August 17, 2010

On (prohibited) language

Every language has its forbidden words, expressions you should avoid. In German, I never learned it the right way. Till today, maybe, when I did a bad mistake.

I learned at the Goethe Institut that the word "Jawohl!" is a typical expression from Prussia. And since I was living in Berlin, Prussia's capital, and I decided to become a Berliner, I was very proud of using the word. Then I noticed that HS, a German, was using it very often.

People were always reacting and laughing. Till T draw my attention to the Nazis: they were using this word all the time when they were receiving orders from their military superiors. It means something like "Yes, sir!". For many Europeans who grew up with Nazi movies, the word "Jawohl!" has a very intense meaning.

For me it never had it. And although I heard the explanation many times, I am very used to the expression. But some weeks ago I moved to Munich. Nazism was originated here many years ago. "Brotherhoods" are still en vogue (HS belongs to one of them), and they celebrate their Christian faith and patriotical past. Bavarians are extremely proud of their traditions and customs. Sometimes it looks very funny, sometimes really ridiculous, sometimes it is nice to see people aware and proud of their origin. Anyways, when I use the word "Jawohl!" in Munich, people react. I though that it was because of the competition between Munich and Berlin, but it might well also be due to the delicate atmosphere of local patriotism down here.

Today I was in the office talking on the phone to a very important Jewish person, whose family barely scaped from the Nazis, although their best friends perished in Auschwitz, as well as almost the whole family of her wife. We were talking in English and at the end he switched to German: "Auf Wiedersehen!", he told me. My automatic response was not the correct one, and I was becoming aware of it at the same speed at which I was pronouncing the infamous word "j - a - w - o - h- l".

He acted as if he had not heard anything. Maybe he did not even noticed, since people do not really pay attention to these formalities. But who knows, maybe he did. I noticed and I felt stupid and sorry. But it was too late, I was saying the word and putting down the auricular of the phone and regretting it. Everything at the same time. Scheiße...

Foto: Military jacket by Balmain for the Spring/Summer collection 2010 at the Paris Fashion Week

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