The BBC series Sherlock has been an international success – in Germany too. But broadcasting in Germany naturally means broadcasting in German and so the dubbing began.
Germany is famous – or rather infamous? – for the dubbing of foreign language films and series, though especially younger, internet-savvy and thus internationally connected Germans turn up their noses at the practice and pride themselves on consuming at least the English-speaking media in its original form.
The German dub of Sherlock soon became known in online fandom circles as “Siezlock” as people picked up on the obvious issue of the choice of the second person pronoun. Although the English are known to be awkward in most social matters, the question of which pronoun to use for addressing someone has been eliminated in most dialects. In a modern English storyline, “Please, say ‘thou’ to me” is only imaginable as a satire of the crucial point in the development of a relationship between Germans. Still, we Germans need such a point or else we will be left with the same dilemma that ARD was confronted with: How close can two people get and still address each other with “Sie”? In the case of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson it takes several years of living together and multiple occasions of saving each other’s lives before they reach the point of becoming best friends when finally the “d-word” is dropped.
A daring fan wrote to ARD and asked why Sherlock and John were still addressing each other formally after already having been written and drawn into a relationship in fans’ works for years. ARD’s answer – “rest assured that the ‘Sie’ was chosen to underline the ‘Britishness’ of the two characters” – provoked a colourful response expressing the utter bewilderment of how the use of “Sie” was typically British if social distance was not even coded in the second person personal pronouns.
When I asked my mother about her take on the dub’s insistence on the “Sie” she did not understand what the fuss was all about, it did not seem odd to her. What seems most unusual to me is that the Germans apparently have a need for institutionalised social distance while the private-minded English do not and then are convinced to know them better than they do themselves.
Tamara L. Nehls