they always seem to be wearing Lederhosen or Dirndls. But, as I’m reminded EVERY TIME I post such a photo, that is not how the typical German looks or dresses.
So, the question is… how should Germans be portrayed in around the world? How should Germans be identified?
What Does a German Look Like?
Should Germans be portrayed as blond haired and blue eyed? I know a lot of German Brunettes…
Maybe it’s the feathered hat? Honestly, both of my Opa’s wore hats, but no feathers…
What a German looks like is changing faster than ever. We are in a time of shifting population, but this is not new! Just look at the German National Fussball Bund… it’s a rainbow. The controversy they stirred up by putting the players on Kinder Schokolade was absurd. (read that here) And to me, skin and hair color are not as important as what’s in your heart…. or how you integrate yourself into German life. In Germany… children whose families came from Turkey or Syria or India speak the language, sing the songs, and are learn culture, the right alongside the other kids.
I remember a train ride I took in Berlin. There were a few girls who looked as though they probably had Middle Eastern ancestry, but they were chattering up a storm in GERMAN, and were giggling over the prizes they found in their Kinder Eggs. Like every other German kid.
Seriously… While at German Fest in Milwaukee, we spoke with one couple who said that they traced their roots back to Germany… and that their Great Great Great Grandparent had come to the US in the 1840s! And yet, they were at German Fest because they wanted to raise their daughter with German traditions. Does that make this family more German than the child whose family emigrated to Germany from Turkey three generations ago?
Personally, I the way I spot a German in a crowd? Their leather shoes and the ability to wear a scarf well. (Seriously… the scarf gene must be a German thing)
Dressing in “German” Tracht Is About Connection
So, is it wrong to associate Germans with Dirndls and Lederhosen? Are Americans being disrespectful to dress this way? What it comes down to is this: America is a land of immigrants. Some people have families that have arrived a few years ago, others have been for a few generations, and some people, their family may have immigrated even BEFORE Germany was unified from many states into one country back in 1870. One thing many people have in common is a desire to identify with family heritage. It gives them something to be a part of.
How do you connect with a place you’ve never been? Or a place you’ve visited once on a tour? Or maybe you were stationed there for a few years (And keep in mind, the American sector of Germany was Bavaria… so this is the image that was carried home to the US. Those Lederhosen and Dirndls… Bavarian).
If great-grandfather came from Germany, and wore his feathered hat and Lederhosen to the festival every year, and everyone else wears the same, why wouldn’t you?
I’ve never owned a dirndl when I was growing up… it’s not very traditional in the corner of North Rhine Westphalia where my family ended up. And I’ve never flown a German flag in my home; patriotism was not encouraged in my world. Does that make me less German? Would an American see it as a failure of my “German-ness”? Would a German care?
Now… certainly, many Germans in Germany despair over the misconception of how they are perceived worldwide. Honestly, this is typical stereotype of what a German looks like…Oompha Music loving, Big Beer Steins swaying, Lederhosen wearing, big boobs hanging out of dirndl tops…. Germans are the “Bad Guys” in many movies, generally you will see them as Nazis, but the worst was when seeing them in children’s movies (the Toy hating Burgermeister in ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ or that creepy guy living in Neuschwanstein in ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang).…. These things no more universally German than blond hair. I know, because it’s bothered me too. “How can they do that?” “Does the world think we sit around all day drinking beer, eating bratwurst, and playing the accordion?” That image is as false as saying all Americans are fat, loud, and wear white tennis shoes.
But then, until I attended Germanfest, Milwaukee, I never wore a dirndl.
So let’s flip it. Does wearing Tracht make you MORE German?
Nope… but it gives some people a sense of connection.
(And the dirndl made for me by Erika at Rare Dirndl is cute!)
I’ve been to some German Festivals, and I see how very HAPPY people are. How much they enjoy connecting with their heritage. How much they enjoy being a part of a group, and to connect with an ideal of what it means to be German.
I know, and I’m sure most everyone knows that the average German does not walk around in festival gear. (At least I REALLY hope so). Germany is not some bizarre “Freilicht Museum” where people are cartoons. Just like you don’t see Mexican people walk around wearing Sombreros all the time, or Japanese people wearing Kimonos as daily wear.
Wearing “Tracht” to a festival connects people.
Time and progress will continue to change what a German looks like or dresses like, but the vision held by many Americans, the stereotype if that’s what you want to call it, probably won’t. People might always be a bit surprised to see an Asian kids speaking fluent German…and I admit, I made a stupid assumption when ordering in a Sushi restaurant in Münster.
Whichever you choose, I guarantee you, if you come to a German Festival in America, however you choose to dress, whatever color you are, whether or not you speak German, you will be welcomed… and someone will pull you a beer.
There are MANY Styles of German Tracht
What does a German look like when they dress in Tracht? Depends on where they live in Germany… This book is an amazing look at many of the various styles worn by Germans through the years. It’s more than just a dirndl…