There’s little more satisfying than eavesdropping on a conversation between two people speaking a language who think that nobody around them can understand—and being able to understand them. It’s especially fun when these people start talking about you, like in that classic David Sedaris essay where some loud American tourists start discussing Sedaris’s body odor in English on the Paris Metro.
That’s essentially how the entire country of Germany operates when they talk about us—loud, open mockery. Because let’s face it: Aside from constant inquiries as to whether there is a single German word that encapsulates an entire subtweet—and despite the fact that more Americans claim German ancestry than any other single nationality or ethnicity—most of those 50 million or so alleged German-Americans don’t speak German (unless you count “Schnitzelbank”), even though English is basically German that got lazy and dropped its endings. (I’m always suggesting university German departments use that as their major’s motto, but nobody’s taken me up on it yet, because university German departments hate great ideas.)
Anyway, the joke’s on the leaders of the barely-still-free world, because I read the German news all the time, and I’m here to tell you that they are definitely talking about us, and it’s definitely not good. Here’s a small sampling of the latest Klatch (CLOTSCH).
ROY MOORE (DIE ZEIT)
It’s funny now because the guy lost (thank you again, black voters of Alabama), but Germans were patently unimpressed with the Sexmonster who came within 20,000 votes of becoming the junior Senator from Alabama. Here’s the Dec. 13 front page of Die Zeit, with the headline “America: Far From Redemption.” Tell me about it. “Roy Moore, a racist accused of sexual assault by multiple women, lost, and many in the US are celebrating. But it’s much too soon for euphoria.”
Zeit commentator Rieke Havertz points out that we “barely managed not to elect someone who was likely the worst and most unfit candidate of all time,” and, further, that “America is its own enemy. Whites against minorities; rich against poor; gun-lovers [Waffenliebhaber, VOFF-un-LEEB-hob-ur] against gun-opponents; anti-abortion against pro-choice; the list goes on and on.”
TRUMP V. GILLIBRAND (DER SPIEGEL)
German-speakers are masters of the entendre—the last two words of Kafka’s story “The Judgment,” allegedly about traffic on a bridge, literally translate to “endless intercourse”—and our chief executive is no master of the subtle, so our Teutonic friends were somewhat schockiert to see the sitting president of the United States essentially accuse a Senator from New York of wanting to blow him. (Fun fact, or I guess lack-of-fun fact in this context: the German for “blow me” is blas mir einen, literally “blow me one”). Anyway, Der Spiegel concludes its coverage with: “Trump characterizes the [renewed sexual assault allegations] as Democratic maneuvers. After unsuccessfully attempting to prove a connection between his team and Moscow, they’ve turned to ‘false accusations and made-up stories’ about his attacks on women.” Ugh, because of the way that Germans describe reported speech, this paragraph makes it seem like Trump’s connections to Russia are false, and I know that’s not what the Germans mean, but I still resent them for it.
MISSION TO MARS (DIE TAGESZEITUNG)
Did you know that Trump wants to send manned spacecraft back to the Moon, and also to Mars? I only found out about this from the German media, which has seized on this latest presidential flight of fancy as Mr. Show blow-up-the-moon style evidence of our president’s particular unfitness to serve. I know that the moon-and-mars thing allegedly made the news here, too, but it was buried so far underneath all the other steaming piles of fresh torment that I didn’t even notice it. Anyway, according to Ingo Arzt in the Tageszeitung:
In the unwritten handbooks of all US presidents it says: When you’re drowning in scandals, bomb something or tell stories about the moon. And in the also-unwritten universal handbook of the art of world domination: Create symbols of your power, on which the people will gaze in awe. Capitalists build towers; Pharaohs pyramids; Popes cathedrals. But heads of state occupy the highest view possible: the stars.
EVERYTHING IS AWESOME (BILD)
Lest you think that all of Germany is united in pre-emptive Trumpenfreude, fear not. Germany has its own shitty right-wing tabloid press, and said shitty right-wing tabloid press, a.k.a. its most-read publication. I’m talking of course about BILD, and this recent unfortunate thing (which is behind BILD’s absurd paywall) about why it’s going “great for Trump right now,” despite the “criticism, mockery and derision.” I did my journalistic duty and bought a tax-deductible (FOR NOW) BILD subscription just so I could translate this for you; you’re welcome but also I’m sorry:
And even as president, he seems to remain the Teflon Don: the man who sticks to nothing. To the horror of his opponents, the 45th Commander-in-Chief of the United States sits firmly back in the saddle. And now, suddenly, it looks as if that’s where the New Yorker will stay, at least until January 2021.
Granted, even this somewhat laudatory analysis admits that the relatively strong US economy is probably Barack Obama’s doing, and it ends with a burn on Trump Tweeting out his 45 percent approval rating.
So, yes—as always, the Germans are talking about us, and as always they are scraping their sandpaper-dry wits all over our wind-chapped visages. It will be interesting to see if this continues after the New Year, or dies down when coalition talks collapse yet again, and their own status as de facto leaders of the free world becomes uncertain. Remember, Mutti—when in doubt, bomb something or go to the Moon.