Liv Hambrett

Germany + Australia + Culture + Motherhood + Home

Essays, Life in Münster

Cats & Dogs

I am finding myself endlessly fascinated by the current Germany-UK scrap.  As the EU spectacularly explodes andthe edges of its future blur into pure uncertainty, I have been devouring what the British media has been serving up for one reason; the bitter, complex history between these powers, the most recent chapter of which was the unmentionably mentionable WWII.

Germany is asking the UK to pitch in and help save the union of which they are a member. German politicans are calling the UK out for permanently sitting on the fence, a fence the UK is more than happy to perch upon and has been since the beginning of the union. In turn, the UK is saying what Germany is proposing is unfair and economically crippling and it won’t play ball.

Beneath the reporting lies the sniping. Subtext simmers in sensationalist headlines that describe Merkel’s ‘plotting and planning’ and her ‘secret deals’. Generations-old prejudices are quick to rear their ugly heads as it is all but said that the last country England would like to see have such a position of power and influence, has it all. And the icing on the cake? The fantastically provocative ‘the world needs to speak German’ comment, taken out of context and splashed about as a sure sign of Germany’s wicked intentions.

On the German side of things, it’s difficult to gauge public opinion, not least because my English analytical skills are a touch better but also because the German media is a different beast to the British media. The latter is incredibly vocal and relentless and visibly gets its back up, taking the hackles of its consumers with it.

However, what I was directed to, which was quite insightful, was this article, Euer Empire und wir – Your Empire and Us. It was a retort, an angry one, and the first time I’ve heard/read someone come out and say it … it being a whole lot of things.

I had a marvellous friend translate the article, of which you will find an excerpt below:

Since Angela Merkel has become Europe’s Iron Lady and Wirtschaftwunder Germans have taken the lead in Europe, British editorials are going mad. The recession-ridden island’s blood is stirred up by the Euro crisis in a way that has only ever been seen at football matches. It’s always about Winning or Losing and unsettled historic debts.

First of all, those islanders are clearly relieved to not really belong to Europe. They’re sitting on the fence. Foreign minister William Hague called the Euro a “burning house withour doors, a delusional system”. A number of Tory MP’s want to leave the EU today rather than tomorrow.

Our British neighbours still consider themselves a world empire, even though the world went missing. They compensate, however, by blissfully going to war(s), alongside their American cousins.

As far as I can tell, the island is divided into two camps. One camp says: thank God we still have the Pound. The others: serves the continent right. All of them unite in saying: somehow it’s Germany’s fault.

At this time, British advice remains quite disparate. Some ask the Germans to save the Euro (quietly hoping that the Krauts will get their fingers burnt).

Basically, however, the “Telegraph” leads the public opinion: not Greece but Germany is the problem and has to be excluded from the Euro zone. Seriously. Why? Because the Germans destabilised the Euro zone with their disciplined wages, their reckless productivity that gives away their known “Panzer mentality”. Similarly the “Spectator”: don’t blame the Greeks. The “Financial Times” moans Germans “don’t know what they want”.

“Vanity Fair” author Michael Lewis analyses Germany’s soul for the island’s public – it consists of “money, excrements and their Nazi past”.

You, dear Niall Ferguson, however, have come up with the funniest contribution since you have corrected Germany’s contribution to Europe. You classified it historically. And, of course, you mentioned the world wars!

Under Helmut Kohl, Germans “still felt it was their moral duty” to pay for Europe. That must be over now. The thing with the morals. And the duty. But, good talk, we love talk about it, always, no matter the context – be it football or the Euro.

In class the other day, we were reading an article that highlighted the cultural differences between British people and German people – a topic that is endlessly interesting, as this blog routinely attests to – and Norbert, one of my all time favourite students sighed and said, ‘it’s like cats and dogs.’

He’s right. They are as different as, they fight just like, and their relationship will always, seemingly, be defined by an inescapable history.

And this little Antipodean waits, with breath that is bated, to see what will happen next.


  1. AB

    24 November, 2011 at 7:33 am

    The ‘SPIEGEL’ article you refer to was printed 10 days before your ‘musings’. I suggest you read around a bit more, and perhaps study economics.

    1. admin

      24 November, 2011 at 8:49 am

      Yes, unfortunately I had this draft sitting around for longer than I wanted, which did reduce the relevancy somewhat. I’m not trying to comment so much on economics, more the socio-cultural interaction and what arises on both sides in times of difficulty.

  2. AB

    24 November, 2011 at 11:34 am

    Ok, but you haven’t analysed the article.

    So, what are the cultural differences between Brits and Germans, in your opinion? On what is your opinion based? On articles written by others, and/or personal experience?

    1. admin

      24 November, 2011 at 2:24 pm

      I didn’t particularly want to analyse the article. The article was used as an example of a personal finding that I found interesting in terms of gleaning insight into the one factor of the German state of mind, which is more difficult to get into than the British state of mind, for cultural reasons. This blog is full of differences I have found between the Germanic culture and British/Australia/American cultures, based on my own experiences living in Germany. I really do appreciate the articles you have directed me to and your commenting, but feel free to contact me directly as opposed to this method if you are genuinely interested in my overall opinion of the socio-cultural differences between cultures.

    1. admin

      24 November, 2011 at 2:44 pm

      Shall check them out, thanks!

  3. AB

    24 November, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    The journalist simply alluded to the Tory press. Tit for tat.

    Der Spiegel didn’t mention The Guardian or even The Economist, why?

    Have you read Private Eye? Now that’s funny, as is the German mag, sometimes:

    I’ve lived in Uk and Germany, and consequently read media from both sides of the pond. Very amusing most of the time.

    Have fun learning German and reading Der Spiegel!

    Ps. what’s the name of the article highlighting the differences between Brits and Germs, I’d like to read it.

    1. admin

      24 November, 2011 at 7:17 pm

      Fantastic, thanks for all this – I will be sure to have a look (no doubt with my dictionary close by).

      General ‘stuff’ and comments about living in Germany and the German language vs English language etc can be found either in this category or this category (some things overlap.) There’s a bit on how linguistic differences inform cultural differences etc.

      Where did you live in Germany? And how did you find it?

  4. AB

    25 November, 2011 at 7:27 am

    Read your referrals, thanks. In particular, I found ‘Small Talk & Saying No’ quite interesting, it flowed; you could’ve almost taken the words right out of my mouth, albeit some 20 years ago, and I’m not really old, either. I also read the Paddington article some time ago; Paddington’s great, isn’t he!

    I find this sentence from the Pad piece quite fitting :

    “Both professors reject the idea that one nation’s manners are better than the other’s. Each has its own rules of communication, or patterns of behaviour, and neither can be blamed, they say, when clashes occur.”

    Of course, we’re not told to which ‘socio-economic’ group the professors are referring.

    Perfekt…… imagine a German saying perfekt:

    “To a German, to say ‘was’ if you didn’t understand someone isn’t that big of a deal. It’s the quickest, most logical way to get someone to repeat themselves.”

    Indeed, I was ‘a bit’ brash with my first comment. However, you didn’t name the Brit press on which your surmise was based, or go into any more detail regarding your personal experiences with Brits, or Germans. You only mentioned your student, Norbert.

    A lot of people wouldn’t take:

    “the world needs to speak German” seriously. Tongue-in-cheek.

    The running ‘joke’, who won the war can be taken too far sometimes. As long as it’s taken seriously.

    Are you really talking about the “cultural differences between British people and German people” here?

    “their relationship will always, seemingly, be defined by an inescapable history.”

    People in general, or the ‘political arena’? How many Brits have you met who have said this? My relationship with Germans, who are my friends, is certainly not defined by an ‘inescapable history’! Sorry, I’m splitting hairs now.

    A little country and a lost Empire, Germs may seem mighty interested in that.

  5. kai

    4 January, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    Hmm – to me (I am German) this article seems to be true and untrue at the same time.
    What we should keep in mind it that there is no murdoch press in Germany, meaning that probably nowadays the diversity of opinions is higher there – To my mind, from a mentality point of view, brits and krauts are not so different at all – I have some english friends, and understanding each other is not complicated at all. Probably the big difference between brits and krauts is there view upon Europe – I think for UK it s a source of trouble, for Germans it is rather there destiny, a way of overcoming the terrible years between 1933-1945. Europe gives security to Germans, and it helps to stabilize the economomy.

  6. swanpride

    16 June, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    Mm…interesting…I can only speak for the German side, but it boils down to “the British want whatever they can get from the EU, but they don’t really want to be part of it and spend most of their time blocking important reforms – they also keep complaining even though they would be in big trouble if they left the EU” – the British on the other hand keep warning how dangerous a “powerful Germany” is, but I can’t stop wondering how much of this is really fear of a country with a population which tends to dislike wars on principle, and how much is anger about the fact that the oh so important Britain is no longer the most powerful state around. Their own fault. They could have joined and helped from the get go instead of sabotaging the EU at every step (certain British politicians even voiced worry when the Berlin Wall fell, because they preferred a divided Germany over a powerful joint one – who cares about the people who wanted their freedom).
    When it comes to the people, I don’t think that the cultural differences running that deep, especially not in the younger generation. But when it comes to politics, everyone will always insist on “their way”. And currently the desires of Germany and Great Britain don’t seem to be compatible.

  7. kai

    17 June, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    I would like to add some important Information on this topic:
    From my point of view, (I am german), so to speak from a continental view, most Germans think that a political gap between both countries did not exist between 1949 and 1990, but exists since then: caused by the german reunification. After the fall of the iron curtain germans thought that western powers like UK, France and the US would support the germans in their wish for putting both Germanys together in one country – accepting that Russians would sabotage anyway.
    But then something strange happened – France, the US and Russia gave their approval on the german reunification, but suddenly the british started to act coyly – and believe me or not – this was a shock for the german political class.
    I am shure chancellor Kohl at this time figured out the following question: Why do the British block us, after all we are both NATO-allies, EU Members and friendly states?

    Personally, I think on a Person-to-Person Level, there are no big differences between germans and british People – I know quite a few british and I don’t think that WW2 still plays and role in inter-personal Relations.

    To my mind, the old posh upper-class System in UK is a reason for the current EU-Continent-Gap.

What do you think?