The following are my observations and in no way evaluations or judgements on either side.
National pride was something I grew up with, like most Americans. You may not even consider yourself a distinctively “proud” or “national” American. But after a year in Europe, I can tell you that you most likely ARE a very proud American.
My Dad was very nationalist and very proud to be American. As it’s a duty for most fundamentalists my Dad is very republican in his political views. I grew up saluting the flag, wearing flag colors for July 4th and repeating phrases like “There’s no country like ours” and “America, Land of the free”. My Dad was convinced that no country in the world had freedom of religion like the US. So, growing up in an environment where publically showing pride was a standard I was used to expressing this pride and never was shunned for it.
When I moved to Europe, specifically Germany, I quickly realized that things were different. Very different.
You, my readers, and I, we should make a bet. If you ever come to Germany and you can find one single person on the street who will tell you “I’m proud to be a German”, I’ll pay for your hotel. You can stay at the Berlin Hilton President suite if you like. I’m not worried to lose this bet.
My mother too put very heavy weight on our german heritage. She raised us believing that our “German” qualities like reliability, timeliness and good work ethics were something to be proud of. As kids, we were really proud to be both German and American, to speak both languages. We pretty much thought we were the best of two worlds.
So when I arrived here my very republican point of view how things should be done as well as my typical American national pride turned out to be a shocker for everyone around me.
It starts with flags. In the US you see the American flag pretty much everywhere, houses, public buildings, taxis, you name it, there’s probably a flag on it. You won’t find any flags here. People are ASHAMED of their flag. A flag is not a sign of national pride but a sign of being a national-socialist. A person with a flag somewhere is automatically a Nazi, and I’m not making this up. The Germans themselves consider this to be true. You could literally burn a German flag on the biggest square in Berlin, I doubt anybody would show a negative reaction or a reaction at all. Sure, they might look your way, but they’d mostly ignore you. Nobody would be hurt or offended.
Singing the national anthem is another thing. For one it’s rarely done, but people also don’t take much pride in it. Matter of fact, many people don’t even sing along out of fear they might be considered a Nazi.
When I first started finding friends here they asked me a lot of questions about the US, many which I couldn’t answer. But I remember somebody saying something along the lines of “You Americans are so proud of your country, why is that?”. I blurted out all those lines my Dad told me and received quite a bunch of funny looks. “Don’t you think it’s arrogant? How can you be proud of something you didn’t earn but were born into? How can you say this when you haven’t been anywhere else in the world?”. I was surprised and said “Well, I don’t know, but you’re proud to be a German too aren’t you?”. His answer flabbergasted me: “No, I’m not. If anything, I’m ashamed.”
I was longing to know why people were rejecting their own country, their nationality. They will not tell you when they don’t know you, when you aren’t friends with them. They will end the conversation and feel very offended that you had the guts to ask things like that. Nationality is a very very sore spot for them.
Over time however I was introduced to the mindset behind this lack of pride. And to my surprise it’s a very strange one.
My generation here in Germany takes blame for the holocaust, as simple as that. They feel personally responsible. It’s not something their grandparents or great-grandparents did, it’s something THEY did. They don’t differentiate between two generations ago and now. They feel responsible for what happened as well as responsible to avoid it happening again. And for them the only way to avoid it is to completely avoid every hint of pride in their nationality. It isn’t something “they” did, it’s something “we” did.
As a matter of fact people are very hurt that movies depict the Germans as the bad guys even when it’s not a WW2 movie. These movies actually hurt the people in a way that is almost incomprehensible to us Americans. They make them feel shamed, exposed, just as if you would undress them and make them walk down the street.
A while ago, a Tom Cruise movie, Valkyrie, came out. It tells the story of a group of German rebels trying to kill Hitler and it’s a real story. This movie came up in one of the discussions I had with my friends and I was surprised just how strong the emotions were towards this simple Hollywood movie. People were actually emotionally hurt that this actual event was made into a Hollywood movie and even worse, that none of the actors were German. People felt this was violating one of the very few things and German heroes they were proud of. They felt that Americans were trying to make it “American”. It’s very hard to explain how exactly they felt about it, and I couldn’t really understand at first but I do now. It’s an almost sacred part of history to them and one of the very few sources for them to base “We weren’t all monsters” on.
On the other hand Inglorious Basterds by Tarantino was praised and loved here. Yes, it is YET ANOTHER WW2 movie and people are really fed up with it, but Tarantino made one smart move: He invited some German actors. And the fact that he ended up with not only one but THREE actors was seen as something very healing for them. Finally, they get to take part in how Germans are depicted in Hollywood movies. Yes, there was a really terrible monster German in it, but he was played by an actual German and that alone was enough to help people deal with the movie. It gave them the chance to say “Yes, we are bad people, but at least we can play ourselves for once.”. How strange is that?
Even if I sometimes get strange looks and even negative reactions I refuse to take part in the general blame-taking mentality here. I’m still proud to be 50% American and I’m still proud to be 50% German and I show both. I will keep celebrating July 4th openly and I will run around with German flags if we ever win the Soccer world championship again. Yes, both sides made a fair share of mistakes in the past and still do, there are idiots in both countries, but I’m not taking the blame just because someone I have never met screwed up once or twice.