Germans love long words. We have an easy way to create them by stitching several nouns together. A Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän works as a captain for the Danube steamship company. Though this word isn´t used much any more (when did you see your last steamship?) the spirit of it prevails. Especially as it is a title. Nobody admits this any more as democratic Germany yearns to be as relaxed as the Americans, but titles still count.
There are the professional titles like Doktor or Professor. Once you gained them you never loose them.They stick to you like a chewing gum to your shoe. There even is a law saying that those title are part of the name. Anyone who got his or her PhD can insist to be adressed Doktor or Professor.
This would never happen in Germany today. Nevertheless, in their heart, a lot of Doktors and Professors like to be adressed as such. The use or omission of the title serves as a subtle definition of the hierachical relationship assumed: if the partner without the title needs the goodwill of the other, he says Herr Doktor or Frau Professor.
Titles can run wild. In the course of a successfull career, they grow in length and weight. A very honourable man can become Professor Doktor Doktor Doktor XYZ.
His wife used to be Frau Professor Doktor Doktor Doktor. Or even better: Frau Direktor, which means that her husband is a sucessfull businessman rather than a genius in academia.
Recently, I enjoyed a DVD-session with my son. We watched the first German soap opera, the story of work and love at a little family run printshop somewhere in Hessen, called the Firma Hesselbach. A lot of jokes based on the vain attempts of the owners wife, Frau Hesselbach, to be respected as Frau Direktor. “Ei Karl”, she would say when something went not her way “schließlich bin ich eine Frau Direktor“.
Alas, those time are long gone. Therefore, I´m bare of titles. My own doesn´t count any more: Diplomingenieur. It mean that I studied engineering at university and I still need it to get the right jobs, but nobody would adress me this way. Nobody but the Austrians: If you enjoy to hear a Herr Kandidat, Herr Assessor or Frau Ingenieur, cross the border and you will be in heaven.
The lean managment policies of the last decades killed a lot of stratum titles in companies. While I still remember the Hauptgeschäftsführer, i.e. the main CEO, as compared to the normal CEO, the chance to get a prestigious title at work are dwindling. Luckily, there are millions af associations in Germany, and all of them need a president. While Andy Warhol promised 15 minutes of fame to everybody, in Germany we have the guarantee of a presidency at least once in a lifetime.
At the moment, I´m Schulelternbeiratsvorsitzende, president of the parents association at school. This job runs out in summer. Then I will have to look for a new presidency–or create my own. In Germany, you need only three people to found a Verein, an association. ‘If we can convince our husbands to join, Francesca and I will be the founding mothers of the “Verein zur Förderung der interkulturellen Weblogs”, the association for the promotion of intercultural weblogs.
In our first constitutional meeting we would stipulate that there shall be two presidents. The husbands can call themselves Stellvertretende Präsidenten, vice-presidents.
Unfortunately, we can´t make these titles hereditary, as in Truegerman, Präsidentin von und zu Lettersfromgermay.
But this is another story.