Brief Encounter: July/August 2007

With near native-speaker proficiency in German have come revealing and sometimes unflattering insights into how Austrians (and Germans) think and behave.

But when I recently saw a headline in the Austrian media referring to brutally offensive behavior of Austrian soccer fans directed at their own captain, Andreas Ivanschitz. I made an instinctive interpretation of the situation that was far off the mark and uncomfortably instructive.

“Judasschitz raus aus Hütteldorf” (“Judasschitz get out of Hütteldorf.”) was written in capital letters on a huge banner, held up to all in the stadium and by international media to see. My swift — and I admit somewhat gloating — assumption was that this was a scandal of infinite proportions: an overt and very public expression of Austrian anti-Semitism. “Juda” I had decided, was a variant of the ethnic slur “Jud,” the German equivalent of “kyke” or “yid.”

That was until my daughter, who is a true native speaker of Austrian German and wise to the ways of her countrymen, pointed out to me the profound difference between “Jud” and “Judas” – i.e. a reference to Judas Iscariot. The Austrian fans were venting their (nonetheless ugly) fury because the captain had recently betrayed them by accepting a lucrative offer from a foreign competitor, the Greek Panathinaikos team.

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