Apparently I’ve won the World Cup.
It feels good, I can tell you. Nevermind the fact that I spent the final match miserably clutching a cup of tea while banging my toothachy head against the side of the sofa, I still did it. And people congratulate me: lollipop ladies, parents at school, neighbours. Never Germans, though, and certainly not my own mother, who’d rather live naked in a forest for a month than see Germany win anything. Because non-Germans don’t get it.
The guilt. The inherited, deep-seated fear of seeing a German flag being waved in a crowd. The instant shudder at the mention of “proud” anythings. We have it, and whatever you say about the success of the 2006 World Cup, it won’t go away anytime soon.
Case in point: A newspaper commentary about the unfortunate choice of song and dance at the homecoming of “our” heroes. I can’t find it, and it’s in German anyway, but let me assure you it was something I read a few days ago. Only in Germany would an opinion piece in a national newspaper claim that football is all well and good until it gets mixed up with national identity (I paraphrase), as if that was a truth universally acknowledged. Speak for yourselves, Germans, while the rest of the world has no qualms about connecting football and national pride.
But the crowds, you say, they don’t seem to mind feeling a bit proud of their country! You mean the millions of people waving flags and sheepishly cheering on a group of people they have decided to worship? Well, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be in that crowd.
I like being German here in England. I’m special. Nobody expects me to wave a flag (or not wave one). I can support a football team that I have never seen before purely based on the fact that they speak my language, and nobody thinks that’s weird. I can also support a great team that comprehensively wins the World Cup, and then claim a bit of the victory for myself based on nothing else but the fact that they speak my language. And people will not only not find that weird, but feel happy for me. I like the simplicity of this. No guilt, no qualms, no idiotic flag-waving. I did send my kid into school with a German flag sticker on her arm on Monday, telling her to be a proud German, and it only felt a little bit weird. I’m getting there.
Then, later in the week, Israel. Again, I can’t. As a German, there is enough guilt in your genes to never allow you to say a word against Israel ever again. So excuse me for not having an opinion.
And on Sunday, at a party, an example of how English small talk really doesn’t work for Germans:
Stranger, to my husband: Bla bla hello polite humorous question.
Husband: Straightforward answer.
Stranger, picking up on husband’s accent: Where are you from?
My head explodes. I have witnessed this a thousand times. Look, I get it: English people will always make polite small talk. This must be incredibly hard, because there isn’t a lot you can small talk about. But here’s an accent! This opens up a whole new world of small talk possibilities! We’ve all been on holiday in x, or know people from y, so let’s talk about that! But for me, after the first few hundred times, it’s become a soul-destroying monster. I know virtually everybody asking that question is being nice, but I do not want to be reduced to my nationality. And I don’t want my husband to be insulted, because what followed was this:
Stranger: Are you both Polish, then?
Husband, no doubt sensing my anger, and politely answering for me: No, my wife is German.
Stranger: Oh, a much better country! (He said this in German, which didn’t make it better, not least because my husband doesn’t understand German and was now basically being insulted behind his back.)
Me: That’s racist.
Germans, eh? Straight to the point.
The conversation, as expected, didn’t last much longer. I felt a bit bad after for not giving a probably decent guy a chance and calling him a racist with the first words he ever heard from me. But hey. He said a shitty thing. The fact that I remind my husband daily of my German superiority has nothing to do with this. NOTHING.
I did win the World Cup, after all.