Irreverence, Americans, and a Holocaust memorial

Barriers of the past

Despite living in Germany for a year, and visiting a number of times before that, I only recently visited a concentration camp; left standing so all people never forget what horror is possible by human hands.  These camps are technically no longer camps–their intended function and ability to terrorize was stripped by both physical force, and the force of conscience.  We now call these places memorials, to preserve the memory of a devastating chapter in the history of man, so not to repeat it or allow it to repeat.

This brief post is not about the Dachau memorial per se, but more about the American students seemingly unaware of where they were, what happened beneath their feet 70 years prior, or what lessons their ignorance is preventing them from learning. If this sounds harsh, it is with good reason, and comes after feeling embarrassed to be American.

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Fooling the natives

Still an Ami

Long-time readers of might remember a post from 2008, in which I was so proud to be able to use my beginner German skills to interact at a German food store in Phoenix.  The victory in that day was not that I spoke German well, rather that I survived even a few sentences in a foreign language.  I would go on to have proper training, and focus myself more fully on actually learning the language and not just phrases from a guide book, and as one’s skills progress so do one’s goals.

For a long time my goal has been to speak German well-enough so that a native speaker doesn’t immediately think I am a native English-speaker.  A Northern German might think I am Bavarian, a Bavarian might think I am Austrian, and Austrian might think I am Swiss, a Swiss might think I am German.  To me, it doesn’t matter how wrong the guess is, so long as the native German-speaker doesn’t say “American” or “British” when guessing where I am from.  Why?  Well, it is a badge of honor to speak well-enough to even superficially fool a native speaker, and I find interactions with people are a little less mired in stereotypes or assumptions when people don’t think you are from a superpower across the pond.

So when a line cook who prides himself on identifying accents was stumped, and his mouth dropped to the floor when I told him where I am from, my day became a lot better.

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