Guide for Refugees in Germany Mocked as How Not to Instruct Foreigners

A screenshot from a pamphlet offering hints about German culture to refugees.

Faced with the task of integrating hundreds of thousands of newcomers into German society, government agencies, private foundations and the state broadcast network have all been looking for ways to explain the country’s history and traditions to refugees in easily understandable public information campaigns.


Those efforts have included: a new guidebook to the country aimed at the small number of refugees who already speak German; a shorter pamphlet available in 13 other languages; a phone app with versions in Arabic, Persian and French; a video podcast series featuring helpful hints in English from a young journalist born in Munich to parents who fled the Vietnam War; and, perhaps least successfully, an attempt to instruct the newcomers in proper behavior in the form of a 14-panel cartoon similar to an airplane safety information card.

The cartoon guide to “Germany and Its People,” posted online in October by the Bavarian arm of the public broadcaster, Bayerischer Rundfunk, baffled, amused and offended foreign journalists and commentators this week when it entered the online debate over the refugee crisis.

Looking at the part of the guide instructing foreigners not to grope women, beat their children or harass homosexual couples, Jenan Moussa, a reporter based in Dubai, observed that it was difficult to know whether to laugh or cry.

That the guide included a panel discouraging the physical abuse of women was taken by some as a response to the spate of attacks on women in Germany on New Year’s Eve, but in fact it was posted online three months before those assaults.

Despite the serious nature of those crimes, the apparent absurdity of using simple line drawings to try to stamp out offensive behavior by Middle Easterners in Europe inspired one online satirist, the Lebanese-British architect Karl Sharro, to produce his own guide for Western behavior to be avoided in the Middle East.

Mr. Sharro’s illustrations suggested that the West should avoid conducting airstrikes, invading Iraq, furnishing repressive regimes with tear gas and deadly weapons, overlooking the jailing of dissidents and cozying up to autocrats like President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt.

Though Bayerischer Rundfunk’s cartoon guide has attracted this sort of ridicule on social networks, the broadcaster was also involved in the development of the far more sophisticated new app, Ankommen (meaning “arrival” in German), and produced the clear and respectful “Guide for Refugees” video series anchored by Henry Lai, a German reporter of Vietnamese ancestry.

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