A Continental Take on Perfidious English

Max Haberich 9 February 2010

Max Haberich pokes fun at prominent Germans’ linguistic antics

After many stimulating responses to my last article, I’m modestly appoint ing myself something of a cultural envoy, to clear up whatever prejudice against Krauts may still exist in this country. When I witness German politicians on the international stage, however, in their recent attempts to communicate to their audiences in English (or refusing to do so), I turn away with shame.

In casting the spotlight on the efforts of two prominent Continentals, this article seriously risks backfiring on that noble aim of countering anti-German stereotypes.

I hope most readers will have forgotten a painfully embarrassing incident at the first press conference hosted last September by our new foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle. With the open-mindedness of a true European, this high-ranking buffoon snubbed a BBC journalist, who politely asked him to reply to his question in English.

Cutting him short, Westerwelle reminded him, in German, that this conference was being hosted in Germany. Just as it is customary, he continued, that English is used at press conferences beyond the Channel, here, they are held in German. Westerwelle manoeuvered around giving a straightforward answer, with the well-developed skill for waffling perfected by politicians, real-estate agents, and undergraduate supervisees. Then, he added that he would be happy to meet English journalists outside a press conference “for a cup of tea”, and speak English with them. “But this is Germany.”

In our melodic idiom, we would call ministers like this one a “vollkommener Schwachkopf,” a perfect weak-head. It is an embarrassment for one of the major EU states to be represented by a man who, in the 21st century, refuses to speak English at an international press conference. And he makes work for us envoys pretty difficult.

The next glittering exponent of Germany’s love for language is the newly appointed EU Comissioner for Energy, Gunther Oettinger (pictured above).

He’s also minister president of the Southwestern state of Baden-Wurttemberg. A language journal awarded him a prize for the silliest (German) phrase of 2006: “English will become the language of work. German will stay the language of the family and of leisure, the language in which we read private things.”

Now he’s turned his skills to English. In his introductory speech last week, which he held in the European Parliament, his creativity knew no bounds  He invented the useful word “immension”, which we find hard to avoid using today, even in the most basic conversation.

He coined immortal phrases that will stay with us as long as English is spoken, such as, “a permanent impairment off se gross drivers for free-market economy.”

He made the valid point that “Every single member state has quid unique,” here he hesitated, “These own interests.” Continuing seemlessly, Oettinger clarified, “Se pashont has survived, which is se most impotant sing.” He summarised the key of his argument eloquently (all errors intended): “I consider this justifible, that way we are accepted and appreshiat, the decivive and well-cordinated actions, politically crisis management has worked better for the stabililisation off se United States of America.”

I don’t think this essential point has ever been stated more clearly. In spite of reminding his audience of “se common umbrella off se European Union”, the commissioner reached the unquestionable conclusion, “We cannot allow that everybody doose as he pleases.”

I strongly advise you listen to this speech on youtube yourselves, not only because of the unbeatable Germanglish accent.

Looking back, I haven’t really worked against anti-German prejudice in this article.  But remembering the diplomatic skill of our foreign minister, I think it’s safe to say that English should be spoken by English people, not by Germans, especially not if they‘re high-ranking politicians. But in any case, please be nice to any Germans you meet.

Max Haberich