Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Kraut

27 comments
I interrupt my regularly scheduled thesis-writing to ask:

What is up with use of the term "Krauts" to describe Germans? Is this offensive?

I know nothing about it, but my instinctual reaction is that it sounds terribly offensive and dismissive. I see it now and again used on otherwise okay blogs, sometimes by the bloggers themselves or in stories they tell where someone else who has lived here before uses the term. I'm always a little surprised and disgusted, and afterward I can't take anything the Kraut-sayer says seriously. It gives me the impression of a person who has rejected a whole culture with a big brush, doesn't want to be here/didn't want to be here, and therefore probably doesn't have much in the way of worthwhile commentary on life in Germany. Or probably on anything else either. I wish people who are such haters would just stay in the US and not spread their crap around, as it doesn't seem they're going to learn anything by going abroad.

Or am I totally overreacting and this word has just become a term of endearment?

27 comments:

  1. I don't think you are overreacting. I have seen it many times myself. Mainly used by our lovely 'neighbors', the British (so much for british politeness). As German I do find it highly offensive, degrading and dismissive. It's the same with the word 'Nigger'. Everybody knows what these words stand for and there is no excuse using it.

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  2. I am German, too and I don't think it is to offensive but I don't like it. It is absolutely not like the word nigger. I do not agree with Nelly. The N-word is so much the worse and racist. The Germans use the word Ami for Americans a lot which I do not like either. These are demoting words. Ignorance is one of the things that connect a lot of people comming from different countries. The best thing is to travel and not just to do the tourist stuff you have to get involved with people. That opens your mind.
    Frank

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  3. I always thought the term was taken from WWII - short for sauerkraut (which, as all us amis know, every german eats daily). :)

    I don't mind amis because to me, it's just a shortened version of american.

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  4. As one of the 'lovely' British 'neighbours' (what's up with that?), I don't use it myself, but I don't think it's at all offensive, although obviously it could be if the context were offensive. I know some Germans hate the British and love the Americans - personally I don't feel like that!
    Agree with anon. that it is not at all like nigger. I feel it's similar to Amis or Brits. I suspect if you did a Google search on kraut, site:uk you might find more evidence.
    When I was growing up, British people were much more pro-German than pro-French ('the Germans are like us, and they are friendly and approachable, whereas the French are stand-offish'), and even now I think they are not so anti-German as the tabloid press would have us think.

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  5. Wikipedia says that its origin was a slur - though I'm undecided if the history makes it a slur ad infinitum http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kraut

    It's a bit strange - like calling Canadians 'bacons'. (Though I'm now tempted to start.)

    Good luck with the thesis writing!

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  6. This comment came from Cliff via email:

    We had a similar discussion at Christina G's site in November 2007. Check out http://www.amiexpat.com/2007/11/17/a-controversial-address/ for more.

    I think for me, the procedure for terms like "Ami," "Kraut" or other ones not universally accepted as likely to get your ass beat (à la "porchmonkey") is this:
    1. Think about the circumstances under which the term came about.
    2. Think about the circumstances under which the term commonly used today.
    3. If either of those is not respectful, admiring, or otherwise complimentary, then I won't use the term in polite company.

    Lots of people have no problem with "Ami" because it's "merely an abbreviation and you know how the Germans love those," but that violates #2 above. Same applies to "Kraut."

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  7. On the other hand, I know some women use it to affectionately describe their loved one (husband) at times...

    Personally, I don't use either term, but I'm back in the US and have had to listen to people call our President a nigger...

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  8. How interesting. I am so happy you posted it because I wanted to know. Not sure if you got a definitive answer, however.

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  9. Speaking as a Limey (or a Pom, if you're an Aussie), I'd say neither we, the Yanks, the Frogs nor the Krauts need worry over much about our national nicknames.

    But I agree... none of the labels are exuding respect for the other's nation. But nor are they downright insults. Other nations get far worse (Wops, Degos etc.)

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  10. I think it is to Germans as Limey is to Brits and Frogs to Frenchpeople. That is, offensive, but not as racist as the N word to blacks, the k word to Jews and the w word to Italians. I use none of these words myself. I also don't give a hoot about Ami except inasmuch as the Germans who use it with knowledge use it in the same way as "Kraut"- it is meant to be offensive. And when the offended person is always put on the defensive (it's just a term of affection), one knows that it was meant offensively.I find it hysterical that MM thinks it is like Brit!
    And after having read down the list, I find it interesting to see how many agree with the gradations I used.

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  11. In all of this heated exchange, let's not discount the culinary aspects of being a KRAUT:

    (i) Schlachtplatte mit Sauerkraut;
    (ii) Sauerbraten mit Rotkraut;
    and last but not least,
    (iii) Gruenkohl mit Bregenwurst und Pinkel.

    Now go and use Google.

    PS.: Go to Mauer, an easy 25-min ride by train, on a Wednesday. Gasthaus Pfalz will still hang a swine bladder out front to signify "Schlachtetag". Enjoy. With Kraut!

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  13. I think it depends on the context. I don't generally think of it as offensive as the N word. I mean, as far as insults go, it's pretty weak. Like calling Italians pasta or Japanese sushi. Any word, when used with hate, is an insult, but that doesn't necessarily make that word offensive when used differently.

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  14. I asked my German wife about that a while back after seeing the word bandied about a lot on Toytown Germany. She said that while it was far from flattering, it was not nearly as insulting as the N-word, adding it's usually associated with people who aren't very well educated or are generally rude.

    Is it just what I've been exposed to as an expat, or has anyone else noticed how much more the British tend to use these labels? They'll throw Kraut, Frog, Wop, Paki around without thinking, it seems.

    Speaking of Toytown and the British, I was astounded once to see Editor Bob, the site owner, post in regard to a successful Olympic Games, "...congratulations to the Chinks." I wasn't the only one who immediately called him out on it, so he promptly zapped it to the Toytown memory hole. When I PM'd him to ask him about it, he claimed he didn't think it was a racist term. What a laugh.

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  15. Thanks everybody for your comments. I should perhaps slightly downgrade my kneejerk reaction to the word Kraut? (I don't know where it came from; maybe I heard it in a really terrible context at some point and just don't remember.) I should also note that any pissy feelings I get from hearing someone use Kraut are reserved only for those who have lived here in a time when Germans are not the enemy and ought to know that Germans are nice, normal, real people. In other cases I could chalk it up to bad times they come from, or ignorance.
    This has been pretty educational for me. I hadn't the tiniest inkling that Brit could ever be considered derogatory, for example. I thought it was just a lazy shortening of British!

    Mary: I don't think I could call Canadians 'bacons' without getting really hungry! ;)

    Planet Germany: I have to admit I think Limey is one of the cutest-sounding words in existence and it's a damn shame that it happens to be a slur! I've never thought of Yank as an insult unless it was coming from a Southerner to a Northerner (and even then it would depend on context).

    Ian: Ooh, Chink is definitely bad. I'm not surprised to hear Kraut is a popular term at Toytown - just another reason to continue avoiding that site.

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  16. CN,
    You avoid it too, eh?
    There was a discussion started the other day about how people are turned off TT because of all the jerks and hostility on it, especially toward newcomers to whom it might be the most helpful.
    I think it's a good resource for certain things, and it's worth checking in from time to time, but you have to wade through so many bitter, angry people taking their frustrations out on the rest of the world to get what you want, you easily turned off.

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  17. Hi,

    I'm a 1st-generation German-American, and grew up fairly well immersed in the G-A community. While I've seen the term used today as a joke(i.e., "A grouchy German is a sour Kraut"), I know many who find still find it somewhat offensive, and many who find it nothing but a bit of humor. Many in the G-A community apply to themselves in a bit of self-depricating humor.

    I will say my parents (Dad was a native, Mom's parents also) didn't find it amusing in the slightest. That said, they were both kids during WWII, when the term was used in Allied propaganda the was "nip" was used against the Japanese.

    Personally, I never gave much thought to the history behind it, but I admit, I might be using it a bit less now. Still, everyone who knows me knows how much I love Germany, and whenever I do use it, it's with clear affection....

    And now I've totally confused myself....

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  18. I find all such terms offensive, both in English and German. "Ami" not so much (hell, there isn't a pronouncible name for the people), but - e.g. "Inselaffe" is as much an insult as "Kanacke". And i've socked ppl in the face for using the latter term.
    If you use "Kraut", you're just being ridiculous. As in stuck in WW1/WW2 times. Same with "Herm/Hermann", "Fritz", "Boxhead/Blockhead", "Hun/Kossy", "Jerry", "Adolf" etc. Just consider that you would pretty much have been able to read almost all these terms in British tabloids in the last month or so. And lets not go into this Brit and US fashion of using the word "Nazi" in colloquial speech.
    In comparison, you won't find many people in France still using "boche" btw.

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  19. Speaking of offensive, racism and Toytown Germany...

    There is now a racist poll up. You're supposed to pick which race you believe is the worst driver.

    Classy.

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  20. Ian: I agree completely with your assessment of Toytown. I've been there only now and then by Googling a few topics I had questions about, and nearly every thread I saw was bitter and hostile. I know the internet is not a friendly place in general, but I think Toytown goes well above and beyond the Internet Background Hostility Level. It's really a shame that it is the primary go-to spot for English-speaking expats; it doesn't give a very good impression of us. How did it get like that, anyway?

    All: Back on the topic at hand, I found this internet list of "Offensive Terms Per Nationality" which gives some info (with grain of salt I'm sure) on which ones are considered more or less offensive. It was good info for me, anyway, because I'd actually never even heard of a lot of the words that were brought up in this discussion. Yeah, I'm blissfully ignorant in the realm of Nationality- and Ethnicity-Based Insults. Or was.

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  21. I guess whether or not it is offensive highly depends on the context. Oddly enough, anytime I read “Kraut” my first thought is that this refers to people living in the south of Germany. Sorry, guys down there... ;-)

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  22. Offensive? That I cannot answer...but I personally don't use the term.

    Living in England we were called Yanks all the time. I didn't care for it, but also didn't bristle at it.

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  23. I asked my German colleague.
    She says: "If I'm a Kraut, that makes you an Unkraut."

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  24. Btw, Toytown ain't that bad really.

    Or i wouldn't have 600+ posts on there.

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  25. @planetgermany: great! The best answer I've ever heard... :)

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  26. Kraut - Unkraut (weeds)
    Weeds, isn't it un-American?

    The one and only Kraut is Sauerkraut (from Hengstenberg).

    Mahlzeit!

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  27. The term is not objective offensive nor inoffensive. It all has to do with context and the current social balance. In my opinion, people are "over" WWII. No one is still stirred up and pissed off about it. Referring to Germans as Krauts is such an antiquated and almost quaint usage, that it has fallen into the same ancient basket as referring to them as "Huns". Even the word, "German" didn't come out of Germany, but was a foreign nickname for persons from a particular part of Europe. Germans call themselves Deutsch. Yes, probably some sensitive people find a problem with the word, Kraut. So I guess we should probably give them some room. But just as most Americans are not offended by being called "Yanks" (because the the current social context doesn't have Americans as being on the defensive, probably most Germans could care less about being called Kraut. Germany is a powerful and influential nation not currently suffering from an inferiority complex.

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