Right or wrong, Germans remain Germans

A friend of mine recently overheard a fascinating exchange on a London bus. A misbehaving little boy got a light smack from his mother, a working-class woman by the sound of her. Such brutality offended a middle-aged woman, German by the sound of her.

‘In Germany, ve don’t smack children,’ she said. ‘In England,’ replied the woman, ‘we don’t gas Jews.’ End of conversation.

This exchange shows that cultural differences within the presumably monolithic EU still exist. And though the English and the Germans may be ethnic cousins, they might as well be from different planets culturally and behaviourally.

Tact, for example, used to be an English virtue, though this, along with other English virtues, is being wiped out. The Germans, on the other hand, have never been known for their tact, as recent developments prove yet again.

One such development is a long article in Der Spiegel, Germany’s leading news magazine, poking fun at our preparations for the Olympics. The article is full of heavy-handed humour, typical of a nation that regards defecation as ipso facto hilarious. But that aside, the infuriating thing is that the article is absolutely right in its criticism, particularly in the part that deals with the Olympic security provisions.

‘Almost twice as many soldiers as Britain has in Afghanistan, a helicopter carrier and special forces units armed to the teeth will make the city look like it’s under siege,’ says the article. This statement doesn’t quite live up to the Germans’ reputation for precision, for the size of the force on the security detail will be a mere 75% greater than our contingent in Afghanistan. But this is nit-picking: the point is absolutely valid, and much fun can be had.

But it’s the Germans’ tact we’re talking about, not their factual accuracy, and it’s in this area that the article is amiss. The words ‘teapot’, ‘kettle’ and ‘black’ spring to mind when one recalls that the second time the Germans organised the Games, in 1972, nine Israeli athletes were kidnapped in the Olympic village and murdered. Something along those lines may still happen in London, though we all pray it won’t. But one way or the other, it’s not up to the Germans to exercise their world-renowned humour at the expense of our Olympic security.

Admittedly, the first time they organised the Olympics, the security was alles in ordnung. But then at that time, in 1936, the Germans had that special way of ensuring docility. Though indisputably effective, this came at some cost to liberty and the life expectancy of a certain ethnic group, something to which that English woman alluded in her conflict with the German tourist.

In another recent lapse of tact, a judge in Cologne ruled against circumcision, suggesting that the baby’s right to ‘physical integrity’ trumps any demands imposed by religion. Assorted hacks instantly jumped on the bandwagon, yelping about ‘male genital mutilation’ and how it imposes unwarranted suffering on neonatal boys. Those who disagreed mentioned that most newborn boys are routinely circumcised in the USA, where the procedure is believed to confer hygienic and medical benefits. Americans argue on the basis of clinical evidence that this practice reduces the risk of venereal diseases, such as AIDS (which, according to some pressure groups, isn’t a venereal disease at all, but rather a dastardly plot by the conservative establishment to hurt homosexuals along with, on the rebound, patients in need of blood transfusion and all those excessively gregarious people who like to put themselves about).

Not being a doctor, I’m not going to argue the case on medical advisability, pro or con. Nor am I going to suggest that no religious ritual should ever be banned. Some, such as female genital mutilation, are clearly beyond the pale, as it were. Yet equating male and female circumcision betokens an ideology-induced madness – the female variety is closer to male castration than circumcision, which after all doesn’t ruin the man’s sex life and even enhances it, or so they say.

Still, though I find the case against ritual male circumcision to be terminally weak, I’m prepared to accept that some judges may take a different view. But, considering that this ritual is essential to the religion half of whose exponents were murdered by Germans in my parents’ generation, it’s unbelievably tactless for a German judge to make such a case.

But then we all know that tact isn’t the most salient of German national traits. One wonders if the Germans know it. 



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