Tweeting for Germany: What I Learned
by James Glazebrook
Nice huh (the beard)? Anyway, here’s what the experience taught me:
1. I love “meeting” new people
That’s why I fell in love with social media in the first place. Because not only are networks like Twitter a great shortcut to finding people with similar interests, no matter where in the world they are, but also because you end up speaking to people with different beliefs, ideas and perspectives. My new followers welcomed me to the rotation, asked me a couple of polite questions, then immediately started grilling me about the “expat backlash” debate that’s engulfed our deceptively silly “You Know You’re A Berliner When…” post.
2. I missed my Tweeps
Even though I kept my eye on the @uberlinblog timeline, I felt myself torn between two communities: one that I’d built up from scratch, including friends and family, and people I’m nearly as close to but have never met in real life, to one populated by complete strangers. I feel like I missed out on a lot of content, conversations and chuckles by not being “always on” …it was pure luck that I was watching when @iamkosmonaut tweeted the riveting story of his family’s experience of the reunification of Germany:
3. People need reasons to follow, share and reply
People like puppies and people love Olive, but people REALLY loved it when I took her for a walk on Tempelhofer Park. It seems simple, but a few smartphone photos showcased a uniquely Berlin space, whose very existence speaks volumes about the city.
But the best thing I did was go on a Context Travel tour of Berlin (full review to follow), which gave me another excuse to post photos of historical sites, as well as passing off the guide’s expertise as my own Just as the tour showed me things I’d previously overlooked, live-tweeting it allowed me to share my discoveries with a new audience.
4. I’m really good at Twitter!
Never mind #FollowFridays, I was getting Follow Monday and Tuesdays! At the risk of sounding arrogant (too late?), it’s only because I kept the above rule in mind that (most) people seemed to like me. Seven days isn’t long to establish who you are, strike the right tone and fight fires when you don’t (see below) – so you need to know what you’re doing, and dedicate enough time to do it right.
5. Outside of Berlin, *trying* to communicate in German doesn’t count for shit
Almost every time I tried to tweet in German, someone would correct me. I’m not complaining (I am), because I know that I need constant correction if my Deutsch is ever going to improve. But after a while I started to feel like German speakers in Berlin have been humouring me, like on 30 Rock when Jon Hamm plays a doctor so handsome that no one dares tell him he’s terrible at everything (including the Heimlich Manoeuvre). Ignore the fact that I just compared myself to Jon Hamm and consider the possibility that your German is nowhere near as good as you think, but no one’s bothering to tell you.
In my case, this results in stupid shit like this:
6. Some people can’t take a joke
If you follow @uberlinblog, you’re probably used to me saying things I don’t really mean in order to get a laugh. Or, “joking”. I think Twitter would be a boring space without funny people saying funny things, but last week reminded me that some have signed up for other, more factual, reasons – and that not all of them share my sense of humour.
Bizarrely, it wasn’t my crass insensitivity (on the eve of German Unity Day) that offended, but my use of the word “own”. Two people pulled me up on this semantic issue: “I think both parties would quarrel with the notion of “own” on that!”; “More occupied than “owned”. Owned is a horrible imperialistic concept. Know you were joking, but words matter.”
Those guys may have been humourless, but at least they were right. Unlike the chode who objected to this:
After being accused of providing a “piss poor representation of Germany” by someone who felt “it might be no harm if you gained a bit of a broader perspective on Berlin cuisine”, one kind soul rushed to my aid, pointing out the Food & Drink section of this blog, which has already led her to a “superb dinner” at Pantry.
7. Some people take “I am Germany” literally
At times it was surreal talking about being an expat in Berlin, learning the language and trying to integrate, while at the same time being criticised for not speaking, or being, German. When this all came to a head, with the suggestion that native English speakers are over-represented on @I_amGermany, organiser @katbitemusic dispelled this notion…
…but she shouldn’t have had to. The whole point of I am Germany is that “a single voice cannot represent a country”; I’d go further and argue that no collection of individual voices, no matter how numerous, can represent a whole country. Rotation curation shouldn’t be subject to quotas or any selection criteria other than each applicant’s merits as a tweeter. And each new voice should challenge, rather than conform to, followers’ perceptions of a particular country, region, city or group of the population.