Advice Wanted: German Culture insight?

by cv harquail on May 5, 2009

Host parents, here’s an awkward question; read it and you’ll see why.fairytale germany.jpg

"I am in serious consideration of making a match with an au pair from Germany and have a question to ask you or your readers. When we were discussing her arrival dates, she mentioned she did not want to depart from Germany during the first two weeks of August due to her parents taking a journey for "Nazi Advocation". I tried to probe further about this "journey" but she quickly avoided the topic and would not elaborate as to what this journey is all about!

I am not sure if this bears ties to a religion of some kind (she is Protestant) or if this is something that most Germans take part in and should be dismissive in nature when considering her abilities as an au pair. I don’t want to overlook a red flag and I have tried my best to google and am coming up short on finding any further information on this topic. Any readers out there that could provide feedback from the German au pairs as to what this journey is about would be much appreciated! Many thanks in advance."

Anybody– ideas?

{ 26 comments }

Anon May 5, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Look up the word advocation. This would be a red flag for me.

Dawn May 5, 2009 at 3:23 pm

It raises red flags for me as well, but maybe it’s a translation problem? (i.e. maybe “advocation” was not the right word?) We need Franzi’s input — she’s German, isn’t she? Oh, Franzi… we need you!

Darthastewart May 5, 2009 at 3:28 pm

I’ve never heard of it. And I’ve had a LOT of German au-pairs over the years. I just emailed a few of them and asked if they’ve heard of it.

Rayann May 5, 2009 at 3:38 pm

I’m not German, but have lived and worked over in Germany. Never heard of it.

Stefanie May 5, 2009 at 4:13 pm

I am an german AuPair and I never heard of such a thing. I recommend talking again to her and ask her again what that is, and if she is still not telling you, than chances are pretty big that she has a “right” (Nazi) opinion, and I would not want such an AuPair. And even if just the parents are going, mostly the parents raise their kids that way.

New York City Mom May 5, 2009 at 4:44 pm

I am a German AP mom living in the U.S. at the moment, and I have never heard of such a thing. I tend to think that it is a translation problem rather than a political position that does not have a place in your home. If you consider her a good match otherwise, maybe you could ask her to email you the German word for “Nazi advocation” – that would clarify things pretty quickly.

CV May 5, 2009 at 5:19 pm

I also googled nazi advocation and found nothing specific… and wondered if this was a translation problem too. If it turns out that “advocation tour” means something like “nostalgia tour” rather than “opportunity to learn about our tragic past and our efforts to reconcile and show remorse”, it would be *easy* to just pass on this au pair.
Or, if the au pair was simply unwilling to answer specific questions, that would make me pass on her too.

Frankly, there are some values and beliefs that I don’t want as part of the worldview of people in my daily life. There are some differences in beliefs and culture that you can cope with, that are part of being different and coming from different parts of the world. And then there are other differences, ones that cannot be accommodated. In case anyone is wondering, I’ll say it plainly:

… It’s not only *okay* to pass on an au pair whose values contradict your own, it’s the *right thing* to do.

sunnyvah May 5, 2009 at 6:18 pm

I´ m german and tried to find out if there is any translation that could lead to misunderstanding- but I couldn´t find anything. For Germans the Nazi-past is something we are confronted with very often. I can´ t count how often I had that topic in school and it is really important to know about this horrible part of our past. As much as I don´ t feel that it has a lot to do with me-except the fact that I´ m german- as I´ m not sharing any of this world views or values, I´ m still aware that this is part of my culture.
What i´ m trying to say is, that I don´ t think it´ s rude or wrong if someone would ask me how I think about this after I somehow mentioned the word Nazi. I think you should ask her what she meant with it. Because a) it´ s a big red flag for me and b) germans are not used to a lot of “icing” around things. That´ s why we´ re seeming to be rude. We´ re just used to more frank talk. (well well, seems that my “USA Today” class is useful for self reflecting….) So go for your answer- and than share it, because I still don´ t know what a Nazi advocation is…..

Lucky1 May 5, 2009 at 7:56 pm

Thank you ladies so much for all your input. It was me who posed that question and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the words of wisdom and recommendation I have received from you all. This blog is such a blessing.

I plan on speaking to the au pair again and will be directly asking for more information on what her parents are doing and their beliefs. I know for sure that the word “Nazi” was used and I don’t see that word as one of translation issue. The word, “advocation” could be one of translation issue certainly but not the word Nazi. I just want to better inform myself if there was something common going on in Germany the first few weeks in August that perhaps would explain this matter. Looks not to be that way!

Your help has really made me feel better in knowing that is ok to ask to this au pair more about this controversial issue. Thanks to all you who posted. Much appreciated!

D May 5, 2009 at 11:40 pm

Sorry I can’t comment on this topic. But I do have a question also too in regards to German culture & beliefs.

My German au pair whom has been with us for 8 mos, remarked the other day after I put our American Flag up this spring… She says “Is this your flag”. Host family “Yes it is…why?” “Oh, Ok….” silence by au pair. Host family… “Is there something wrong?” Au Pair says……”I was kinda hoping you didn’t have a flag, as we view Americans as being obsessed over the flag”. Host family….”Well its typical here in America for many families to have a flag…businessess…and most people are very patriotic” “we love the american flag & our country”. Au pair doesn’t say much just remarks that we are obssessed with the flag. So my final statement was “Well I find it hard to believe you are an au pair and have a problem with our family….puttting the american flag up”.

Let me just say….. I have never said anything bad about her country ever. In fact we just put up an cuckoo clock that we love from Germany….. and want to visit. I’m however, a little hurt.

Is this a case of a German au pair just being honest? I mean to tell her host family that Americans are obsessed over the flag & that she hoped we didn’t have one, is a bit much. I think. But then again….not sure.

EUROaupair August 27, 2010 at 2:54 pm

I would never have said anything like that to my HF. However, travelling Europe I noticed quite a strong anti-american sentiment (for lack of a more tactful term). There is the well-known stereotype of Americans waving their flag and toting their guns..

I am an au pair in a foreign country at the moment. People warned me of these stereotypes and I brushed them off; stereotypes are such BS. But when you are trying to be open minded and something so absolutely stereotypical crops up right in front of you, it is reeeeally hard not to comment! Its like a slap in the face after trying to give someone the benefit of the doubt.

Also most Germans I know believe the ‘polite’ thing to do is to tell you the truth.

counselor May 6, 2009 at 1:22 am

D, it sounds more like a case of a typical 19 year old not knowing that some things are better being left unsaid. And not as much a case that ALL Germans think that Americans are Stars and Strips obsessed. That is not true.
I have recently had a case w/ a 19 year old German au pair that was sarcastic all the time. Very straight forward girl. Tact and diplomancy where amiss. Some girls can just be too ‘honest’, mostly lack of maturity. And some people at large will say things so that they can feel more important, that they have something ‘important to contribute’. An attention getter.
Little historical background. It was not allowed to display flags in Germany for many decades after the Hitler era. It was just a no-no. Somewhere in the 80’s the country came around and you occasionally will see a flag. More for special occasions like ie, European or world the soccer championships.
Bottom line, don’t take he comments so seriously. Don’t take it to heart.
And yes, I was born and raised in Germany too.
MV

Le May 6, 2009 at 10:05 am

I’ve tried the same things as you lot, searching for “nazi advocation” and trying to find translation errors… but like many of you, I didn’t get anywhere, apart from the already mentioned fact that it’s just completely impossible to incorrectly translate the term nazi.

I just think it’s very unusual for a German person applying for any kind of job abroad to mention the “N-word” of their own accord – because seriously, for many German people it is precisely that. As someone already mentioned, most of us have dealt with the Nazi past (hm, maybe we do learn too little about neonazism today?) a lot, both at home and at school, and I think most people are aware of the importance of learning about and from it. Thing is though, we usually don’t want to be linked to it directly after the polite exchange of names is done (or should I say we don’t want to be linked to it, period?) .. so we usually don’t bring it up (and speaking for myself, I am quite easily offended when someone else does – but that might be because German people are not the only ones phrasing their sentences a little too bluntly when it comes to delicate personal topics..). So, what I mean is:
a) it is unusual to mention any kind of connection to nazism – whatever it might be – in this kind of situation
b) it is very odd – and problematic – to bring it up and then avoid further explanation. You just.. don’t do that. (and this is the point that makes me wonder if you should, unless you get a satisfying reply out of her, move on and find another au pair).

re: the flag thing… well said, counselor. I think the German and the American attitude are (due to the countries’ histories) just very, very different, and it’s easy to express your lack of understanding in a way that might be hurtful to others. Don’t take it personally.. she’s with you to broaden her views, after all.

D May 6, 2009 at 11:12 am

Thanks for the reply. The mention of…..”I have recently had a case w/ a 19 year old German au pair that was sarcastic all the time. Very straight forward girl. Tact and diplomancy where amiss. ”

This is our au pair to a “T”. Thanks for confirming this is more of a personality type of thing, than cultural. Yes, well said. Tack is amiss in this case.

THANKS!

Daniela May 6, 2009 at 1:57 pm

D,

I’m a German au pair, too.
And as the others already said, your au pair didn’t mean to hurt you or anything, I guess she was just honest.

You know, as for me, I always feel like we Germans are still the ones whose fault WW2 was. Even though we didn’t live at this time, yet.
Also, I feel like we can only be proud of ourselves and put out German flags for the soccer worldcup, e.g. I find this really sad.

So Americans are just the opposite, having flags “all over”, being super-proud of their country (as it seems for us), “God bless America”, etc.
It’s difficult for Germans, as there is such a difference.
You see, it’s just a cultural and history thing. Don’t worry! :)

Franzi May 6, 2009 at 2:09 pm

great, finally a post on some german question and i’m late [nice picture btw].

sorry, not more insight from me. the term makes no immediate sense. however, we have federal elections in september and if it means what i think it means, her parents are on a pep rally for some nazi party.
you have to ask her and don’t give up until you have your answer. if she says she is not able to explain, ask her to use very simple words. if you feel like she is beating around the bush, let her go. for a german to use the word nazi (especially to a foreigner) and not give further explanation is quite strange.

from what i understand, many young germans have a more open attitude towards the german past and we do talk about it. but we are always quick to make others understand what we think about that particular world view (i.e. reject it). because the girl you talked to did not do that, i’m confused as to what her background is.

regarding the flag issue that was raised, up until a few years ago ANYONE who would have a german flag automatically was given a “national” if not “right winged” attribute by me. things have changed with the world cup and it is now “more ok” to have a german flag and be proud of the country. but still, i would say that only goes for sports and competitions.
americans, their flag, their anthem and all other symbols of pride in the country are very different from what germans are used to. i spent my AP year in washington dc (during and after sept 11) AND was a cheerleader at my college – flag and anthem overdose! and americans had a hard time understanding that i did not feel comfortable having my hand on my heart during the anthem for example.
yet, i think, this is very american and part of culture. something APs have to learn and get used to (judging this is a different thing). i didn’t know that the flag was not supposed to touch the ground (if it does you have to kiss it) or that if you put it out front over night, it needs to be lit – whatever (from my german point of view). but i’m glad i was able to learn this from my host family.

yes, germans are quite straight forward. and when we think we beat around the bush or are polite, we still are more direct than some cultures can deal with ;-) but as always, there are folks who know when it’s time to shut up and folks who just don’t…

Marguerite May 6, 2009 at 2:14 pm

Why not call the German Embassy and ask them directly about this week long activity ?
Once , many years ago, I worked with a woman whose housekeeper “quit ” because she thought that the family she worked for were attending a Klu Klux Klan meeting in the south.
I have no idea where the housekeeper got that idea but I do know that the people she worked for were strong liberals who would never have had any contact whatsoever with the KKK.
I would contact the agency the young lady you interviewed is registered with and ask them if they screen for this particular outlook on life.
Anyone who does adhere to that political school of thought is not, to my mind, a good cultural exchange participant.
Now, let’s just assume that the aupair was correct in her representation of her parents activities. Who is this girl going to hang out with once she is here ?

Corinna May 6, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Well I’m from Germany too and I guess there went something really wrong with the translation, even though I can’t imagine what she ment. I never heard something like “Nazi Advocation”. Ask her again to figure out what she was talking about…

The flag thing: I don’t think she meant to hurt you… The German culture is just really different from the American culture…We’re not used to put flags in our fron yard/on the house or somewhere else so it might seemed kinda strange to her. Try not to worry about it too much.

D May 6, 2009 at 10:18 pm

I’m not worried. hee hee. I think though…..Your an au pair, so you must be culturally accepting & open minded no matter what country you go to.

With that said…..to learn the culture not change it or make fun of it. No family likes to be made fun of.

Our au pair today was making fun of our next German au pair arriving this fall.. Saying she would be outside saluting the flag. Just not funny.

So how do we appropriately draw an end to this. So far, we haven’t said much. But it is….really too much. We just want to do so in tactful manner.

Le May 7, 2009 at 3:21 am

Of course this depends on how you get on with her in general, but couldn’t you sit down with her one evening and explain that some of her comments are hurtful to you, and why? For example telling her that discussing differences between different cultures is fine, and that being unable to relate to certain aspects is also fine, but that her remarks seem condescending to you?

counselor May 7, 2009 at 5:17 am

Hi D,
With APs like that, that lack tact and diplomacy, it is more dificult. The fact, they you haven’t said anything really initially, leads her to believe that it is OK to talk or to think liks that.
You do need to sit her down and explain that you think she is being disrespectful to you and the USA (flag) at large. She needs a straight talk. If you are trying to do this “in a tactful manner” you won’t get through at this point. Explain that this is upsetting to you. And for her to stop that kind of talk!!! The result will likely be that you find her being shocked. Because she thought that you were just fine with ‘her point of view’ of the flag. And she will stop it immediately, because she has a good host family and will not want to ruin the relationship with you. But she does need that kind of straight talk from you. Since she doesn’t have any tact, she won’t understand if you are being tactful about this. She probably won’t be able to ‘read between the lines’.
Just go ahead and be straight with her. And don’t worry so much about the outcome.
Another thing you could do is to go to her counselor. If the counselor is any good, she can address the issue with her and ask her to stop that kind of sarcasm. That way you won’t be directly involved in the resolution. Counselor can tell her “host mom doesn’t know how to talk to you and not hurt your (AP) feeling”, so they asked me to step in.
You also achieve that the counselor is aware now that this girl is able to cause problems with her loose tongue.
Good luck!
MV

TMK May 7, 2009 at 8:41 am

Hi,
I agree, I would sit her down and say something like “I recognize that you do not understand that teasing or ridiculing someones home and country is impolite but it is. I also understand that the history of your country does not allow you to easily understand the pride and respect we have for our country and the way we believe the flag is a unifying symbol for all who live here and call themselves an American. Your country was divided and only recently (in your lifetime) has it started to show interest in a unifying symbol. That being said I would appreciate it if you would use what we call tact and restraint, when speaking and making fun of things we respect. I promise to do the same, I will not make fun of your country and I ask you to not make fun of mine. You are a lovely girl and I realize you probably do not mean any harm but it is a bit offensive.” You can’t expect someone that young and unworldly to know something if you haven’t told her. I would correct her the same way I’d correct an American youth, directly but with love and a genuine desire to see them do better and grow from the encounter. After that I would move on past the subject and not bring it up again unless it happens again and then I would restate it again.

Franzi May 7, 2009 at 12:36 pm

@ D, think TMK’s input is right on point, however, i disagree with counselor to have the LCC step in. i would do this only when you realize that your AP does not watch her lose tongue.
have a straight forward talk with your AP, do not be afraid to sound too harsh or rude – for some people (no matter what culture) it is very difficult to know what americans mean with their polite conversationals skills (eg “would you mind to do xy?” very often comes across as optional)

D May 8, 2009 at 10:16 am

Ya I agree Franzi, I wouldn’t report to my LLC. Mainly as its not an issue of child care, which she is pretty good at. This info though helps me know how to handle it next time it pops up thats for sure. THANKS!

Calif Mom May 8, 2009 at 11:59 am

Great approach, TMK!

When I was a teenager, my family hosted a German exchange student and frankly, I couldn’t stand him. He loudly, repeatedly and unequivocally proclaimed that basically everything here in America was ‘stupid’ to him. I remember thinking to myself “Then just go back home already, because you’re driving us crazy and we’re being nice to you!” I realize now that he was completely unequipped to handle the way my family of origin communicates, which is to say 1) very little and 2) with nuanced nonverbal indications of displeasure that my hub hasn’t even figured out after 20 years!

Rather than just all of us being silently annoyed to shreds by him and counting down the days until he left, if my mom had just sat him down and explained to him like TMK suggested, it might have actually helped all of us. Missed opportunity!

me May 9, 2009 at 2:50 pm

hi, I am from Germany too, and I have been an au pair as well.

I think the problem with the german culture is, that we learn NOT to be proud of our country, NOT to show that we think Germany is great and NOT to make the same mistake “all we germans” made in WW2. We are supposed to deny something that we feel, because who isnt proud to be german when Germany seems to do so well in the EU and worldwide? Isnt it just normal to feel good to be living in such a western country with good living standards? Well, we aren´t supposed to act like americans when they see their flag, since the rest of the world could think we germans are repeating ww2…back then everyone was proud to be a german! It is a difficult topic for every german, not because we dont like to talk about it (ask any german, they will give you a lenghty speach on what they think of ww2!) no, its because my generation doesnt really have anything to do with what happend back then, we can´t change the past although we learned alot about it, we can only change the future, so it is kind of weired for us to see americans celebrating their country with a lot pride….it is just something that we learned not to do.

The weired “nazi” thing these parents are going to attend is something I´ve never heard off and for me it would be a red flag too. I am not sure if she mentioned that so you know about their belives, wouldnt she have made something else up otherwise? I would confront her, rather than being polite about it!

As for the sarcasm, or the honesty that actually alot german au pairs use…well, its just the way we germans are. During my au pair year I had to learn my lesson as well. It is kind of difficult to come into this culture where everyone is really polite and doesnt say streight out whats the matter. Alot of times I asked myself if I understood that right, or maybe if I did something wrong. The best advice I can give you in handling german au pairs: be as honest as they are. Just let them know if you dont like something. We germans can seem pretty cold hearted, and it might hurt when we say something that comes across as rude, but in the end its just the way we learned to interact. As always its a matter of cultural differences, but I bet your au pair will understand your point, just be clear and not as polite as usual :-)

After my au pair year I´ve been kind of irritated by my fellow germans, because all of a sudden I couldnt really understand why they are so rude, loud and sometimes even annoying…so in that case my au pair year really did open my eays.

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