Diary of an Expat, Part 85
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My desk calendar this week used siezen as the word of the day. This is a word that means "to use the formal term of address," and it may strike you that there is no particularly good equivalent in English.

So you can file that away in your "oh, those crazy Germans" file.

I've found a German pizza place that delivers, which is probably the worst pizza place in Berlin. This is good, or important; one thing that Germans do not understand about pizza is that delivery pizza is supposed to be terrible.

This is a little ironic, I guess, because a lot of German food is just terrible on its own, without needing to be conspicuously so. That schnitzel is a traditioanl food here, and a truck-stop food in the United States, ought to tell you about the scope of their tastes.

(Except for asparagus. The Germans are friggin' asaparagus fiends)

Anyway, so, the crust is not very good, and the cheese is not very good; I would say it is a lot like Pizza Hut, except marginally less greasy. It is the kind of pizza you order on a Friday or Saturday night because you need something to accompany watching a movie with your friends.

I do find that Germans don't understand that this is the point, because they assume that pizza can be elevated to an art form of sorts, and so therefore it probably should be, which is why the more frou-frou varieties are popular.

That's it. That's the sum total of my "lessons from Germany" this week. I miss pizza. *waves to PRISM* It's okay, you can leave now. Hey. Scram. Scram

I have the sense that this is something that Germans would not accept. There's a strong respect for the rule of law here that applies to protesting peacefully, and submitting petitions, and the like. But the flip side of that is that there's the expectation of respect from the government.

I have said in the past that a lot of Americans regard the government somewhat adversarially, and to be honest I think a lot of government functionaries behave in ways that amount to treating the American public adversarially as well. Creating the apparatus for a massive surveillance state is one of them. I'm reasonably certain that this wouldn't fly here, and if it leaked I think people would resign, rather than circling the wagons.

To be honest, though, I'm not entirely certain where this comes from. The obvious answer is that it's learning from history, and that Germans have had the negative experiences of the Nazi government and then, for many of them, the DDR. In point of fact, though, I think it may be more cultural than that.

It's certainly true that most Germans realize that the state is generally loathe to give up power once acquired. It's also true that Germans also realize just how much bullshit any line of thinking that begins "if you don't have anything to hide" is. But I think it's oversimplifying to say that it's because they "learned their lesson," as though Americans will just wake up one day Enlightened.

In actuality my experience has been that Germans don't entirely trust their government, which is healthy1. But they also have a grudging respect for it, and expect its respect in turn. This is a bit of a paradigm shift, and I think it's healthy.

What would it take for the United States to get to "wary but genuine respect" between its civic institutions and its populace? I don't know. This is an area where Germany's relative cultural homogeneity acts in its favour — to be honest, I don't really think the Turks share this line of thinking, for example.

Just something that came up, anyway. We're defensive of our civic institutions because in any case we have a sense of national community, if not a sense of national pride — there's a difference, and this is something Americans also don't always separate, between identifying yourself as sharing a common flag and feeling that that flag needs to be waved.

This may also be why the German national day is more muted than the American one, but I don't know.

1. For two reasons. Firstly, because it's always healthy to have some distrust for your government. More broadly, I guess, it's healthy to have as much distrust for your government as they do for you: open societies can have more open relationships; societies where the government feels it should be able to spy on everyone, at all times, are maybe less deserving of such openness. Secondly, though, because it's true that there is some corruption here, and that needs to be policed by a vigilant populace.
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