Thursday, November 24, 2005

and I thought they were born cranky!

I've lived here for over 15 years and I find that I STILL don't understand the Germans sometimes. I'm not talking about the language part, of course - I understand that just fine - It's the other cultural/social things that still get to me and make life as a foreigner difficult at times.

It looks like I'm not the only one who has had this problem and now I've learned that there are concrete reasons for (many) Germans being the way they are.

The other day Andrew Hammel from German Joys had an interesting post on impolite or indifferent German sales clerks and the background behind this phenomenon. I'll be interested to see if the Academy of Friendliness bears fruit.

Nate over at Chillmost is currently reading a book that piqued my interest: Germany - Unraveling an Enigma. The introductory pages at are very interesting, as is the synopsis for the book at (emphasis mine)

The Germans are an enigma not only to the rest of the world but also to themselves. As it turns out, Germans spend great amounts of time discussing their puzzling heritage and culture; in fact, discussing almost anything is one of their favourite pastimes. Greg Nees offers an insider's perspective on what it means to be German. He starts with a review of modern German history, and then turns his attention to the major German cultural themes: order, insider/outsider perception, clarity of thought and expression, private versus public spheres, friendship, rationality and the sense of duty and obligation. Germany's social market is also discussed, as is the German need for order, desire for security and sense of responsibility.

Wow. I will buy the book and prepare myself for enlightenment!


At November 24, 2005 2:03 p.m., Blogger Betty said...

As far as being an outsider, we who moved to this little town in Florida find the same thing. "You're not from here," easily rolls off the tongues of those who are. And to be from here means that your ancestors, several generations of them, lived here.

I also recall buying a beautiful suit and purse in a little Paris shop and having the saleswomen huddle together and stare hatefully at me while speaking in French. It was like I didn't deserve their goods or, what I really think, is they were wondering if my fat butt would burst the seams.

At November 24, 2005 2:29 p.m., Blogger christina said...

Betty, darling! So what you're saying is that living in Dogpatch is the same as living in Paris is the same as living in Dullsville? You're probably right - people are cranky the world over. :-)

I've heard that in England you can live in a house for 40 years beside a family who has lived in their house for 200 years and they'll always refer to you as "the new neighbours".

P.S. I'm sure those salewomen were just jealous of your eternal beauty.

At November 24, 2005 2:34 p.m., Anonymous JCS said...


There's another book that you might be interested in. It's called "Die Deutschen schreien" and was written by a German who, after spending 20 years in Japan, returned to the Vaterland. Here's a blurp from

Nach zwanzig Jahren, die er in Japan verbrachte, kehrt ein Kulturwissenschaftler zurück nach Deutschland - und ist entsetzt. Aus einer zivilen Gesellschaft ist ein Horde von Grobianen geworden. Auf feinsinnige Art schildert Florian Coulmas seine Erlebnisse und Beobachtungen. Ein teils komischer, teils erschreckender Blick auf unsere Alltagswelt.

Best regards,

At November 24, 2005 3:07 p.m., Anonymous Belinda said...

I think you'll find crankiness everywhere in the world. I find that in today's culture there is a lot less of a sense of "community" which creates a lot of impersonality because it's all so fast paced.

Perhaps as expats we notice it much more here than "at home" because it's already as if we feel like outsiders and may just be much more conscious of the bad things than the good things.

The book, however does sound facinating :) I might give it a go as well.

At November 24, 2005 3:08 p.m., Blogger christina said...

Thanks for the tip, JCS. It never really occurred to me that there might be books that explain this stuff! :-)

At November 24, 2005 3:13 p.m., Blogger Schatzi said...

Fascinating! Each community -state-nation has a unique cultural identity no?..I've always been interested in the social sciences and find that knowing the areas heritage and history helps to understand the current culture/and "collective personality" of a group. That book offers a perspective of an insider- and that insider looking from the outside in---should be a rich read!

At November 24, 2005 3:41 p.m., Blogger christina said...

Schatzi!! Yeah, knowing the background of WHY someone does something makes it much easier to understand. Germany definitely has a distinct "collective personality", as does every other country.

At November 24, 2005 3:56 p.m., Blogger Elemmaciltur said...

Sounds like an interesting read.

At November 24, 2005 4:32 p.m., Blogger Elemmaciltur said...

Christina, you definitely have to go and check THIS ENTRY I've just made especially for you! ;)

At November 24, 2005 4:56 p.m., Blogger The SeaWitch said...

Hi Christina...I found my way here through the CaffeFranje blog. (Just in case you were wondering. LOL) I have a problem with rude salesclerks here in Athens as well. I DO expect them to stop slurping their frappes, hang up the phone when I'm waiting to pay for my purchase and a 'thank you' wouldn't be amiss either. I don't care if it's fake. I read enough misery in the news, I hear it from my neighbours, I certainly don't need attitude when I'm spending my hard-earned money.

P.S.: Love the little maple leaves you have to the right,,,they make me homesick.

At November 24, 2005 5:50 p.m., Blogger Sandra said...

You don't find much crankiness in Korea. The service people, clerks, etc., are usually polite, especially to furriners.

I know some Germans here and they love Korea. They don't want to go back, and I asked why. They said because they don't like Germans!

At November 24, 2005 7:18 p.m., Blogger Katja said...

I might even buy that book. And I am German! I guess being of a certain nationality or coming from a certain kind of background always makes it harder for people from other nations or backgrounds to really understand a culture. I've lived in the US (only one year) with Canadians and while I got a lot of insight, I still did not "get" so many things... Endless topic I guess!

At November 24, 2005 8:01 p.m., Blogger Ms Mac said...

One of my husband's colleagues recommended he buy a book for me once, Beyond Chocolate- Understanding Swiss Culture. It is a fascinating read. However, understanding more about why someone behaves the way they do doesn't necessarily make it easier to cope with living with them!

At November 24, 2005 8:05 p.m., Blogger christina said...

Thanks, Elemm - I popped over to your place right away to have a look.

SeaWitch - Hi! Yes, when I was in Greece I didn't notice the sales people being overly friendly either.

Sandra - I've met a lot of Germans who don't like Germans. They're usually the ones who either have been abroad for some time or have a foreign spouse, so they get a different side of the story.

katja - No matter where you are as a foreigner, it is SO hard to 'get' everything, isn't it? I guess some country pairs just mesh better than others. I'm sure they could (and should!) write a book like this about every country in the interest of cultural understanding.

At November 24, 2005 8:08 p.m., Blogger christina said...

ms mac - That's very true. But it just might keep you from killing them! :-)

At November 24, 2005 11:54 p.m., Blogger Haddock said...

Jerome K Jerome wrote a book over a hundred years ago called *3 men on the bummel* - this covers a travel though Germany. His observations of Germans in last few chapters still seem to ring true today.

At November 25, 2005 8:37 a.m., Blogger christina said...

Haddock - that's wonderful! I've bookmarked it so I can read the whole thing later.

At November 25, 2005 4:20 p.m., Blogger Ginnie said...

Hmmm. We have that book so guess now I need to read it!

At November 26, 2005 8:08 a.m., Blogger J said...

Isn't it interesting how perception changes. I remember finding American customer service 'annoyingly friendly' for the first few days when I visited the US last December. After I got over it, I was very happy about how good the service was there, which of course did German 'customer service' no favour when I returned.

At November 29, 2005 9:22 p.m., Blogger Nate said...

Thanks for the link. I should mention that the book is not coming from a humorous point of view (There's a joke there somewhere I know) but is actually quite informative and helps explain some of the reasons why Germany's economy and workplaces function the way they do. I should also mention that it was first published in 2000 and could use a bit of an update. Things can change a lot in 5 years.

At December 01, 2005 2:44 a.m., Blogger James said...

C-I bought the book on and it will be delivered tomorrow, Dec 1st to my office. I can't wait to read it, especially considering I am only 30 days from my move to Germany from San Francisco. James


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