Blackety black*

31 Oct

A statue in Postdam’s Park Sans Souci

I am back from Berlin and I had a great time there. It’s a fantastic experience to take advantage of being mobile and go work somewhere else for a while. It changes your perspective. You get to meet new people, including potential clients and partners. And of course, and I’m speaking for translators there, you get to freshen up your knowledge of the country of your source language -getting to hear and see first-hand what is going on and what makes people tick- and to work on your spoken language skills. You may not need to speak a language well to be a good translator, but good spoken language skills go a long way to communicate with your clients.

Anyway, during my stay, I observed that:

1) I have a very broad French accent when speaking German.

2) Most German people are convinced that « French people cannot speak English ».

3) 2 doesn’t stop some of them from immediately switching from German to English when they hear you have an accent, including a French accent, that is after you have addressed them in German and that they have obviously understood what you had to say.

Considering that the people who insisted the most on talking English to me were the ones I had the hardest time understanding, I sort of guessed that some of them just wanted to take the opportunity to practice their  English. I’ve met a few people who spoke fluent English, and incidentally those were kind enough to indulge me in speaking German with me.

However, an acquaintance has suggested that the English thing might be due to the fact that while I sound unmistakably French, I « do not look French ». In other words, in the mind of a lot of German people, being Black and French are mutually exclusive. That got me thinking. I had never been asked so many times in such a short timeframe where I was « really » from. Apparently, black Germans get the same question:

http://www.deutschland-schwarzweiss.de/en/list_of_stupid_phrases

There is no doubt that black people are a smaller minority in Germany than in some other European countries. But they’ve been here for a while. You might have heard of the incredible story of Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi, the retired managing editor of Ebony magazine. The son of an African diplomat and a German mother, he grew up in Nazi Germany as stated in the title of his autobiography:

Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany

And post World War II, there was the issue of the biracial babies left behind by black GIs. Lots of them grew up in orphanages. Ika Hügel-Marshall is one of them. I read her book a few years ago.

invisible woman

More recently, I’ve read about Juli Rivera’s documentary about the 25th anniversary of a meeting of black Germans organised by ISD (Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland).

Here is a short clip of the documentary and a link to the (French) article mentioning it on the director’s blog: mein Viertel The movie seems great and I’m curious to see it. The director is currently looking for locations to show it, so contact her if you have any tips.

This was supposed to be my last post about Berlin and there’s more I have to say about race, Germany and diversity, but this is getting seriously long. So to keep it short and sweet, I’ll just say: more to come!

*blackety black

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5 Réponses to “Blackety black*”

  1. Les piles 7 novembre 2011 à 5:40 #

    « 3) 2 doesn’t stop some of them from immediately switching from German to English when they hear you have an accent, including a French accent, that is after you have addressed them in German and that they have obviously understood what you had to say. »

    Ah, ça m’a fait rager lors de mon dernier séjour berlinois, ça… (2008) J’étais vexée comme un pou. 🙂

    • tongueincheck 7 novembre 2011 à 5:48 #

      Mais c’est juste un signe de manque de logique de leur part, pas de ton niveau d’allemand. Et par ailleurs, l’accent français est particulièrement charmant !

  2. Darlene 16 décembre 2011 à 12:36 #

    What a fascinating discovery. I’m looking forward to reading more of your observations on race.

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  1. Un divan à New York « tongue-in-check - 30 septembre 2012

    […] a year ago, I wrote a series of posts about my one month stay in Berlin. As far as I’m concerned, being able to travel […]

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