One question you should never ask a German

Or how I committed a cultural faux-pas in my own country.

Over 10 years out of the country, I have focused a lot on other cultures. I always tried to ‘assimilate’ well enough but of course I was not prone to making mistakes or embarrassing myself a little because I was not from there and didn’t totally understand the culture.

I learned that this can also backfire in your own country.

The other day I was teaching an English conversation class. 

Hoping to tackle a somewhat light-hearted topic I chose to focus on ‘culture’ and how a native sees his/her country vs. an outsider.

Little did I know that asking some, seemingly simple questions, would stir up so many emotions.
The question that turned the whole conversation sour was:

What makes you proud to be from your country?


In my head, I thought people would mention the good response and results during the pandemic, the fact that the country is organized, the high standard of living etc.…

However, the answers were not the problem.

It was the question.


The word proud and ‘your country’ do not belong in one sentence for most Germans.                     


And I, the German (and clearly not so German in this situation) had not realized the controversy and uncomfortable feelings this would bring up.

What is the first historical event linked to Germany, and how do Germans feel about that? I don’t think I need to go into details here (WW2 is the hint).

And how are students in school taught to think about it? 

I honestly don’t remember the details of the content in our history class. However, I left high school with the underlying sentiment that I should feel very guilty about our history and that Germans shouldn’t praise their country (the only exception maybe being during the world cup). One might LIKE something in the country but never say that they would be ‘proud’. And apparently I wasn’t the only one who carries that thought with them. Most Germans I have met would react the same way.


I’m writing this for two reasons:

One, to show how you should not only be mindful about other cultures but also your own and

Two to point out that if you run into a German, you might want to steer away from this phrasing and topic in general. Somehow I often got asked about WW2 as soon as I said that I was from Germany while traveling. That, to me was very strange as that is nothing that is ever used as a conversation topic among people here. Anyway, I know that this can seem like a harmless question to ask what you’re proud of regarding your country, but here’s a little heads-up about cultural tactfulness
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