Monday, 11 March 2013

How Do Germans See Britain?

A recent article in the BBC News Magazine "Affection for Britain Brews in Germany" seemed just the kind of topic the interculturalist with a particular penchant for British/German relations is keen on. And yet, apart from a few feeble puns, a confusing array of tea brands, and a quite unbelievable revocation of the oldest clichés in the book - yes, believe it or not, "Don't mention the war" popped up, what - to stick with the feeble puns so beloved by the author - did it all boil down to?

The article can be summed up in 1 sentence:  "The Germans" don't know how to make tea but believe that Brits aren't too bad".  Right.

Whilst it is true that recently there seems to be a groundswell of sympathy for Britain and things British, I really honestly, and with all the force of my intercultural, bi-national awareness, cannot put that down to  either the Kate-factor, the opening ceremony of the Olympics, or, as the author seems to suggest Britain's "tough" (?) stance on the EU.

The fact is, very very few Germans are either interested in or aware of contemporary British on-goings. Personally, I've never once heard the Olympics opening ceremony even being mentioned here. As for Kate, no - really not. Hardly anybody is even aware of her. Much as Britain still sees itself as the centre of the universe, its news - good or bad - doesn't travel. Aside from hard political events which occur in the newswires, people don't follow discussions, events and changes in British society.

If it's true, and I would agree with the author of the BBC article there, Germans feel sympathetic to English (!) culture, it is very much with a focus on the past. A nostalgic Britain with its tea ceremony, its slight eccentricities, ist Miss Marple-ish villages, its incessant rain - yes indeed, all those nostalgic cliches have been gaining  clout in Germany. But this, to me, has a lot more to do with the current collective psyche than a real-life England. In times where nothing is stable and secure anymore (money, prospects, jobs etc) where a books means a 3-second download, where your social media friends seem more real than the people you went to school with - in such a world, a nice cup of tea, a juicy murder in the vicarage, a stormy love affair in the Yorkshire dales or the sweet vales of Devon seems a haven of comfort. And what's wrong with that? It might even be a useful insight to the British tourist industry.

But let's not confuse that with a genuinely informed, knowledge-based appreciation of a  different culture!

(Maybe I'll describe the most salient features of British contemporary society in my next post.)

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