What Americans notice about Germans…(part 4 of 4)

Here is the final segment of what Americans notice about Germans, which was first published in die Zeit in 2002: Was Amerikanern an Deutschen auffällt,  oder Fünfzig Wege die Amerikaner gewinnen den Deutschen Aufmerksamkeit (50 ways the Americans attract Germans attention). You can read part 1 here (numbers 1 – 10) and part 2 here (numbers 11 – 26), and part 3 here (numbers 27 – 33).

34. Germans even eat pizza(s) with a knife and fork/cutlery [BrE]/silverware [AmE].

What, we can’t all be New Yorkers now can we? Who cares.

35. German women do not shave their armpits or their legs.

I have written before about my original stereotypes of ‘Europeans’ and how I have come to realize that they are really just stereotypes of the French superimposed on the rest of the continent. I think this idea that German women don’t shave their armpits or legs is an extension of this as every German I know shaves. Sorry folks.

36. The Germans have a relaxed attitude about/to their bodies and (to) all bodily functions.

I’d have to say this seems generally true, is that bad? Perhaps to American’s puritanical roots. However, if you are so inclined, even Adam and Even were naked really in the Garden of Eden. They really didn’t naturally have leaves covering their ‘private’ parts. The simple fact that there seems to be more of an aversion to violence rather than nudity I think speaks volumes about the society, whereas in America children are desensitized to war, death and violence but a pair of breasts, a booty or penis is highly provocative. Is it any wonder Americans are killing themselves and so many of their teens are pregnant? In other words, this speaks more about the company uttering the statement rather than who the statement is about.

37. German men pee/wee in/on the street.

I am really becoming rather disappointed in this list. I feel that the Americans surveyed were potentially asked to  come up with fifty points and began to struggle after thirty-five.  American men pee in the street too, or where the Americans who were surveyed previously living under a rock?

38. Germans enjoy being naked on a regular basis/, and often/frequently / Germans are often, and like/enjoy, being naked: in the park/at the beach, in the sauna…everywhere.

See number 36 above please.

39. Just having to decide between whether to use informal you du or formal you Sie kills any and all spontaneity firmly in the bud.

This seems to be a big deal here actually because there are some strict social boundaries in place.

40. Ticket inspectors on the subway/underground/tube create an atmosphere of mistrust and feelings of guilt. 

Unfortunately, the city I live in doesn’t have an underground and it took me almost a year and a half to see a ticket-checker on my regular bus, which happens to also be frequented by students. I would say there is more guilt, at least that I have seen, for crossing the street against the light rather than not paying for your fare. It also seems like most people, here at least, have some bus pass.

41. They are overrepresented in most tourist areas as the German welfare state offers up undreamt of holiday [BrE]/vacation [AmE]options for going on holiday [BrE]/vacation [AmE].

I traveled to Australia in 2001 and seemed to only meet the Dutch. Now all the university students I meet have either been to Australia or want to go and many of my adult students have children or know children who have gone. I have also heard that Malorca, or the Canary Islands are ever popular with the German tourists. I haven’t been to either place, so I cannot speak to that. I can say that Germans are able to take many vacations a year because they often are legally allowed 35 [PAID] vacation days a year. 35!!! So they will get out of town, gladly. I can’t say this is worse than Americans flooding car-camping sights around the country with their RV’s or, well, ANY American vacation, especially between the months of June and August!

42. German’s are  damn proud of their beer.

I would argue that what they are actually proud of is their “Purity Laws”:

Would-be beer exporters to Germany and environmentalists rebelled for decades against the German beer purity law or
Reinheitsgebot (originally enacted in 1516), which permitted only four ingredients in the beverage: water, hops, barley, and yeast. 
Germans claimed that the law protected public health from harmful additives and public interest from misrepresentative advertising. 
Though officially lifted in 1987 after an EC ruling, the purity law's tradition continues in Germany.  The German beer market
remains a difficult one to enter as those who want to sell German-style, limited ingredient beer may not substitute other
ingredients. [...]
Beer is generally an alcoholic beverage manufactured in five stages requiring malted barley, hops, yeast and water.  The first 
stage involves malting young barley; secondly, the brewer extracts soluble malt with water.  
Next, the brewer boils the malted barley for flavor, creating "wort."  This substance is then fermented with yeast, and finally 
clarified, matured and drawn off to be sold as literally thousands of types of beer.(1)

Some brewers substitute rice, maize, sorghum, or other, most cost-effective raw cereal for barley in the initial stage.  
The German beer purity law, or Reinheitsgebot, allows no such substitutes. Based upon Bavarian custom, an official law 
was first enacted in 1516 then modified in March 1952 (Bundesgesetzblatt, or federal law) and September 1980 (Zollaenderunggesetz, 
or Customs Law Amendment).  It originally exclusively allowed the sale of beer with three ingredients (water, hops, and barley) 
but was later revised to allow yeast.  (Trade & Environmental Database, "TED Case Studies: German Beer Purity Laws", 1997) 

**1. Court of Justice of the European Communities, Reports of Cases before the Court, 1987-3, "Free Movement of Goods: 
Commission v. Germany," 1227-1277, March 12, 1987.

With that said though, it can be challenging to obtain a variety of beers in one region. The locals have a tendency to stick with whichever beer dominates the area. What doesn’t help is that breweries make their customers (restaurants, bars, etc) sign contracts, or so I’ve been told, that state that their beer will be the dominate one and they will not purchase others. I would argue that Portlander’s are perhaps more proud of their beers than Germans are of theirs, based on how often I hear the two groups all boast about it. Of course, this is simply my observation and I do have more history and experience with Portlanders than Germans, three years competing against thirty.

43. Some German’s even drink beer for breakfast.

I see Germans and tourists with ice cream at ten a.m., and I know there is a Bavarian political program, I think called Bier & Brot (bread), or something like that, where German politicians and pundits get together on Sunday morning to talk Deutschpolitik and drink beer. We even buy pretzels, weißbier and weißwurst to make for guests on Sundays ourselves. Never mind it almost guarantees that you will take a nap later if you too follow the same protocol: beer, sausage and pretzel for breakfast. To America’s puritanical roots, this might make Germany seem like a bunch of alcoholics and drunks – it doesn’t, but it is so nice to stereotype everyone for it. Germans are normal people too you know, culturally though they just have a slightly different set of moral customs: nudity is not a big deal at all, especially for women – but general gratuitous violence is. Drinking isn’t the big deal it is in America, potentially partially because it costs a lot of money to learn to drive, to buy and then maintain a car and there are steep penalties for drunk driving are just a few reasons why. Add to this, the youth can legally begin drinking when they are 16-years-old (just wine though). Americans have to wait until they are 21 because in 1984, Congress decided, in an attempt to curb drunk driving accidents and fatalities, that in order for states to receive federal highway funds they would have to raise the drinking age to 21 as all fifty states had different age minimums previously. They all buckled under the pressure.

Oh, one last thing: I’ve only ever seen Americans take the beer into the shower with them in the morning. However, I will admit that these days the only other person I see in the shower is my husband.

44. German only talk to people they already know.

Germans are stereotyped as a very abrupt, punctual and to-the-point. They get down to business quickly. Part of this is admittedly because, all parties involved are speaking English and I have come to learn that one of the biggest hurdles Germans have to get over is their inability to speak English perfectly without error. In German culture, teachers and professionals are experts in their fields and so the society  as a whole seems to expect nothing less. Yes, they understand that if someone in a ‘basic’ (emphasis added, on purpose) trade, that only requires them to finish the German equivalent of high school and then a trade school/academy, their only experience with English may not have been thorough or remember fondly. Thus, situations where one might need to speak English would be diminished or avoided altogether.

I have seen and heard many intercultural communication specialist and other language professionals describe Germans as coconuts and Americans like peaches, meaning Germans are harder to get to know, but once you do so, you will likely be friends for life. Whereas Americans are ‘soft’ and super easy to initially get to know but still keep some things close to their chest, so to speak an it can be ever so challenging to crack their center. Oh God, My Wife is German has a pretty funny and, in my opinion rather accurate account of this idea from both perspectives:

Germans tend not to fawn over strangers or go out of their way to impress them, so don’t expect Frau Säddlebags over there to perform a joyous Slap Dance when you ask her to take your picture […] However, get to know Frau Säddlebags and you would likely find beneath her gruff, coconut exterior lies a soft, sweet center; a combination of generosity and loyalty reserved for true friends and family members. You would also find a disgusting, milky white fluid high in saturated fat. (31.08.2011) [I love this blog, btw!]

Or, in other words as Susanne M. Zaninelli, professional cross-cultural training entrepreneur, explains in the excerpt from her book, “Vier Schritte eines integrativen Trainingsansatzes am Beispiel eines interkulturellen Trainings: Deutschland – U S A”. In: “Materialien zum internationalen Kulturaustausch” Nr. 33 Hrsg.: Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, Stuttgart, 1994 p. 5 – p. 8, revised January 2005 (Please don’t ask me to translate that. Just know it links to the informative PDF that you can download and read yourself. And I recommend that you do so. )

For Germans, the public sphere is relatively small. We are for this reason, compared to Americans, initially rather more reserved when at the stage of getting to know someone. As the ring of the public sphere is thin, we don’t want to reveal too much about ourselves, as breaking the barrier into the private sphere (Trompenaars 1993), or to the central personal area, (Müller/Thomas 1991) can only be achieved after a few or several meetings.
In other words: It is not so easy to crack open a “coconut” and be able to enjoy the sweet milk inside. Once, with a bit of stamina, that has been achieved, however, nothing stands in the way of forming a firm friendship. (cf. the different cultural connotation of the word “friend” in USA and Germany).
In comparison, the public sphere in the American culture is made up of a much broader ring. It is symbolized by the “peach flesh”, surrounding the private area of the smaller peach stone. Compared to “German coconuts” this means that Americans generally have a much larger “public area”.

Another aspect of this that I see in the university students that I often deal with is what we humorously call, the Great Weekly Migration. University students like to go home every weekend, thus traditionally they prefer not to be sitting in class on Thursday or Friday if they can help it. Wednesday afternoons the migration begins, with students rolling large suitcases (of laundry generally) onto the local buses, then onto the trains so they can spend three to four days with their families and their friends, all of whom they’ve known since they first began school. It isn’t uncommon for people to literally be friends for life, living in or near the community they grew up in – or returning to it after they have studied.  This, of course is in stark contrast to the American university experience where freshman leave home, even if they are living/studying in the same metropolitan area that their parents live, commonly moving into either the freshman dorm or shared housing. It is a right of passage that has been immortalized in countless films (we recently watched Real Genius, which is far from Oscar worthy, but clearly shows my point, no matter how dated the example). Some films showcasing this American cultural phenomenon include: Legally Blonde, Old School, Slackers, Revenge of the Nerds…the list is practically endless.

In other words, Germans like to stick with the people they know. It isn’t a bad thing, it is just a cultural thing.

45. German’s only talk with strangers only to admonish them or insult.

I personally have no experience with this, but a friend said once that a complete stranger came up to him as he was picnicking with friends in the park and randomly began to chastise his group for barbequing and ruining the park grass. He wasn’t even barbequing and even if he was, doing so was not yet (and still not) verbotten in the park. I have, however, had (drunk) strangers berate me and whomever I am with (and usually speaking English with) from a distance because they think I am a tourist in my town and that I should go home, back to America.

“Pass auf! Ich verstehe du und wir leben hier, vielen danke!”

Yeah, well that’s what I think, but if anything the most I get out in response is, “Pass auf!”

On the other hand, when I’ve been out with other English speakers in a group, I have found more often than I would like others around us talking negatively about us. If it is a group of Germans doing this, I believe they are naive enough to think we can’t understand them, because we are probably just exchange students or tourists. If it is other English speakers doing this, to them we are those types of Americans or Brits or whatever, because of course whenever a group of individuals from [insert ANY other country here] they don’t get excited, loud and involved in their own conversation – often not realizing exactly how loud they are being. Yeah, I know [insert ANY other country here] is so awesome and [insert ANY other country here] is just so obnoxious, they should never leave home, ever.

46. The Germans think they have a very deep insight into the relations between whites and blacks in the United States.

And Americans seem to think they either know everything about the world and the people inhabiting it (along with what the rest of the world should do to fix itself), or nothing at all because, well, America is the best and so who cares about all those other places and people unless they want to attack us because they want our freedom.

Right?!

German university students really like to talk about America and the Native American experience and the Civil Rights movement, because they seem to believe that we still absolutely, openly persecute and contain any and all Native Americans left. On the other hand, they seem to believe that, especially because our 44th  President of the United States happens to be a Black man that we’ve moved beyond black/white racism entirely. They also seem happily content in the idea that Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks bravely kicked off the Civil Rights Movement with the Montgomery Bus Boycotts in 1955, and ended with the successful passage of both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and unfortunately the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr in 1968 (never mind Malcolm X’s death in 1965) was an unfortunate byproduct of a group that was brought kicking and screaming against their will into the equality of the future.

Never mind the problems people of color (meaning more than just the Blacks: like the Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics, etc) still face today against institutionalized racism or that women face with institutionalized sexism or the double whammy of being a woman of color in the United States!

It is probably akin to Americans thinking they know everything about German culture because it involves Bavarian Oktoberfest, Dirndls & Lederhosen, Bier & Bratwurst and everything they learned about WWII.

47. German’s keep their feelings to themselves.

See number 44 & 45 above.

48. German’s do not know the concept of personal space: the protected airspace around each person.

Here, I will let GINAC from The German Way blog describe their experience, posted to that blog in May 2011 because I pretty much agree:

I’m from Baltimore. I’m an American. As long as I’ve been alive, I’ve been taught that no one, and I mean NO ONE, should touch you without your explicit consent. Even then, it’s still up for a lawsuit. From the time we’re children, we’re raised to understand that we should not talk to or take things from strangers, that we should stop touching our sister, that just about any touch is a ‘bad touch’. We’ve grown up inside a literal and figurative bubble.

Yes, our family members touch us. So do our teachers and friends, and soccer coaches when they tell us ‘good game’. However, we NEVER touch strangers on the street, not EVER. And if we do, it is accidental and we always follow it with an ‘oh! excuse me!’, or something to that effect.

Enter: my first month in Germany, back in 2009. I’d just gotten off the bus and was walking down a major street in my city. By this time, it wasn’t totally new, but I was still getting to know all of the shops along the way to my Intensiv Deutsch Kurs. I slowed down to get something from my bag and was promptly body-checked by an old lady with a walker. With. A. WALKER. I wasn’t even in the middle of the sidewalk, I had moved (as we learn whether walking, driving or roller skating) to the far right of the sidewalk and was, I believed, out of the way of oncoming traffic. (A Lack of Personal Space, 01.05.11)

I frequently get “shouldered” and at this point do enough of it myself unfortunately as well, even in my little town. The walking and standing rules the likes of which exist in Britain, do not exist here. People will and do stop anyway and everywhere and too often seem to think nothing of blocking a passage to carry on their conversation in spite of the fact that people are bumping them again and again because they can’t get through.

You know, you make a better door than a window!

But they just don’t get it. I’ve in fact stopped even saying excuse me because people just walk all haphazzardly around in the street and in buildings. They do however stop at crosswalks and wait for the walk sign to change from red to green though, even if absolutely no cars are in sight.

It blows my mind! Generally speaking (because you know I love that) the Germans I have encountered at random have no concept of personal space.

50. Germans permanently make general statements about  Americans. 

Ditto babes, ditto.

And there you have fifty things Americans, some Americans, notice about the Germans.
I am still attempting to persuade some of my German friends to take on the task of Fifty Things Germans notice about the Americans…

One thought on “What Americans notice about Germans…(part 4 of 4)

  1. Pingback: What I know about Germans… | living the american dream in europe

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