Discover Germany | Barbara Geier Column
The pleasure of criticising It’s not necessarily news, but Germans might just be the most critical people ever. One of my favourite examples of this is the pleasure they take in criticising their compatriots’ German accent when speaking English. How ironic is that? Because show me one of us who doesn’t have an accent in English. They’re few and far between, and apart from that, what’s wrong with having an accent anyway? Most people, no matter of which nationality, have it when speaking in another language. The most recent prominent victim of German ruthlessness was the country’s new foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, who ‘exposed’ her English to the world when on inaugural visits to Paris, Brussels, Warsaw and at the G7 meeting in Liverpool in December. I don’t think the world cared too much about how good or bad her English was but, rest assured, Germany did! After a meeting with Josep Borrell Fontelles, high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/VP of the European Commission, the speech she had given on that occasion made the rounds on German Twitter. People showcased that German joy in criticising others at its best, among other examples, referring 70 | Issue 89 | January 2022
ironically to the fact that someone who has spent some time studying at London’s LSE should have better English. Or how about comments such as “Her English is at best secondary school level”, “She speaks the most German English I’ve ever heard” or “Cringeworthy”. Well, well, well. I’d like to hear those people’s English, which more likely than not will include a good dose of ‘de’/’se’ instead of ‘the’ and other Germanisms. Yes, her accent is strong, but hey. I have yet to come across a native English speaker who has ever criticised a German accent with such passion as Germans criticise their own when speaking English. Make fun of it, yes, but no native speaker has ever seemed to have been really offended by dodgy ‘th’s’ and the like. In any case, let’s see how Frau Baerbock is getting along in the job; let’s judge her on what she says and, most importantly, her actions, rather than on the accent she has in what is
a foreign language to her. And, with a view to being a bit kinder to each other in general: Happy New Year everyone!
Barbara Geier is a London-based freelance writer, translator and communications consultant. She is also the face behind www.germanyiswunderbar.com, a German travel and tourism guide and blog that was set up together with UK travel writer Andrew Eames in 2010.