German titles, or what’s *really* in a name

When we moved to our second apartment in Bielefeld, our über-prepared landlord had, well, über-prepared by putting both of our last names on the doorbell. And then some. The doorbell read: MyLastName/Dr. HisLastName.

This isn’t incorrect – he does have a Ph.D., and I do not. But it’s not especially relevant to receiving the mail. And since I am a member of a Trailing Spouses group that discusses issues such as personal identity, marginalization, and the relative difficulty in finding a job or developing your own social life when you move to another country for your significant other’s work, you can imagine how this made me feel.

It made me feel angry-pants. Very angry-pants.

I, with my mere master’s degree, should not have been quite so angry-pants, after all. After all, I’m lucky if I can keep from drooling on myself during the day, trapped as I am amongst the other half-wits in the lower echelons of society. I lead a simple life of blissful ignorance, with my graduate-but-not-quite-graduate-enough education, so what exactly did I have to be pissed about?

Emotionally drained from the move, I demanded that my husband ask him to take “Dr.” off of the door. After a while, he calmed me down and brought me to realize that throwing a shit fit over something that Germans perceive as normal* was not going to put us off on the right foot with this guy. And indeed, titles and honors are the name of the game when in Germany.

Men – mere men – are referred to as Herr (Mr.). However, professors are Herr Professor X (Mr. Professor). Doctors are Herr Dr. Med. X (Mr. Doctor Doctor). I realized after visiting a surgeon that one of the doctors at the practice was Prof. Dr. Med. X, which I suppose designates a teaching position at a university. Another title that we had to look up was Priv.-Dozent Dr. Med. X. If I remember right, this is some kind of specialized, and yet not technically professorial, position at a university. I’m not going to look it up again, because it took forever to find and was horrifically boring to read about and define. So just take my word for it. There are further designations for veterinarians, dentists and other specialists.

Additionally, if you have two doctorates, leveling you up to the boss’ chamber of German society faster than Mario collecting all of his stars, you’re referred to as Dr. Dr. on top of everything else. I, of course, would be tempted to sing it. And three doctorates (seriously) is DDDr.

And if you don’t have a specialized title? I guess it at least makes it that much easier for them to call your name in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.

*That doesn’t mean you can’t find a reason to do this. Every day, if necessary. I recommend it!

7 responses to “German titles, or what’s *really* in a name

  1. The Austrians are even worse… they actually do receive mail addressed to their full title… and they put alllllll their titles in their passports.

    • I have heard that about Austria! Man, as though speaking German and meeting new people weren’t tough enough, there has to be this added level of social complexity to the whole thing 🙂

  2. The Italians are the same, Mrs Sensible bumped into one of her old teachers and addressed him by Maestro (teacher) He corrected her with professore!! Because he taught at a senior school.

    When a neighbour or local shop keeper greets Mrs Sensible they use the title Maestra, until she gives them permission to call her by her given name.

    Your post cheered up, a windy rainy day in Italy 🙂

    • Glad to cheer you up! Funny that there is the same mentality in Italy – though I guess it’s the case in many cultures that at least some people expect to be addressed by a specific title (it can be in the U.S., at least).

  3. I notice in China, with state owned companies titles matter a lot and must be used. The one I hear the most is “director” Director and then the last name. Multinationals aren’t so formal in speaking, but your title on your business card still matters a lot. Interesting point of view!

  4. Yeesh. “Angry pants” sounds like part of the traditional German dress. That would explain why they insist on spending so much time in climes where shorts are de rigueur. Robert Plant’s a good call, but “doctor, doctor” got me thinking of this old chestnut.

    • Love it! Have not seen this movie, but that clip is even way more appropriate than Robert Plant! Und sehr deutsch.

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