Even for people coming from neighboring countries, moving to Germany involves making some cultural adjustments, and one of the main ones involves name-titles: Germans love them! They include them in their passports, for example; they even include them in raised-letters on their credit cards. Put another way: if your German counterpart has earned one (e.g. Prof., Dr.) you better be darned sure that you use it when addressing that person orally or in writing (until you get close enough to address him/her with “Du,” if ever) – and in writing, for the case of the particularly active academic, you are expected to keep track of them all (e.g. “Dear Herr Prof. Dr. Dr. Schmidt!”).
However, there are inklings that things might be about to change:
What this is about is that Germany’s Green Party has submitted to the Bundestag a proposed law that would would ban the “Dr.” title from official documents such as the passport and ID card.
Why this now? Well, the “Dr.” title has lost a bit of its luster in Germany lately due to a widely-publicized string of plagiarism scandals. First there was Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a politician of Angela Merkel’s coalition partner, the CSU, and at one time German Economics Minister (2009) and then Defense Minister (2009-2011). But then someone discovered that he had committed widespread plagiarism in writing his doctoral thesis, and soon he was out of government.
(Hey, this guy’s full name is Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg – the “zu” alone tells you he comes from a noble family. So why did he feel he needed to insist upon adding to all that with a “Dr.” in the first place?!)
That was swiftly followed by more cases of plagiarism in high places. These involved two MEPs from Germany’s Free Democratic (FDP) Party, Jorgo Chatzimarkakis (yes, of Greek descent) and Esther Silvana Koch-Mehrin. Both had their doctorates withdrawn; both, however, remain MEPs. When the same plague arrived last year at the doorstep of no less than the Federal Education Minister(!), Annette Schavan, she did – eventually – resign her position.
You could say, then, that “Dr.” is not really all that it used to be, even in Germany. Thus the Green Party initiative, but the article goes on to point out that no less an Establishment figure than current Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble suggested the same thing back in 2007, to no success.