Ten years ago, when I arrived in Germany, I used to watch all my films dubbed in German. It never even occurred to me that it was a bad thing to do. I don't know why. I don't know what was wrong with me, to be honest.
“Have you seen that film with Björk where she's in a factory, going blind?” my friend Lilly asked me once.
“Is it good?”
“I'm not sure.”
“You're not sure?”
“I'm not quite sure what happened. I'm not quite sure why she went blind. I think it was a good film, though. The songs were good.”
“You're not sure why she went blind? What happened, you fell asleep or something?”
“Well, I saw the German version.”
“You saw the German version?”
“What, on the telly?”
“Not at the cinema?”
Lilly looked at me in scorn and disbelief and stuff like that and I looked back at her, blankly.
“Yeah,” I said.
“You paid money to go and watch it in German?”
I shrugged. “Well, they don't have films on in English at that cinema round the corner to me. So I had to watch it in German, didn't I?”
My friend looked at me. The scorn and disbelief left her face and were replaced by a look of what can only be described as pure horror.
“But didn't it bother you?”
And that's the weird thing. Four, five, maybe six years of my time in Germany and it really DIDN'T bother me.
I watched Die Hard in German, and Erin Brockovich and The Truman Show and Pulp Fiction. I watched Fight Club – twice – I thought Brad Pitt was a ghost. I was most perplexed, to be honest. I even went to the cinema and watched Love Actually in German. I watched Bridget Jones in German. I watched.....I watched films dubbed in German.
That's what I did. I admit it. I watched films dubbed in German. That's what I did, for years and years and years. I was in Germany, and I just accepted it. I mean, I did find them hard to understand, and I could always kind of tell that the black actors were being played by fat, middle-class, middle-aged Bavarians but it didn't bother-me bother me. I think I said once, to my German friend Jana, that Clueless didn't work dubbed in German. But apart from that: synchronized speaking was a part of my life. It was something I accepted, as inevitable as war and breakfast.
So, I met a woman recently, whose job it is to translate films so they can be dubbed into German. She says she has the only job in the world where, when you tell people what you do for a living at a party, they respond with: “Oh, wow. Because I HATE dubbed films!” Nobody ever does that to gardeners or nursery school teachers or doctors or scientists. Well, maybe the reaction she gets is on a par with scientists who squirt baby monkeys' eyes full of acid or something.
When I told my friend Lilly about the woman I'd met, she nodded wisely and said: “Well, I mean it is rape, what they're doing.” The tiniest pause for breath. “That's why people react in such an emotional way. They are basically raping the film. It is a really barbaric thing to do.”
“Oh, come on,” I said. “What if you can't speak English? Is it really that much worse than having half the screen filled up with text?”
Lilly looked at me, her eyes wild with anger. “Jacinta,” she said, viciously. “So much of acting is through your voice.”
I bit my lip. I knew she was right, really. And a lot of those dub-stars are really appalling actors, too.
“Yeah,” I said.
“And we never do it in English-speaking countries! We never dub any films from France or Germany or Italy or anywhere....”
“Yeah, but we only watch, like, one foreign movie a month,” I said. “If we were watching 90% of our films with sub-titles, we'd probably start dubbing, too. We dub porn, don't we?”
Lilly looked a bit shocked.
“Do we?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “All that porn from Spain...” Suddenly I trailed off. Just because your friend Jamie's dad had 17 dubbed Spanish porno movies hidden in his garage, doesn't make that a thing you do, Jacinta, I said to myself sternly.
You know what? Even though now I would never ever pay to watch a film dubbed in German – I don't know what happened, I don't know what changed, I don't know what happened to make me see the light, but, to be honest, nowadays although I'm not the biggest dubbing snob alive, I always watch films in the original, and preferably, if you please, without subtitles – to be honest, I still can't truly regret my secret Synchron past. Because I think I'd never have learned German without it. I really wouldn't have.
“I would never have learned German if I hadn't watched all those movies dubbed into German,” I said to an American friend recently. He answered, with all the breathtaking – almost beautiful, really – arrogance of his country: “And just imagine how good their English would be now if they were watching all their movies in the original!”
I just grinned; I knew when I'd been beaten. But I do feel sorry for all the dubbing snobs who arrive in this country. You poor bastards. If you want to learn the language, you have to struggle through Das Weiße Band and stuff. God, I feel for you. Because watching German films in the original – now that is seriously anstrengend.