How Xenophobic are Germans?

The German online newsmagazine “Spiegel Online” describes prejudices against Germans interacting with foreigners – stories about the xenophobia of Germany initiated by a lampoon by David Crossland. The story continues with letters of readers incited by the polemics of Crossland. But the ambivalence of different experiences by the readers of Spiegel Online points to the complexity of intercultural communication. In fact they are not mentioning prejudices against Germans exclusively they are describing prejudices which could be in the mind of every human being, regardless of which cultural background.

Yes, I think the history of integration of foreigners in Germany is different to UK and France and of course USA – and what about the history of integration in Romania, Russia, India, China, Brazil and so on? Of course it is different too. These differences don’t explain enough – they give some hints, but don’t cover the full complexity.

I would like to consider some more aspects of intercultural communication within Germany – based on own experiences, sometimes.

  1. Why do so many Germany wonder about foreign looking people talking perfect German? – This is not a sign of racism or xenophobia. It is just an indicator of language reality. In fact there are not many foreign looking persons who talk fluent German – that’s why they are surprised (A lot of Germans think their language is considered to be unsexy and difficult, nobody wants to learn it). If you are a foreigner who got asked about your perfect German: take this question as a compliment. If you are a German who just looks foreign: don’t take it personal – you might be one of the first foreign looking Germans the other person has met.
  2. Why is it s hard for some foreigners to get German friends? – Besides some other aspects, there is one important answer to this question: they are not able to adapt to the German way of making friends. This answer is hard, but it is true. You can’t expect your host (in this case the Germans) to adapt to the way you will make friends, so you have to adapt. But this leads to some common misunderstandings in intercultural communications. Especially Asians tend to laugh in situations when they feel uncomfortable. Germans also laugh when they feel uncomfortable sometimes, but they laugh different. Most Germans recognize the “uncomfortable laugh” of other Germans because it has a special stress. But this stress is different to the “uncomfortable laugh” of Asians – their laughing sounds more real, more like a normal laughing, as it would be funny. So Germans think he/she takes it easy or thinks it’s funny. Because this impression is different to the real feeling Asians have, of course it leads to more misunderstandings in later interaction… But now to the initial question: If you want to get German friends do it as a German would do. Don’t act as a maverick, otherwise you will be treated like a maverick.
  3. Why do some foreigners don’t adapt to the German culture? – The answer to this questions a lot of Germans would give: Because the have an arrogant attitude which leads them to think they would not need to adapt because their culture is better. If this is not the reason, show them your reasons! Show them why you are not able to adapt!
  4. Why are some Germans xenophobic? – Because they just don’t know better. Show them that they don’t need to be xenophobic!

I don’t want to ignore the reality of stupid people bashing foreigners and other people who don’t fit in their narrow world view – we have to fight energeticly against this, in every part of the world. I don’t want to ignore the reality of rigid and unfriendly German administration workers – also Germans meet them in their offices. I don’t want to ignore the reality of strict and sometimes inhuman laws for foreigner integration – we have to change this. And I don’t want to ignore the reality of discrimination of foreigners, but also women, homosexuals or handicapped people are often discriminated – this problem doesn’t only occur for foreigners.
But I also don’t want to ignore the reality that foreigners don’t have more rights then anybody else. We are all humans and we should treat everybody as an individual!
I am a German, so in Germany I will treat a foreigner like a German – maybe with a little more pardon.

Let me put it with the words of one of the readers of Spiegel Online: “I think in order to be fair we should see all aspects. Germany is not perfect, nor are you or myself.”

6 thoughts on “How Xenophobic are Germans?”

  1. I agree with you on all these points. I lived in Munich for a year and only once did I encounter a problem like this, and it was with some drunk teenagers who screamed at us because we were speaking in English, their faces when my (German) friends replied to them in German were priceless.
    I had absolutely no problems making friends with German people. It is true that it’s a different kind of friendship to the one we usually have over here in Spain, but it’s just a case of adapting oneself to a new environment. Sadly, many people just can’t get over it.
    Another thing that irritates me is how many people notice the race problem more when it’s a German person being racist. There’s racism everywhere, same as there’s idiots everywhere. Get over it!
    Nice entry 🙂

  2. Thanks for your affirmation, Andrea 🙂
    Because of the history of Germany people are very sensitive concerning xenophobic actions. But a lot of things are considered to be racist which actually are not racist. Racism is a very hard allegation.Often discrimination is not motivated by racism… I think you know what I mean, but many people don’t.
    Mad world…

  3. You don’t have to be a foreigner or look “foreign” to be -no kidding- discriminated. If you come to -let’s say- Bavaria as a north german guest for some weeks – fine. It you try to settle there and do not adapt to the local habits and accent, you may be treated just like some of the complaining ones claim to be treated.
    Is that so much different in other countries?

  4. I have mixed feelings when it comes to this topic-

    Since moving to Germany (Berlin)-i have not experienced rascism in that form (i am of Indian origin ); I read about this things in the newspapers and for me it is a clear cut thing that the NPD should be banned; democracy has its limits;if the Germans truly want to shed their image from their past then this is the first step.Instead its tolerated; rather accepted and it becomes part of Germany’s image.I have many decent German friends who share the same view and I for one was also baffled upon hearing of how a German called Timbaland the “N” word in an after hour party and was subsequently beaten up by him and his bodyguards ( no huge coverage in the newspapers- why?)-English and American blacks do not tolerate this at all.This is only one incident; upon speaking to more Germans i found out that part of the xenophobia Germans have is the fear of losing jobs to well qualified foreigners (kinder statt inder-Jürgen Ruttgers-CDU)this happened once already with the Jews. But on the other hand, i also dont understand why brutal foreigners are not deported-i was almost attacked by a man of Arabian descent only because he hit me while cycling on the pedestrian walkway and i told him that it wasnt a cyclist path;which infuriated him so much that he replied”This is MY street and i do what i want to”-it was broad daylight-NO ONE did anything-I hope those reading can understand my point of view.I feel the majority here want a safe, secure environment just like anyone in the right state of mind.Sadly though the situation will not improve if thugs and nazis are tolerated.The CDU was alyways in the spotlight for making atrocious comments which drew a thin line between them and the NPD. If you do not believe me, then please go to http://www.cdu-politik.de and you will see what sort of people write in there. A level -headed person will also notice that the editor doesnt seem to want to remove some comments even if it is violation of the forum. Stubborness? It baffles me-Democracy and the freedom of speech does not mean the right to say anything-even the sky has its limits.There is a growing sense of Islamophobia ( no wonder)which is on the same level as hate if you venture out into some of these forums-its scary to see this- I feel the Taliban does not represent Islam as much as Nazis do not represent Germany.Why then is the fear of moving politically Left so huge in this country? Is it because of the RAF? The Nazi regime was the most damaging to all good-willed Germans but yet one feels that its more accepted. I feel that Angela Merkel is not a leader who has the same niveau as Gerhard Schroder. She is extremely little-minded and has no whatsoever experience in different cultures and countries.( The Dalai Lama incident, marauding all over the world to comment on human rights violations when Germany needs to set an example first before she takes on this challenge-please do view the Human Rights Commisions reports on Germany and you will be further enlightened))To protect Koch is one thing but to legitimise what he is doing is another.I cannot understand where this is all going.Its uncivilised from a political party which claims to represent civilised Christian values. I hope that in the years to come people will see this and vote for leaders who truly are leaders and not substitutes.

  5. Hi deva,

    Thank you for your comment. You mentioned a lot of aspects concerning this issue. I would like to comment some of the aspects you mentioned:

    You were saying democracy has its limits. You were pointing to the NPD which should be forbidden. I agree with you and like the way Karl Jaspers expressed this: “Demokratie ist tolerant gegen alle Möglichkeiten, muss aber gegen Intoleranz selber intolerant werden können.” – “Democracy is tolerant to all possibilities but has to be able to become intolerant against intolerance as well.” In fact German laws allow forbidding parties which don’t get along with the constitution. Politics already tried to forbid this party once but they were not successful because a legal ban has to fit a complicate process (see this article). I would also like to know, that this inhumane party is not financed by public money any more… But it is complicated and needs some time…

    I don’t want to start bashing the CDU or Angela Merkel. It is a party I will never vote for probably. I know that there are a lot of persons in CDU who can be regarded as close to NPD. But this party has more than 500,000 members and I know a lot of people from CDU who are very intelligent and can differentiate very well. I don’t want to be one of these stupid left wing people, who will despise anybody just because he/she is member of CDU. This would be intolerance as well. I hope you can expose anybody who generalizes in such a superficial way.
    Btw, I doubt that Angela Merkel is little-minded: she is the first female and east-German chancellor ever – and her career just needed 15 years to reach the top. This is a great walk of power. I think she is very clever.

    The question why there are so many people afraid of a strong politically left is a good question. Despite the fact that I don’t like to simplify political opinions into left and right I think you will find the answer to this question regarding the cold war. During cold war and the division of Germany people in western part of Germany were confronted with a lot of more or less subtle propaganda against communism. This propaganda was mainly based on American anti-communism which is – in my opinion – just as stupid as Islamophobia. So, the fear of a strong political left is just an after-effect of this brainwash.

    The last point I would like to mention is the usage of the “N”-word. Wikipedia says that this word is “pejorative if used by a non-member of the particular group in question“. So black people are allowed to use it but white people are not!? I would consider this as racism. Either nobody is allowed to use this word or everybody can use it without being regarded as racist automatically. Of course using this word is rude, but not racist automatically. Don’t you think so? 🙂

    At the end I would be glad if you could explain your last sentence: “I hope that in the years to come people will see this and vote for leaders who truly are leaders and not substitutes.” I don’t understand what you mean, because in 1933 in Germany people did like you hope…

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