Wednesday, April 16, 2008

sound and führer

You knew it was coming.

You probably noticed some recurrent themes here – one is my fascination with racism, and its cognitive and emotive sources, and a somewhat related one is the tremendous fun to be had dancing around the most famous führer. The man single-handedly soured not just a nation and its culture, but also an otherwise perfectly viable verb and noun, first name, and moustache style. The word führer is still used, but I notice they tend to apply it more toward objects and animals. You can have a lead train car or lead dog or mule called führer, but never a title. Hm. I wish I recognized this opportunity earlier.

It happened at CeBIT last month. I was talking to a senior VP from a very major corporation whose name is the homonym of the nonexistent plural of the vulgar and colloquial noctural emission. Oh, and we talked in German, the native language of said company. I was trying to tell him that my boss was only there the first day, and would not be back at CeBIT this year. I referred to my boss as Direktor, which is correct. Then I thought, hm. Lemme try something. I instead referred to him as my leader, which translates as ‘mein führer.’ Slight change in his facial expression. I acted ignorant and obsessed with my own thoughts – not a difficult nor unpracticed act – and then used the term again. No, he said, that is not the best word. Ah, tut mir leid, ich werde Anführer benutzen. No, he said, anführer is not correct either. Is it word order? Führer an? He looked at me, and I could tell he was about 85% sure I was fucking with him, but not positive. Poker face. Do not bite inner cheek. Play dumb. Oh God, was this fun. I tried it four more times that day. Just start talking German, establish friendly contact, and a few minutes into it, drop an f-bomb. Then act totally confused and ignorant.

This is largely a play on the widespread view that Americans are grievously ignorant. This allegation is not without some merit, but having lived in Europe, I am not so sure. All countries have idiots. Some even elect them führer – or, 67 years later across the Atlantic – president. Much of the anti-Americanism stems from the presumption that we do not travel and do not know anything outside our borders. All politics is local. I do not think the average European knows African or South American geography better than the average American.

The fact that the trick works at all reflects that Germans actually believe that an educated American might honestly not have a clue why the word ‘Führer’ is verboten. If you think about this further, this would be a wonderful sign that the world is moving beyond WWII. Imagine how nice it would be if a German named Adolf could be elected leader without any gossip. Some obscure academic would write a popular article introducing the earlier history of the once infamous Adolf way back on Earth. It would earn minor amusement but have no effect on the campaign. A couple people might whine, but would be dismissed as backward and racist Chicken Littles. And, of course, THAT is when the Germans will send their darttroopers blitzing through the Ardennes.

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