Peach and Coconut

Today, this interesting article was on my Twitter feed, reminding me that I meant to write an article on peaches and coconut for a while. What do fruit have to do with frustrations of the expat life, you might ask now.

I’ll introduce this topic as I usually do in my trainings: picture a peach and a coconut. Which one do you think is the German? And which one do you think is the American? (This works with other cultures as well , but these are the two I use most frequently). If your answer is: coconut is the German, peach is the American, you are right (nothing to do with impeachment, by the way, even though that would be lovely at the moment). When I ask why people come to this conclusion, the answer is invariably: because Germans have such a hard shell / are unapproachable / are so reserved. And yes, that is the correct answer, or at least part of it. Continue reading “Peach and Coconut”

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.

Continue reading “Small Talk”

“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?””

“How are you?” – “Ah, well you know, actually I haven’t been well and last week I….”

A while ago, I held a little speech about German culture for new members of the British Club of the Taunus. Later, at lunch, some of us chatted a bit about German culture. One of the British ladies said “You can never ask a German ‘How are you?’ because they then give you their whole health history.”

It made us all chuckle, but it’s somewhat true. I say “somewhat”, because to some extent the “How are you? – Fine. How are you? – Fine.” dialogue has gotten some hold in Germany by now, especially with younger people. But when I talk to expats about German culture, I always make a point of telling them that in Germany “How are you?” or “How do you do?” is not a greeting. It’s seen as an inquiry about one’s well-being and will be answered as such. Ask a German – especially an elder one – how he is and you will likely be informed about things you never wanted to know. Most Germans like to talk about health or lack thereof. I have one neighbour, a very old lady, who always gives me a detailed description of her current health status, even if I say nothing more than “Good morning.” Continue reading ““How are you?” – “Ah, well you know, actually I haven’t been well and last week I….””