now children, please indicate to the foreigner where the bathroom is …
It’s 1935 here in Germany and as a foreigner working in business I have been observing your country’s recent political upheavals with interest. The other day I began a meeting when I was interrupted mid-introduction by a very Aryan looking fellow. He said that he was quite uncomfortable with the fact that I had failed to acknowledge the Fuhrer and as a good Aryan man and party member he didn’t know if he could even be in the same room with me without a proper acknowledgement.
He then went on to say how disappointed he was in me, as he could see that I am obviously of good Aryan stock even though I am an Englander. I wondered to myself how hard it must be for such a good Aryan man like himself. It must be terribly difficult for him to even eat in a restaurant. What if the waitress does not acknowledge the Fuhrer before she serves his meal? There was the distinct possibility that the man could almost starve to death due to his impressive convictions.
This Fuhrer business is easy to mock from a distance, but anyone who has felt the pressure to say the words knows it’s a serious business. I got off fairly lightly in that morning’s meeting. Once I’d made it clear that I would not pretend to share his beliefs, my interrupter cheerfully announced that my disrespectful attitude would one day earn me a well-deserved bashing. Since the rest of the room was made up of sensitive social-justice orientated types, they were quite satisfied that this was an appropriate resolution to the matter.
Of course, if it had been you in my position that day, a good German, it might well have been a different story. In today’s enlightened world of 1935 Germany it is understood that you only have to acknowledge the Fuhrer if you really believe in him. It is also understood that if you don’t do it then you’re toast. An outright refusal to say the words could have you clearing out your desk faster than saying, “I reckon those Jews aren’t half bad”. Sometimes all it takes is for somebody a bit like my interrupter to complain about your attitude.
So at this stage, even if it is a bit presumptuous of a foreigner to do so, I am now going to hand out some career advice to you good German folk: If it is your company’s policy to acknowledge the Fuhrer on certain occasions, just do it. If it isn’t official policy but there is certainly plenty of pressure to do so, just do it. If you feel compromised and unhappy about saying words you don’t really mean, or if you dread situations where you might be obliged to perform a ritual that you don’t really believe in, my recommendation is that you stop worrying about things beyond your control and just do it. Unless your situation is extraordinary, any puny resistance you could muster against the orthodoxy is likely to achieve very little. You would gain no benefit, and you could very easily lose almost everything – your career, friends, reputation, and possibly your bank balance if someone like our Aryan friend deemed your behavior unacceptable.
On the other hand, if everything within you rebels against parroting pious absurdities, and if enforced mysticism in the name of ‘poltical sensitivity’ causes you not just philosophical discomfort but visceral disgust, then my advice to keep your head down and play along is of no use to you. You have no choice but to get yourself in trouble, or trouble is going to come looking for you.
Fortunately, you can exercise plenty of choices in how you prepare for and conduct yourself in the aftermath. You can choose to be annoyingly upbeat and jolly when everyone expects to see fear. You can be frustratingly vague and tranquil when you are supposed to be frantically justifying yourself. You can be haughty when you are meant to be grovelling. You can choose when to stonewall your inquisitors with dignified silence, and when to out-righteous the righteous with the primmest of platitudes. Most importantly, you can choose to never, ever apologise if you believe you have done nothing wrong. You won’t win, of course, but there is a perverse pleasure to be found in being a troublesome, unsatisfying victim.
Of course, I will soon be flying away from Germany but you will be stuck here. So in that regard my own small resistance is no big deal, whereas yours would be very significant, at least in your own circle of family and friends. People have told me in hushed tones that they have heard of occasions when those who didn’t toe the line simply disappeared. Of course, I find these claims to be a ridiculous absurdity, but the sheer number of people who have told me this does give the notion a small semblance of credence.
However, like I said, best just to be a good German and keep your head down. Oh, and by the way, I copied this entire piece with just a few changes here and there. It wasn’t written in 1935 Germany. It was written last week in The Australian Spectator by an aboriginal woman named Kerryn Pholi. She was writing about the traditional acknowledgement of country that I have previously spoken about. Those who don’t know history are simply doomed to repeat it.