What’s in a name. (A lot, apparently).

(As always the tl;dr is at the bottom!)

There are many things about German museums that are different from USA museums. Most German museums are staffed with people who have a PhD, making it extremely hard to work in a museum without one. Another difference is that almost all the museums in Germany are public institutions; the reverse is true in the US, where most museums are owned by private foundations.

The German and American cultures are often very similar. The differences are subtle, and often catch me unaware. The culture clash that got me the worst was simple and appeared out of nowhere: the difference between addressing someone as a professor or as a doctor when talking.

In Germany, the title “professor” is a lot higher than the title of doctor, something I didn’t realize. Each faculty (math, inorganic chemistry, geology) will only have one professor; all the other teachers go by doctor (or another title commiserate with their diploma). It is an insult to call someone a doctor when they are the professor of the faculty.

This is the opposite in the USA, where giving someone the title “Doctor” is the best you can do. You can be a professor in the US without a PhD; many people are professors with a Master’s degree. I also feel that there isn’t as much problem switching between the two. I have had professors with PhDs who went by the title doctor and professors who had PhDs who were just fine with being called professor.

Martin Luther was a professor of theology, having his doctorate in theology. I have no idea what I would call him. This was painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder.
Martin Luther was a professor of theology, and had his doctorate. But was he a professor in the American sense or the German sense? I have no idea what I would call him.
(Painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder; PD-1923)

A third difference between Germany and the USA: Germany had a nobility, and we in America really didn’t. I mean, you could probably make an argument that there was some sort of nobility at the beginning, but I know of no dukes, duchesses, or earls in modern day America. This brings us to the history!

The reasons for these differences is historical (both of these were told to me second hand, so if you know something I don’t, please tell me!). In Germany, anyone with enough money could buy a “doctor” title. This made the title of doctor common and didn’t hold a lot of weight. Because Germany had a nobility, they decided to create the Professor title, which was a title of nobility and could only be bestowed by.. someone (I figure it was someone responsible for that type of thing, or it wouldn’t be a nobility thing).

In the US, we didn’t have a nobility, so maybe that’s why we can switch the two? A slightly unrelated story: both PhDs and MDs are called Doctors, but it used to be that PhDs were considered a higher form of doctor. MDs were considered butchers, and PhDs had had to do original research.

This is a terrifying picture of medieval dentistry. So I can understand the butchers thing...
This is a terrifying picture of medieval dentistry. So I can understand the butchers thing…

I find this type of history fascinating, especially when it brings to light a cultural difference I was not aware of.

tl;dr: The Germans consider the title of Professor higher than the title of Doctor. This has led to some interesting cultural issues that I was unaware of. It’s a historical thing having to do with nobility.

Thanks for reading, be kind to each other, and see you next time!

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