Friday, January 30, 2009

German ANGST: or why I worry about worrying

I worry a lot. It comes with the territory of being German. I used to worry even more, believe it or not, I've actually mellowed out somewhat!

Do I worry too much? I recently asked my husband. Am I too serious? It's a little bit like Rosanna Arquette's character in a movie asking her date "Do I have too many scars?"

Maybe worrying comes with the territory. Since the Holocaust, Germany has lived with tremendous guilt. It seems nearly inappropriate for us to crack jokes -- instead, we take ourselves and everything else extremely seriously. We're ever-vigilant, lest such a lapse in judgment happen again!

I used to think that worrying would help prevent making mistakes. For example, a parent worrying about their children getting hurt will be watchful enough not to let anything bad happen. But then somewhere along the line, I learned gradually that I can't control everything. Bad things can happen, and a parent can drive oneself crazy worrying. Sooo, I like to think that I've become more relaxed, altough some might argue that "relaxed" and "German" do not belong in the same sentence together.

Here's an excerpt from the book The German Way : Aspects of Behavior, Attitudes, and Customs in the German-Speaking World, by Hyde Flippo:

The German word Angst, fear, came into the English language in the early 1940s. In its English, psychiatric sense, "angst" signifies a feeling of insecurity, anxiety, or apprehension. So it is only appropriate that the word comes to us from German, a language spoken by people who are constantly wracked by angst, and who almost seem to enjoy it.

Germans like to worry. They worry about politics. They worry about the environment. They worry about their national identity and their image abroad. They worry about the economy. They worry about worrying. It's not that Germans don't like to have a good time. It's just that they seem to be able to have a good time worrying. They enjoy discussing their worries. Criticism is a national pastime. Journalists do this on the editorial pages of newspapers and magazines. The average German does so in letters to the editor or over a beer at the local Gastwirtschaft. This Germanic trait is also carried on, to a lesser degree, by the Austrians and the German-speaking Swiss.

Opinion polls conducted in the German-speaking world tend to show a more pessimistic view of things than might generally be the case in many other countries. But, if challenged, the Germans, Austrians, and Swiss would tend to respond that they are merely being more realistic than the overly optimistic Pollyannas in other countries.

American expat Christina G. has put together an impressive list of books and posts dealing with Germany on her blog An American Expat in Deutschland. One of her recent post deals with German and American Historical guilt in Germany after WWII, a personal perspective. I strongly recommend that you check out her post and comments -- very thoughtful!


honeypiehorse said...

No wonder I (sometimes) feel right at home here. Oddly, my German husband is not a worrier, he's a doer. Fortunately, I worry enough for the both of us.

Kitchen Sister said...

"Good judgment comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgment." - Rita Mae Brown