Don’t Fräulein me!

mdchen und bursche auf feldweg laufend I

Recently, I watched Season 5 of Homeland. (In British English, it used to be “Series 5” – and while people still say this, the American version of Staffel is slowly taking over.) This latest series of Homeland (and in my personal view best one yet) being based in Berlin, I was flummoxed by a few rather striking blunders. Here’s what Homeland doesn’t get quite right about Germany. (Spoiler alert!)

  1. We don’t use Fräulein At all.

Contrary to what American film and TV productions would like the world to think – because it sounds so neat and German or for whatever other reason – in the German language we no longer distinguish between a married and an unmarried woman. Since the 1980s, we have been using “Frau” to address any female person over 16 years of age. (For more details, please read “You can say you to me”.) No exceptions. Fräulein, which Carrie uses referring to her daughter’s teacher, sounds very wrong!

  1. Doctor-patient privilege applies to gunshot wounds as well.

Interestingly, in the extras on the Homeland DVD (yes, my name is Sarah and I’m not a digital native, and I still watch DVDs – Hello Sarah!) the producers say they chose Germany as a setting for their plot specifically for its strict privacy laws. Yet they ignore one of the central privacy laws in Germany which says that it is not only not obligatory but even prosecutable for a doctor to report a gunshot wound. So it is simply unthinkable that a former intelligence officer (Peter Quinn) who knows any country he is in like the back of his hand would refuse medical treatment in Germany if he is shot.

  1. The BND does not have its own police force.

Unlike the CIA, the German intelligence service BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst) has no police force of its own. The national police forces are the Bundespolizei (Federal Police), the Bundeskriminalamt (the Federal Criminal Police Office, where I happen to have worked as a translator at the beginning of my career) and the Polizei beim Bundestag (German Parliament Police).

  1. German legal proceedings do not include video-taping or depositions.

As an interpreter working in patent law, I found this slip quite interesting, especially as I often interpret during depositions, even depositions held on German soil – but they are never part of German proceedings. Also, at no point during German legal proceedings are testimonies or any kinds of statements recorded live, ie on audio or audiovisual media (with possible exceptions when children are heard as witnesses). Usually, we do not even have word-for-word transcripts – these can only be requested in court as an exception.

So despite the fact that the Homeland crew apparently gets high-ranking (former) intelligence-service experts to sit around a table to bounce ideas off them while not thinking to find a person who has lived in Germany in the past decade to double-check basic facts that, if got right, would lend the programme more credence (thanks for staying tuned to the end of this monster subclause) I still consider this latest Homeland series the most exquisite one yet. The plot is just so well-written and the characters are superbly played. Turn a blind eye to some basics, and you will have a nail-biting ball!

More food for series junkies coming soon …

The Pommes Buddha says: No, we don’t all wear lederhosen, thank you very much!

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