Willy Brandt – no moral ambiguity

I talked about German politicians with a British friend of mine today. We agreed that Germans are usually not drawn towards charismatic politicians and definitely not to loud, screaming ones (we made rather bad experiences with that kind). My friend said: “I think Germans want their politicians to be unobtrusive and just get their job done” and I agree. We don’t consider showy people to be efficient. There is another kind of politician we don’t accept – a morally ambiguous one. The only thing worse than a morally ambiguous one would be a morally despicable one. You know, the kind that plays down right-wing terror groups. Or one who sympathizes with them or is backed by them.

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Das haben wir schon immer so gemacht

If you don’t know what this sentence means, but want to work in Germany, please memorize the meaning quickly, because you might be hearing it often. It means “We have always done it this way!” and it’s a popular reply to suggested changes.

Germans are not extremely fond of change. I have many training participants who were sent to Germany to implement change and they often look at me with the resigned expression of a dog that has been in an animal shelter for too long and knows nobody will adopt him. (And that is before they start talking about the Betriebsrat and sink into utter despair).

So now you know. Germans don’t do change. Because, you know, we have always done it this way. Before you call your management and tell them that you won’t go through with that assignment to Germany, relax. It’s not that bad. We do change. But in our own way and the more you know about this way, the easier it will be (Easier. Not easy. It will never be easy).

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Small Talk

So, how are you? Did you have a nice weekend? Is the family well and did you have no trouble finding a parking spot? Splendid.

I hope this was enough small talk for you because this is already the best I can do. I’m German and Germans don’t do small talk. It is not part of German business culture, in fact many Germans (myself included, I admit) consider it a waste of time. People from many other cultures consider this rude, in fact different expectations of small talk could seriously impair (even destroy) business relationships.

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Handshakes are not that difficult!

I wanted to write about small talk this weekend, but the living cringing embarassment who is currently in the position of President of the United States has brought an interesting topic to my attention – handshakes. Who knew it could be so difficult! Well, the good news is – for an adult of at least average intelligence it’s not that difficult, but there are course different things to consider in different countries.

So let’s have a look at handshake etiquette. One thing valid all around the world is that you don’t refuse an offered handshake unless you are five or younger, or have so little social finesse that you shouldn’t be in a position requiring handshakes anyway. Continue reading “Handshakes are not that difficult!”

“But I told you!” – “No, you didn’t. Or did you?”

Whenever I tell the ladies in the British Club: “I would write it like this…” or “I would just say…”, they give me the look. The look is both wary and resigned, the unspoken message being: “Your way of communicating is too direct, we don’t do things that way.” (Of course they wouldn’t actually say it to me, but I’ve learned to read the look 😉 ). The direct way is considered rude in Britain, even though some British people told me that sometimes the situation created by not talking openly can be rather burdensome. (Of course I then ask: “Why don’t you just talk about it then?” and get the look again.) Continue reading ““But I told you!” – “No, you didn’t. Or did you?””

“Do you want patriotism with that?” – “No, thanks.”

Some weeks ago, at the beginning of the European Cup, I was in Leipzig visiting my friend Susanne. We had dinner in an Italian cafe and noticed how it suddenly filled up with many Italians. Ah yes, the game Italy vs Belgium would start in a few minutes and there was a giant screen on a wall of the cafe. The Italians were in a great mood and eagerly followed the events on the TV screen. The teams entered the stadion and the Italian hymn began. Not only did the players sing along, but the people in the cafe went along as well, very loud and very enthusiastically. I said to Susanne, “It’s a pity we Germans never do that,” and she replied, “Well….with our history….”

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Mein Leipzig lob ich mir – My Leipzig’s dear to me

Leipzig is an exceptionally beautiful city, one that never fails to delight me. It has the cozy prettiness of Gohlis, the effortless elegance of the Waldstraßenviertel, the bustling but pleasantly non-hectic center city and a wealth of marvellous cafés and restaurants. In addition the people are of a hearty cordiality. If you haven’t been to Leipzig yet, go there.

Leipzig also is steeped in history. If you want to understand German culture on a deeper level, this is the place to go. (In case you stop reading here because you’re not interested in history: go to Leipzig anyway! It has much more to offer than history.) Continue reading “Mein Leipzig lob ich mir – My Leipzig’s dear to me”