The Harsh German Honesty

Germans are said to be too direct or abrupt and often sound rude and offensive in the way they communicate their feelings. They are not used to polite forms of address although German as a language provides a variety of polite forms foremost among them the German “Sie” which shows respect and social distancing in comparison with “Du” corresponding to the Early Modern English “Thou” as used by Shakespeare.

English on the other hand is said to be indirect, polite or agreeable and less offensive which might make it less troublesome for a speaker but then of course you may not know anything about the speaker’s attitude and feelings. Euphemism is prevalent in English and the English are masters of metaphors of political correctness and hiding unpleasant feelings.

However, as always, politeness often blurs if not veils honesty completely. Politeness creates new words along the clumsy lines of political correctness. Probably Germans have not been corrupted by the formal and long-winded Romance way as the English. Instead they stick to their natural Germanic simplicity and straightforwardness although some Romance forms of etiquette like “guten Apetit” before starting a meal, do exist.

It is at all not uncommon to find a name for a typical German dish in north Germany which is more disgusting than appetizing. Words like “Grünkohl und Pinkel” literally “green cabbage and piss” are still in use.

English switched from “ass” to donkey but German sticks to “Esel”. English substituted dandelion" (lit., tooth of lion, referring to the shape of the leaves) but German uses “Lowenzahn”.

Also, words like toilette or WC or even “Klo” the loo are not taboo words in Germany. The word “Arsch” has become an all-round word in spoken German corresponding to English or better African American “fucking”. Sometimes particularly in the language of children the polite word “Groß” contrasting with “Klein” are used to mean “to do number two or one”.

Germany is popular for its red tape and the term “Bürohengst” literally "office horse” hit the nail on its head. But the moment you come to politics the German dark history comes to the fore again. Harmless words like “Rasse” race are taboo. Germans switch to “Herkunft” meaning origin or descendent of. The word “Schwul” referring to a gay person is often confused (by foreigners) with “Schwül” which refers to sultry weathe.

Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim

Bremen – Germany