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Prevailing attitude toward modern Germans or Americans who speak German

by Dan
(Portland, OR USA)

Hello Suzele,


I am an American of Alsatian descent. I have been able to trace my ancestry to the town of Stattmatten.

Since I was young I have always been told that Alsatians speak a German dialect. I've learned to speak basic German as I had the opportunity to go to Strasbourg and I could not resist a trip to the nearby town of Stattmatten.

When I finally got there I went to the only business open which was a bar.

I was only able to find the bar with the help of some helpful locals who seemed nervous about speaking German.

I highly doubt that they spoke English so I thought it was better to speak German. When I got to the bar I promptly ordered a beer. In German. The bar became very quiet. Things were somewhat tense.

I decided that I was more fit but, grossly outnumbered by the patrons. Luckily after about a minute the bartender decided to pour the beer and only uttered "swei".

I paid and tipped and the bar went back to normal. Upon swilling my beer like a typical American I got up to leave but, decided I had initially picked the wrong language.

In the only French I know I said hello to (my family name) and goodbye.

So, now that I have shared this embarrassing and in retrospect funny story, my question is how badly did I offend these people and if I can ever make it back what would be the correct way to handle this situation or make it up to these tolerant people?

I hope you got a chuckle out of my story and that I am able to return soon.

Thank you,

Dan

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Little Alsatian Villages and their Culture
by: Suzele

Hi Dan,

I'll have a guess at what happened, but really...who knows....

I'm guessing that Stattmatten is a very small village. It's probably not the slightest bit touristy. It's probably a very rural area.

Have you ever been anywhere like that in the US before?

The sort of place that never has visitors coming through...and then you walk into their little locals only bar...speaking a foreign language...

Because German is a foreign language in Alsace...Alsatian isn't, but then again it's not German either.

So that's just to give you an idea of what they may have been thinking when they looked at you funny.

Personally, I don't think you did anything wrong at all...other than expect a friendlier reception.

From my personal experience Alsatians (as well as many French, German, and Swiss people) are not open and friendly the way Americans are (unless they are living and working with foreigners all the time).

It doesn't mean they don't like you. It doesn't mean anything at all. It's just that being open and friendly with people you barely know is a part of American culture.

People make connections in Alsace (and the surrounding area) through the people they know. They don't usually just start up conversations with people they've never met.

Except if it's their business of course...like in the more touristy areas of Alsace.

Hope it helps,
Suzele

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Visiting Stattmatten
by: Dan Doktor

I am laughing at myself as I read your response!

I suppose I was a little too eager. You are correct when you guess that Stattmatten is a very small rural village.

I actually really appreciated the fact that it was not touristy. Unfortunately, it will likely be years before I can return.

On the next visit I will bring more of the Dockter family and we will be sure to consult your website often until then. Even though I have only been there once I can see that it is easy to be proud of Alsace.

I don't know where you grew up but, I'm wondering if, as a foreigner, you felt at ease quickly when you first moved to Alsace?

Thank you for setting up the Get Alsaced website!

If you and your family ever find yourself in Portland, OR USA please feel free to contact me.

Flammekueche is difficult to find in the US but, this is a good start. http://grunerpdx.com

Thanks,
Dan


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better next time ;-)
by: Ray

Dear Dan, as an Alsatian living couple years in US (PA, CA and LA), Suzele may have right by saying the connection is not going so fast as it can be in the US. Fact is that between Louisiana and Pennsylvania thinks change as well.

But, starting in German gave a wrong image: to take as granted that all Alsatians speak naturally German and this confusion between the Alsatian dialect and the German language is never good to make with an Alsatian. This is clearly two different languages with the same roots (English is in fact also a German language as Alsatian is)

Alsace has suffered during the German occupation, and the Alsatian get rid of this confusion still made by the French themselves who confuse our German culture side with the country of Germany.

You have to be aware that Alsace has this German culture side as Switzerland or Austria has it, not because it is part of Germany.

Alsace was only German between 1871 and 1918 and during the 2nd war occupation. So each time when France has lost a war against the Prussian or the German Nazi, they juts have let our region to Germany to save themselves. The most difficult period was under Hitler rules when the nazi have decided that Alsatians are Germans and so take all men to be part of the German army in the east front. This was a difficult time where Alsatian families were deported and killed in nazi camps when the husband, the son, the father refused to go to Russia, it was hard to be forced to become German...basically because of that, Alsace is the French region who has lost the most lives during the 2nd war.

Today, this all is still complicated to explain about the specificity of this region, with man who have started the war under the French uniform, finished it under the German uniform (when they were still alive because the use in Russia was not to make prisoners and when they made, not everybody came back from their soviet camps not much better that the Nazi one). And still Alsace kept is loyalty to France.

My advise: Never hesitate to start in Alsace with a basic 'bonjour' which is also use in our Alsatian dialect. This will allow people to see at once that you are not German (you accent is so beautiful on the 'r') and then switch in German if you do not master French but an advise: tell at once that you are American and not German, you would be surprise about the change of the attitude. We have all learned German at school but always forget it when a German come to us and speak with us directly in German (Hope you have understand why).

If you let them know that you have Alsatian roots, that's would be great. Also, in a litle village, the local bar is maybe not the right place to start ;-)

Good luck for the next time

best wishes

Ray




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Moving to Alsace
by: Suzele

Hi Dan,

Moving to Alsace or any country is a big challenge even if there is no language change. Even in other English speaking countries, the culture is quite different.

And Alsace was not an easy move for sure! With a very different culture plus not one but two new languages to manage (French and Alsatian plus German sometimes).

But I had the advantage of moving in with locals so I had a lot of guidance on how to properly live here. Not to mention an immersion in French and Alsatian.

Hope to see you back in Alsace soon : )
Suzele

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Thanks Ray!
by: Dan

Bonjour Ray,

Thank you very much for the advice and for sharing your knowledge. I really appreciate the in-depth explanation.

I forgot to mention that my trip to Alsace was a fun vacation and I could not have had that experience online.

My faux pas led to meeting some great people and learning even more about the culture. I'm looking forward to another visit.

Vielmohls mersi,

Dan


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