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.
One of the things that German- speakers
worry about: the future, as portrayed in Fritz Lang
’s classic German sci-fi film Metropolis
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.
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Book excerpt ©1999 McGraw-Hill/Passport Books