No country within the EU shares as many borders with other countries as Germany does. The list of neighbouring countries has no fewer than nine members: Denmark in the North, Poland and Czech Republic in the East, Austria and Switzerland in the South and France, Luxembourg, Belgium and The Netherlands on the Western side. In each of these nine countries, inhabitants have distinct ideas about the Germans. But what do the Germans themselves think about their `Nachbarn`?
Inhabitants of most of Germany`s neighbouring countries seem to be quite willing to make an effort to address Germans in their own language. France is not to be counted among those. The French are thought of as unable to speak either German. Even the compromise of speaking English does not seem to be on the French menu. On top of that, Germans tend to find them unhospitable or sometimes even plain unfriendly to tourists. The French moreover suffer from the reputation of spending their days eating frogs and smelly cheese. That is, as long as they are not running around with baguettes while wearing funny hats. Although some Germans clearly express their sympathy for the French `cuisine` and `joie de vivre`, few see France as their favourite neighbour.
`We have many jokes about the Dutch and their caravans`
Enrico (26) thinks that most of the perceived hostility is caused by the troubled past between the two countries: `I don`t think the French are very nice to tourists in general, but if they find out that you`re German, it sometimes even gets worse. They are not even explicitly rude. It seems to be some kind of subconscious negativity towards us.` Alex (21) thinks that French is the most ugly language out of all the ones that surround the German language territory. `I had to learn it in school for five years and I find it an absolutely horrendous language, most of all because of those nasal sounds. I much prefer hearing Swiss German which is hard to understand but at least it`s funny. Danish is also alright. It`s similar to German but a bit more northern-like.`
Vicky (21) thinks the negative ideas about the French are exaggerated: `I worked in France for some time and I was surprised to see that the French were not even that different from Germans. I did notice that they are more egoistic while Germans are more of the team-playing kind. And I also opted out on their everlasting greeting sessions at the beginning and end of each day. I don`t like kissing people I don`t know, so I don`t do it.`
Belgium and Luxembourg are not particularly well-known in this corner of Germany. Thomas (27) thinks of low taxes when he hears of Luxembourg, while Belgium makes him think of well-lit motorways. `I haven`t been to Belgium, but one of my friends says that the people there are very nice and quite similar to the Dutch.`
Germans seem to known much more about The Netherlands than about either Luxembourg or Belgium. Dutch families are known to travel the entire European continent with caravans stuck to the back of their cars. The Dutch and their caravans are notorious for blocking traffic by driving slowly on the speedlimit-less left lane of the German motorways. Germans also notice that Dutch people all have a very similar way of dressing, which makes each Dutch family identical to any other.
Claudia (25, photo) says: `We have lots of jokes about the Dutch and their caravans, and we also make fun of how flat their country is. When thinking of The Netherlands, many people will come up with cheese, marihuana and bicycles. Most of the Dutch are able and willing to speak German, which is good for us because we don`t understand Dutch.`
Claudia clearly remembers the 2006 Football World Cup, when the Dutch team played most of its matches in Germany. `The Netherlands are our biggest enemy when if comes to football, but these days with all the crazy orange people were just great: partying all the way!`
Jan (36) thinks the Dutch are very welcome in Germany because the Germans see The Netherlands as a smaller version of their own country anyway. Lena (20) agree that the Dutch are welcome guests in Germany. `I do sometimes get annoyed by the fact that they always understand what I`m saying, while I am unable to decipher their language`, Lena says. She quite well remembers meeting Dutch people when she was on a skiing holiday in Czech Republic: `The lady who worked there refused to replenish the breakfast tables and she was very unfriendly. A little later, some of the Dutch started throwing food at her, which I thought was quite funny. Another incident I remember involved a German guy and a Dutch girl. The German guy bought the Dutch girl a drink, and, according to the Dutch practice, she bought him the next one. In Germany, if a girl buys a guy a drink, that`s quite a signal but she was unaware of that. And so, she ended up being stuck with this guy all night long.`
Poland and Czech Republic
Lena thinks that Czech Republic is the nicest neighbour of Germany. `They have nice music, and the difference with Austria becomes even more obvious in winter. While the Austrians are annoying everybody with the apr?s-ski music, the Czechs have more pleasant underground rock. Apart from the incident with the Dutch throwing food, I also think that Czechs are very friendly and they often speak German.`
Czech Republic enjoys a good reputation as a holiday destination for Germans. Food and beer are cheap, the Czech cuisine is widely appreciated and so are the Czech girls. All of the people I speak to today felt very welcome during their visits to the Czech Republic.
Poland is generally thought of as poorer than Czech Republic. Many Germans do not travel to Poland if they do not have a specific reason to do so. Stereotypes about Poles are not very flattering. Polish girls may be thought of as very pretty, but Polish men are expected to fill their spare time with stealing cars.
Nicole (23) thinks that Poland has two different images. `There are many friendships between former Eastern Germans and Poles and if you arrive at a Polish friend`s place, he or she will give you everything you need. Then, there`s the image of everyday life Poland, which is not as positive. The Kaczynski brothers have done a lot of harm to the image of Poland in Germany. They brought old prejudices back to life and made Poland more conservative than it actually was. All of that gave Poland a reputation that is even worse than what it was before.`
Switzerland and Austria
Nico (26) has many Swiss friends and he also likes Switzerland as a country. `They are rather quiet people, but they perfectly know how to live in peace.` Germans further come up with chocolate, cheese, watches and banks as stereotypical Swiss products. The Swiss are thought of as very punctual and reliable ? stereotypes than fellow Europeans may also attribute to the Germans themselves.
Germans also feel welcome in Austria. Katja (26) spent two months working in Innsbruck. `It was not too different from Germany, mainly because of the language. However, life was less hectic and I found people friendlier than most Germans would be in their place.` Austria is a popular destination for Germans: for skiing in winter and for hiking in summer. Germans generally feel welcome in Austria, despite the negative stereotype they enjoy among the Austrians ? as I learnt when I was there two months ago.
Northern neighbour Denmark seems to go mostly unnoticed in the South-East of Germany. Atta (23) knows that her friends go to Denmark to do kite-surfing. `They say that both the wind and the landscape in Denmark are perfect for that.`
Unfortunately, nobody is able to tell much about the Danes today, except that they have a rather shy appearance. There`s only one solution: go and have a look there myself. Expect fourteen reports about Denmark to be posted on this website from next week onwards?
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