By now my German is as good as George W. Bush’s Spanish (“flawed but confident, just like his policy,” according to one commentator) or like Colombian former President Álvaro Uribe’s English: a shame to his Anglophone countrymen, that is. But still, Germans frequently offer me compliments when I speak, out of politeness.
Nota Bene: If you truly intend to impress the Germans with your language skills, learn Latin. Since it was mandatory in school until recently, when the Let’s Destroy Western Heritage crowd took over, most educated Germans above a certain age are fairly good Latinists. Quote some Horace here, some Caesar there, and you’ll leave your immigration officer in awe.
Third. Appreciate German culture. Read Faust and a play or two by Schiller. Don’t forget Buddenbrooks, the quintessential German novel which almost no German has read. Walk out of the U-Bahn humming the adagio of Bach’s third Brandenburg Concerto. Learn the name of every Bundesland, and don’t forget the 17th: Mallorca.
Fourth. Practice any non-Christian religion discreetly. You don’t have to abandon your beliefs, but it’s also unnecessary to build a minaret which towers over the cathedral at Cologne. Europe was built as a Christian society and if recent events are any indicator, most Europeans, while tolerant of other faiths, intend to keep it that way no matter how much it might irritate the Brussels bien-pensants.
Fifth. Become familiar with the word Arbeit. Ever heard of the Protestant work ethic? The term was coined by a German and the concept imbues German society, as is evident from popular sayings such as Arbeit adelt (“Work ennobles”) and Arbeit bringt Brot, Faulenzen Hungersnot (“Work brings bread, idleness starvation.”) Leeching permanently off the state as a foreigner won’t bring you much sympathy from German citizens, who already support half their countrymen on the dole while funding a southern European country’s bailout every six months.
Sixth and last. Don’t mention the Holocaust or ask Germans if their parents or grandparents were Nazis. Your hosts will speak about the matter openly, but this is like asking a Colombian if his family’s in the drug business. It’s a tremendously bothersome question because in one way or another, the answer is almost always yes.
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