culture – even yoghurt has it (kloeppel vs. madison)

browsing in one of my habitual bookstores i came across two books strategically placed next to each other:

carol kloeppel’s “dear germany”
and…
john madison’s “nothing for ungood”

both are books by americans about living in germany. both are marketed as light-hearted, fun reads. not having heard of either author, and judging only from cross-reading somewhere toward the middle, the decision for me was easy. madison rubbed me the wrong way, i could tell, though i couldn’t put my finger on why or how. so i bought kloeppel’s book (which according to the printing information inside is a translation of an english-language book, but i have not been able to find out anything about that – please comment if you have more information, as in title, etc.)

well, on my walk home i figured out why i couldn’t buy madison’s book. the answer is very simple. it is because he exploits the image americans have over here as being narrow-minded and opinionated (at least as opinionated as germans themselves!) and just keeps playing on that, with snippet observations like, “germans do sandwiches wrong” etc.

observations are good, but i tend to like it when people use their brain. kloeppel however (again this is just from my cross-reading at the bookstore, i look forward to reading more) does use her brain and – while also making observations re: cultural differences, she acknowledges them as such, going further than just wanting to get a laugh out of it. she actually looks at day-to-day activities and decisions and dilemmas that arise from being in a different, seemingly similar but still foreign culture.

madison’s research, even in the small cross-section i read, shows clearly premeditated ignorance and a refusal to get, at all, in any way, involved, even in such respects as personal observation, – anyone who spent more than a few days actually taking part in normal life in a country would notice that there are, to stick with the tiresome example of bread-usage, many different ways in which things are and can be done, even in a geographically limited area. madison is the american germans love to hate – for him, he (assumably) pretends, germany is nothing but beer, lederhosen, one-layer-bread-sandwiches, and the “chicken dance” (which really is called “ententanz” i.e. “duck-dance” if you must mention it, and is for kindergardeners and the occasional rest-home party only.)

intercultural perception has always been an interesting topic as well as a valuable resource for humour, but here the only actual INTERcultural account is kloeppel’s – madison is merely a visitor to a zoo, if not a freak show. at the same time i am sure his book will outsell kloeppel’s easily. why? because the freak show is free of charge, and who knows whose side the bars are on.

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About annette.c.boehm

words escape me.

2 comments

  1. Very interesting, I think I'll check out the more enlightened title…

  2. Das Buch "Dear Germany" habe ich mittlerweile verschenkt, glaube mich aber zu erinnern, dass es als "Originalausgabe" gekennzeichnet war.Die Übersetzung aus dem Amerikanischen bedeutet wohl nur, dass Frau Kloeppel den Text denn doch lieber in ihrer Muttersprache geschrieben hat, und dass das Manuskript übersetzt wurde.Auf eine englischsprachige Ausgabe finde ich keinen Hinweis; ich glaube auch nicht, dass es im anglophonen Raum eine große Leserschaft finden würde.(Nicht nur:) dort kommt bei der Masse wohl eher ein Klamaukbuch wie das von Madison an. Insoweit teile ich Ihre Einschätzung (s. a. die Bemerkungen in meinem Blott "Alpine Fairytale" (http://beltwild.blogspot.com/2006/10/alpine-fairytale.html )

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