Is “Ami” an Insult?

by PapaScott on 16 November 2007

At American im Odenwald Martina wonders why an American in Germany would name a blog AmiExpat. Isn’t “Ami” an insulting term for Americans?

I’ve never felt insulted by the term Ami, and said so in her comments. Germans are always coming up with funny shortened names for things, like Wessi, Ossi, Sozi, Fundi. Such terms are more for bar talk than everyday speech, but I’ve never seen any harm in them. The split in the comments seemed to be 50-50, though, between those who felt uncomfortable with the term and those who did not.

I’m curious about it, though, so I’ll ask me readers here. Is “Ami” a harmless term, or have I been being insulted all these years?

(On the other hand, I don’t like the term “US-amerikanisch” to describe my nationality or my language. It’d be like referring to “European Germans”.)

Cem November 16, 2007 at 21:36

Maybe the 50+ feel uncomfortable with it. Maybe it recalls “Ami go home” as in the student movement of 1968 in Germany and Europe.

Nate November 17, 2007 at 01:27

Ich bin ein Ami und stolz darauf!!

DaveP November 17, 2007 at 03:54

I never felt insulted by it when I was in Austria.

Lee November 17, 2007 at 05:31

I’ve NEVER heard this. NOW I am “insulted.” LOLOL Truly when I started reading the entry I was thinking FRIEND, as in French!

Observer November 17, 2007 at 14:28

I think it really depends on the context in which “Ami” is used. It is a slur when somebody says “Ami go home” (which a few years ago was a somewhat common phrase among certain people). But when somebody simply refers to you as an Ami, like “Er ist ein Ami”, it is usually not meant to have any anti-American connotations. An expression that is also heard often is “Ami-Schlitten” for (usually large and/or vintage) American cars. Again, not necessarily expressing anti-American sentiment.

The reason why we sometimes refer to a citizen of the United States as a “US-Amerikaner” is that unlike many people in the U.S. who simply call their home country America, to most people here, (North) America consists of both the U.S. and Canada. Interestingly though, a person from, say, Brazil, is never referred to as an American, hardly ever as a South American, but as a Brazilian.

PapaScott November 17, 2007 at 15:06

@Observer: Doesn’t Mexico belong to North America? And the Central American countries as well?

“US-Amerikaner” is accepted German usage, and I’m not going to beat my head against the wall by arguing that the distinction is unnecessary and pendantic. But it’s a distinction that’s not made by residents of the Americas (note the term I used).

Of course there are always exceptions that prove the rule. I’m not sure whether “Native Americans” include all indigenous peoples of the Americas or not. And the “Copa América” is a soccer tournament put on by CONMEBOL only for South American countries (although a couple teams from CONCACAF are usually invited to participate).

Observer November 17, 2007 at 15:20

yes Scott you are right… I am not saying the distinction between Americans and US-Americans really makes sense… it just appears to be one of the quirks of German language usage. Technically, somebody from Chile or Ecuador should just as much be referred to as an American, going by

Observer November 17, 2007 at 15:21

yes Scott you are right… I am not saying our distinction between Americans and US-Americans really makes sense… it just appears to be one of the quirks of German language usage. Technically, somebody from Chile or Ecuador should just as much be referred to as American, going by that pseudo-rule…

But as you know, language does not always make sense, it is just the way people talk ;-)

Christina G November 17, 2007 at 23:08

I’m the Amiexpat blogger and have to agree with you Scott. I personally always found the term US-Amerikaner a little insulting. I’m Asian-American and if I just say I’m an “Amerikanerin”, Germans almost always answer something like , “But where in the Americas are you from?” or “No, I mean which country are you from?” Argh. Now I just say I’m “US-Amerikanerin.”

I’m also under 50, and only remembered the whole “Ami go home” thing after you mentioned it. I thought, oh yeah, I read about that in history class in high school. So maybe Cem has a point with the age thing too.

Lars Strojny November 18, 2007 at 13:40

I always feel like “Ami” is an insult. Not in the way, that everyone using it intends to insult, but to prove a certain amount of “feeling better” (one could say being ignorant). It’s a bit like garlic for turkish immigrants.
US-american refers to the nationality, not to the parentage. This is a big step forward for germans who were used to refer to parentage only :-) So please be gracious with them (at least in this case).

PapaScott November 18, 2007 at 14:21

@Lars I’m a bit confused what nationality vs. parentage has to do with it. I’m a 4th generation immigrant, American is both my nationality and my parentage.

The point is the “US-” is unnecessary and redundant, since noone outside the US refers to themselves as “American”.

cliff1976 November 18, 2007 at 16:13

@Lars I’m a bit confused what nationality vs. parentage has to do with it.

Hi there PapaScott, I followed the link from Christina G’s post.

It would seem to me that “nationality vs. parentage” is a tricky concept for lots of people from outside the U.S. that I interact with here in Germany.

I’m equal parts German, Italian, Slovak (all at the great-grandfather-level) and the remaining quarter goes back to Mayflower-era immigration from the British Isles. I live in Bavaria and can sometimes “pass” for German (but not Bavarian) as long as my first name doesn’t come up in conversation — my last name is German (but definitely Northern-sounding), so it helps camouflage me. But I can see where Germans get bogged down in topics like these. I have friends whose grandfathers were mayors of East Prussian towns up until WWII, and rather than taking a crash-course in Russian, they fled to Frankonia in the mid-forties. Does that make them Polish? No, of course not — in their eyes. They were German then, and still German now, no matter what today’s political boundaries look like. Only the Bavarians and they themselves could get away with labeling them as Prussians. :-)

Recently I was talking at work about a colleague of mine who manages a sister department to ours in Romania. This guy is a native speaker of German, has lived in Germany for 31 of his 33 years (having spent the last two in Romania), gets to vote in the elections and is a German citizen. But his parents were Gastarbeiter from Turkey. I told the Germans in the discussion, “I know the manager over there. He’s a German guy transplanted from our Regensburg office; let’s just call him, and we can straighten it all out.” When I told them his name (a decidely turkish-sounding name), their eyes bugged out and they said, “Oh, er hat einen deutschen PASS!” and they chuckled.

I was all “reicht das nicht aus?” in my head, but I kept that to myself.

For me personally, nationality vs. parentage is a non-issue. But my uncles, when my American of mostly Irish-and-Croatian heritage wife first visited my grandfather’s eldest sister’s house in upstate New York, said “We’ll make an Italian outta you yet!” when helping herself to a piece of tomato pie. So I can see that it’s still a pride point for some segments of my family.

My wife and I have decided to side-step the whole “Amerikaner” vs. “US-Amerikaner” issue by saying “wir kommen aus den USA” or “aus den Vereinigten Staaten.” That seems to clarify it for them without us having to split the hairs of North American, Western Hemisphere, USA-Passport-holders, etc.

Maybe the bottom line, especially for U.S. citizens living abroad who don’t match Germans’ expectations for what “we” look like, is that Germans often focus on Abstammung when they ask us “Wo kommst du her?” and we sometimes feel insulted and ready to whip out a passport to “prove” our Staatsangehörigkeitwhen a German does a double-take. No American I know likes to have his national identity questioned — for many of us, them’s fightin’ words, or at least they were for our grandfathers.

rositta November 18, 2007 at 17:42

I too arrived here via Christina G’s post. Me thinks people have a bit too much time on their hands…I can’t even count the number of times I have been called a Kraut here in Canada over the years, I just shrug it off. When I was recently in Germany it was hilarious to watch them figure out where I’m from. Needless to say after 50 years away my German is not accent free any more. Both my cousins married Ami’s in the 60′s and still joke about it. I grew up blocks from the Ami base in Wiesbaden and don’t remember any negative. In fact we looked forward to getting groceries from the Ami’s that kept our family going. Take it all with a grain of salt guys…ciao

PapaScott November 18, 2007 at 18:40

@rositta: Of course we have too much time on our hands, otherwise we wouldn’t be writing in weblogs! :-)

Lisa November 25, 2007 at 17:58

@ Cliff: You have a good point there. Americans concentrate on the concept of nationality and not really parentage. I suppose it has to do with the American heritage and the fact that the majority of Americans have “foreign” heritage. Germans and other Europeans tend to focus on parentage. It changes the viewpoint drastically.

Curious December 17, 2007 at 18:08

I was looking up another word that I’ve heard here in Germany… I’m probably going to spell it wrong, but here goes. “Kotler”

I’ve asked a few friends about it and they said that it’s an old word that’s derogatory towards Americans, but no one seems to know the history of the word.

I’ve only heard it a few times in the Pfalz area, where I live. Has anyone else heard of this, or have any history about it?

Thanks

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