Shall we generalise? – Ze Curious Case of German Manners

Fine. Let’s talk about the Germans.

Be forewarned; this is a blog in which some people may find a few ideas they disagree with, Germans and Australians alike. There are going to be a few generalisations, which I might discover to be misrepresentative in the very near future.

So let’s get into it. As a kickstarter, here’s another question I was asked reasonably often upon my not-really-that-glorious return to Australia;

“How did you deal with the people?”*

I didn’t really get it. I mean, I knew that Germans had a reputation throughout Europe for being quite haughty and arrogant, but I didn’t realise that had reached our shores. I thought us Aussies were all under the impression that Germans were Lederhosen-wearing, beer-guzzling car manufacturers (or the other thing).

My take on it? Yes, generally, Germans at first take can be much harder to befriend than Australians. They don’t tend to stand for a lot of the superficiality that I see as pervading our everyday interactions. This can be frustrating if you’re looking for friendly small-talk at a party, a café, a park playing fussball. It can be hard to get your head around.

For instance, if upon saying goodbye to someone in Australia, you suggest catching up for Imagedrinks sometime, it’s usually understood as more of an offhand, friendly gesture than a promise of a future meet-up. In Germany, if you do this, people reach for their diaries. If you say you’ll catch up with someone, you MEAN it. Which I like. It has its downsides though. Shortly after first arriving in Freiburg, I ran into a friend of a friend who I was roughly acquainted with. We stopped for a quick chat, and upon splitting a few moments later I suggested we grab a coffee sometime. His reply?

“Why?”

It’s this sort of stuff that can, admittedly, make some Germans hard to deal with. Perhaps the best example comes with the German take on a seemingly harmless little question;

“Wie geht’s?”

Literally translated, this means ‘how goes it’. A better translation would be ‘how are you’. Here, and in most English speaking countries, we generally use this as an offhand, casual way of greeting someone. Not so in Germany.

If you say “Wie geht’s?” to a German, expect them to tell you how they are. Really tell you. And don’t be surprised if someone you don’t know that well acts a little surprised when you ask this. The first time I asked one of my roommates how she was, she was on her way into her bedroom as I was getting home from Uni. She stopped, turned around, and told me about her day in relative detail, and how she felt about it^.

So why my ‘fascination’ with the country? Personally, I’d much rather be around people with whom I always know where I stand, and always feel comfortable communicating openly with, even if they are a little blunt sometimes. Number fourteen in this classic “How to be German” article says it all.

To sum up, who cares if the Deutsch can be a little kalt? Do you really need the woman at H&M to smile at you when you’re buying clothes? Do you really need the Customer Service people to tell you have a nice day when they’ve topped up your credit? If so, Australia’s the place for you.

* There were a lot of variations on this, but this was the most common and probably the kindest to Germans

^ Rather ironically, my German grandmother always used to say that you could tell someone was boring if you asked them how they were and they would actually tell you

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