Deutschland (and truth in advertising) über us.
When the real news out of Germany mirrors the real news out of America (i.e., constant and bad), fear not, because you can count on BILD, the Fatherland’s most-read publication — indeed, the most-read non-Asian-language newspaper on the entirety of the Earth — to balance out its crass sensationalism with very cutting-edge cultural commentary. Whether it’s the itemized rules for taking a bath or the topless creep shots, BILD always prints things that human beings should look at and read.
Take, for instance, this list of “11 Advertised Claims We Always Fall For,” in which BILD takes the extreme and controversial position that the things printed on grocery packaging are misleading. Wait, wie bitte?
This revelation comes on the heels of a lawsuit brought to the European Court of Justice (basically the EU Supreme Court), where makers of sugar wafers Dextro Energy sued for the right to claim on the package that “glucose supports normal physical activity,” and lost. The EU had previously banned that claim, says BILD, explaining that it would “confuse consumers.”
SOME PEOPLE think a BANANA is good for your blood sugar, you see. But HOW DOES IT GET THERE, wonders Guy In White Coat? He prefers Dextro Energy, which goes einfach schneller im Kopf (AYN-fock SHNELL-ur imm KOPF), or “simply faster into your head.” Clearly.
How can any reasonable consumer be enough of a dipshit to think that what is basically a gross-ass proto-candy byproduct can turn a lethargic dud-body into a pert, task-dominating machine? How indeed. All I know is that once, when this particular dipshit lived in Berlin to attend language school, she carried a weird cuboid packet of Dextro wafers in her bag at all times and popped them at regular intervals, ostensibly to ward off the bizarre bouts of stress-fainting she was experiencing at the time due to her ill-advised decision to pursue a doctorate, but really because hey, even terrible candy is candy.
And the whole time, I (I mean “she”) was all like, Oh, if the Germans claim this stuff can ward off a blood-sugar crash and keep me alive through my four-hour adjective declension marathons, then it must be true. Because, my dipshit inner monologue reasoned, IF A GERMAN PACKAGE says it, I’m sure it’s gone through all sorts of regulations that we don’t have in America, where cigarettes are basically one tireless regulator away from getting to claim they cure sore throats again.
But it turns out that even German advertisements lie. Just because Germans never lose anything, and are rarely late, and don’t believe in sarcasm (because in order to say something sarcastically you have to exaggerate, and in order to exaggerate you have to say something that isn’t categorically true, and then they get caught up in how eksually zet’s not right and by the time you explain that you were attempting to make a funny and don’t yourself actually believe that every American owns twenty guns the moment is gone and you’ll be forever remembered as the Inaccurate Gun Statistics Recounter), doesn’t mean those Bio-Gummibärchen are nutritious.
For those of us who live and die by the unassailability of German groceries, this is a dispiriting revelation. Does this mean that Aldi does not actually welcome me heartily to their aggressively lit aisles? Is Pick-Up not actually Der Picknicker? Is nothing truly supergeil??????????????
According to this BILD exposé, products “without added sugar” are pre-packaged diabetic comas; anything “light” contains at least 500 calories per serving; ostensible veal products contain way too much grown-up cow; shrimp salad’s got alcohol in it; nothing is really “organic;” and — perhaps worst of all — if a package claims something is “just like your grandma made it,” it is NOT just like ANYONE’S grandma made it because nobody’s grandma stabilized her doughs with carrageenan.
Perhaps my hyperbolic American cynicism is colored by the minor thingy when one of the world’s biggest auto manufacturers claimed their diesel engines were super-cool for the environment and that was definitely not chill.
But ekshually, my distrust of German advertisements (or Werbungen, VARE-boong-un) dates back to the first time I ever watched one, during the summer of 1995, when this non-subtitled, German-made, English-language Heinz Ketchup advertisement was omnipresent on German music channel VIVA, sandwiched fifty times a day between Scatman John and Die Doofen.
If YouTube headings are to be believed (and, unlike grocery health claims, they always are), this ad actually dates back to 1993, and I have a lot of questions about it.
First, the homoeroticism, which I strongly believe — given the Germans’ aforementioned distaste for sarcasm and exaggeration — is meant to be played straight (AS IT WERE). Is this simply a reaction that any normal outside observer might have upon observing American Football for the first time, like, Oh, this is clearly a very homoerotic sport, and all of these guys are clearly thereby comfortable with playing with their sexuality? Like, did the makers of this commercial simply assume that, because American Football consists in large part of grown men jumping on top of each other, that its players would clearly engage in sexually charged homosocial banter off the field?
If you knew nothing of the real state of American homophobia circa DADT’s debut — and Schuman was but a scraggly high-school junior in 1993, and I can tell you firsthand, as the classroom’s requisite unapologetic gay uncle-haver, that it was awful—and just parachuted down from some Luftbrücke just to watch, like, four minutes of the Super Bowl and then left again, there would be no reason to think players didn’t striptease diner waiters on the regelmäßig.
But even aside from the homoeroticism, this ad is a treasure trove of interesting claims about what a normal night in an American eatery with the Most Popular Ketchup in America (for Which One Would Give The Shirt Off His Back) entails: American NFL players go out for diner steak after games in their soiled uniforms! They all weigh 115 pounds! They have no money so they have to barter their dirty drawers for food! The only thing even sort of true about the ad is the 14-year-old quarterback’s desire to put an entire bottle of Heinz Ketchup on his overcooked steak, and even that truth took two and a half decades to come to fruition in the worst possible way.
Granted, I’d forgotten all about that Heinz ad until about a week ago — but still, somewhere buried in this decrepit brain, I knew that German ads, though they are spectacular (and sometimes contain nudity), are, alas, still lying. And I surely knew this, then, in the summer of 2005, as I pounded those Dextro tablets on my way to German as a Foreign Language school. One night during that trip, I was leaving a giant Kaisers grocery store near the Warschauer Straße U-Bahn station with a bulging tote full of peanut-butter puffs and Dextro tablets, a perturbed-looking gentleman with red eyes and chapped lips came up and asked me for some change.
I told him I didn’t have any money, which was ostensibly true, since I’d purchased my groceries with a card and wasn’t carrying cash. Instead of wandering off, he walked alongside me and his voice grew louder: “Du sagst, du hast kein Geld,” he said (you say you don’t have any money), and then continued in German (but I’ll translate it for you because I don’t have all day), “but you’re carrying a full bag of groceries. Haven’t you read the Bible?” he asked.
“Don’t you remember where it says,” and here his voice shot up to a yell so loud that you could probably hear it from the top of the Alexanderplatz TV Tower: “DU SOLLST! NICHT! LÜGEN?” (Technically, the German for the Eighth Commandment is Du sollst nicht falsch Zeugnis reden wider deinen Nächsten, but is it ever a good idea to argue with a righteous junkie?)
At that moment, the light at the crosswalk turned green, and I darted away without saying anything. That was twelve years ago. I hope that guy is still alive, and that he’s clean, housed, and can purchase his own groceries at Kaisers — but God help him when he discovers the truth about the lies on their packages.