Ah, the Silence, the Silence!

If there is one constant in the German character, it is the complete lack of constancy. Or, to be more exact: Once the Germans have taken up a position, opinion or project, you can count on them, after only a short time, to rush frantically from it to the exact opposite and, after another short period, back again, and to always swear total conviction and confidence in the absolute truth, reality and necessity of each opposite side of anything for the time they spend there.

Goethe said "Two souls live in my breast". One could also say: In like a lion, out like a lamb." (Didn't Thomas Mann say something to that effect after Germany started portraying itself as a victim following WWII?) It's always either top of the world or bottom of it with these guys.

Only about a year ago, leading German politicians were out trying to get votes based on complaining about international investors (often the notorious hedge funds) coming into little helpless Germany, buying up their good, clean companies, slimming them down (meaning, in some cases at least, firing all unnecessary personnel in an attempt to make the companies profitable to they could pay the wages of the remaining personnel) and selling them again for a profit. They called these investors "locusts," and most of the "locusts they mentioned by name were American. The newspapers for the most part followed suit and agreed with the politicians.

But when, a couple of months ago, Stuttgart-based DaimlerChrysler fired 13,000 workers in America, the newspapers were full of reports that Chrysler (referred to as the American company, as if it had not been under German management for m any years now) was losing money and may rightfully have to be sold. I didn’t read the word "locust" anywhere. For about twenty years now, I have been listening to Germans complain about American pollution of the environment (which is true and a valid complaint). But when reports came out that German companies are among Europe's worst polluters, that German cars were also among the worst environment0wise (during the Berlin film festival, Hollywood stars like Jennifer Lopez refused to be driven around in the usual limos, because the German sponsors had no hybrids, so they chose the only car on the list of almost-environmentally-friendly cars, the tiny, rattling VW Polo) air polluters of the world, the report kind of came and went. The Greenpeace report complained specifically that though German helped develop the environmentally-friendly hybrid engine, German automakers didn’t use them (as Asian carmakers do). To be fair, since the recent reports on the greenhouse effect, German politicians have begun talking about their nation's cars, finally – but where were they over the last ten years? Too busy boasting, I suppose, that they had stuck with the Kyoto Protocoll even though America bowed out of it.

And then there's this minimum wage thing. I can't believe this discussion is even happening. You remember back in the Clinton days, when the economy was recovering and nearly everyone in America was employed? When reports to that effect appeared in the German papers, they were full of disparaging remarks to the effect that, "Yeah, but those are cheap jobs at minimum wage, you can’t live on that, it's not really low unemployment, it's just exploitation." Back then, I was a little naïve and didn’t question what the German papers reported. If I had, I would have found out what they neglected to mention, namely that Germany doesn't even have a minimum wage and that there's a huge spectrum of jobs that pay much less than the American minimum wage. In fact, one of the reason the German unemployment rate is constantly bouncing between 12% and 14% is that it is more lucrative in many cases to stay on unemployment than to work a low-paid job.

Now, German politicians are once again discussing whether they should institute a minimum wage (no one really wants to and it now looks like it won’t happen), and the Clinton-bashing is forgotten. But don’t get me wrong: This tendency of Germans to go back and forth is so reliable that if you hear them complain about some stupid thing – for example, that Americans are taking over the German economy and making all the rules and exploiting the European Union, or that Americans are bombing another renegade nation and acting as if they were the World Police and if they keep it up they will start World War III.

All you have to do is wait a while, and it will swing back in the opposite direction: Within a year or so, the Germans will be praising the Americans for some kind of support they got from the US, or remembering the days when America saved Berlin from starvation with the Air Bridge, or they will complain that America isn’t doing enough to solve the problems in the Middle East or in Sudan or somewhere else.

It's been weeks now since I heard a single German complain about the Americans polluting the environment or exploiting the German worker or anything like that. It will swing back again, of course, but right now I'm enjoying the silence.


Robert Shapiro said…
Everything I ever wanted to know to understand my Midwestern heritage has been largely revealed in your blog post here :-)

Really, I'm not entirely kidding. Growing up in the Midwest has created within me and most people that I know from that part of the world a tendency to look at both sides of the issue - sometimes simultaneously, sometimes alternately and there can't be any question that the fact that the upper Midwest which is where I'm from was largely founded (not counting the original population of course) and populated by Germanic folk. So okay - guilty.

Anyway I love your blog - I really do. I'm your number one fan. Goodlife.
Eric T Hansen said…
Dear Robert!

Thanks for the comment - it is very flattering - and I will take it as good reason to keep on keeping on. Hell, I didn't think anyone out there was reading this!

All the best and Aloha

- Eric

PS: I keep telling myself one day I'm going to visit the Midwest and Texas to see what has become of all the Germans who immigrated there in the 19th century... maybe one day!

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