Typical Germans!

Article published on March 8, 2007
Article published on March 8, 2007

Europeans are often at odds with each other over the German-stereotype debate. What kind of people are these who are rumoured to be obsessed with punctuality, who export Volkswagens and are euphoric about football?

To the French and Spanish, a Berliner browning himself on their beaches is called an Allemand and an Alemán respectively. Historically, these names are rooted from German tribes. Affiliates of these sprung up during the migration of folk from the Elbe out into Europe's south-west.

If the Berliner then travels to Rimini (in northeastern Italy), he will be called a Tedesco (the Italian word for a German), a description which closely resembles the language of their guest. In fact the old high German word thiot/diot originally comes from 'das Volk' (the people). It distinguishes itself from the scholarly language of Latin, as indeed the language of the folk, literally 'theodiscus'.

As for 'Germania', the Italian name for Germany, the Italians stay true to Julius Caesar. The name comes from a group of savage tribes who resided in the north east of Gaul, christened the Germani. Because the Roman Empire ruled up to as far as the English Channel, today the British still speak of 'Germany'.

As nobody speaks the Slavic languages west of the Oder, the Eastern Europeans find themselves united. Hence for the Russians and Poles, Germany is the 'land of the mute'. It is called Nemets and Niemcy respectively. Hungarians too call it Német. Maybe the Finns feel as if they are treading on the toes of every non-Saxon - they simply call the land between Hamburg and Munich Saksa.

British sign language indicates 'Germany' by holding out the right hand with the index finger extended straight upwards the forehead and pointing towards the ceiling. Not bad reasoning - after all, every German wears a pike helmet.