Thursday, March 26, 2015

Was ist Typisch Deutsch?

Was ist typisch Deutsch?  What is typical German?

This post was approved by one German and tolerated by another.

Germany and the USA are both civilized "First World" Western countries. On the surface Germans and Americans don't look very different from one another. The citizens and residents of both countries come from a variety of cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. Both countries have areas of beautiful landscape, dirty industrial cities, national parks, and poverty. As a whole we have much in common.

Germans and Americans do, however, see the world differently in a lot of ways as well. Keeping in mind that all generalizations are false and therefore that the following points do not describe all Germans, these lists might be helpful for those Americans who want or need to know what makes Germans tick.

The average German...

  • spends a lot of time outside - going for walks, playing sports, waiting for public transportation, working in his garden, sitting on her balcony, eating outside at a street cafe, biking, hiking through a forest or in the mountains...

  • dislikes small talk.

  • pays with cash rather than a credit card, even for amounts over €100.

  • is very wary of Facebook in part because of the lack of privacy and because she knows that Facebook is constantly collecting data and information from its users and can use that data for any purposes that its officials choose. Only about 25% of Germans are active Facebook users.

  • is knowledgeable about what's going on in the world outside of Germany's borders - not only in other European countries but also in the United States, Asia, and Africa.

  • does not care what celebrities have to say about current events and political topics unless they are directly and personally involved.

  • is critical of himself and others.

  • is serious, industrious, and believes in hard work, but he also knows how to take time off and leave behind the stress of work when it's time to do so.

  • follows rules (like observing the midday and Sunday quiet times and waiting for the pedestrian light to turn green before crossing even when there are no cars coming).

  • wants to know where her food comes from. Signs in the produce section, packaging on other products, and stamps on every individual egg tell German consumers which state or country the food item came from.

  • knows something about life in the Middle Ages because of visits to castles and trips to museums during his formative years if not also as an adult.

Burg Hohenzollern

  • can recognize from where a person's ancestors originated based on his last name. Keckonen is clearly Finnish, Akdemir is probably Turkish, Gustaffson is likely Swedish, and Shevchenko sounds Ukrainian.

  • does not understand Americans' obsession with guns, violence, and war.

  • is not uptight about nudity and doesn't understand why Americans are.

  • is very private and will not readily offer personal information about himself.

  • is a realist with realistic aspirations and desires.

  • is sincere and does not dish out compliments she doesn't genuinely mean.

Most Germans...

  • live in an apartment, duplex, or townhouse rather than a single-family house.

  • take pride in their cars, which means they don't eat and drink in them, they keep them clean and tidy, and they fix dents and scratches when they occur.

  • are orderly, organized, tidy, and punctual.

  • are interested in the USA and Canada and intrigued by the wide-open spaces.

  • are tired of such questions as "Are you still mad that you lost the war?"

  • pay the mandatory church tax but do not regularly attend church.

  • prefer to dine at a table outside rather than inside, especially on a hot day.

  • drink a lot of coffee. Germans drink more coffee per capita per year than beer. source

  • have spent vacation time outside of Germany.

  • don't smile at strangers.

  • do not have air conditioning in their houses or apartments.

  • are difficult to get to know at first but are warm, kind, and friendly once you become well-acquainted.

  • consider fresh air important for one's health.

In Germany...

  • climate change is accepted as fact in much the same way that "smoking is harmful to your health" is accepted in the U.S..

  • being a Holocaust denier (or rather being publicly vocal about it) is against the law.

  • movies are more strictly rated/censored for violence than for nudity and sexuality.

  • English curse words are not bleeped out or censored on TV shows or in songs on the radio. Not even the "f-word". 

  • many stores and businesses do not accept credit cards.

  • fast food is more of a last choice than a viable option for a warm meal.

  • it is illegal to overtake in the right lane on the Autobahn (or any other multi-lane road).
  • you need to bring your own grocery bags from home or pay up to 15 cents each to purchase plastic shopping bags at the store.

  • most stores do not have restrooms for customers to use. Cafes and restaurants do, however.

  • one often must pay 50 cents to use a public restroom, even those in many museums. The money is put toward maintenance and cleaning, so the restrooms are usually clean.

...and flowers. Germans love flowers all year 'round. As soon as it's almost warm enough, they start planting!

downtown Stuttgart, March 5, 2014

window boxes

fountains and flowers

stunningly beautiful cemeteries

Strangely, I don't think I could write a post like this about my Landsleute.  What about you? What do you think is typical American?


  1. Anonymous26/3/15 09:05

    I'm sorry... when did you meet my German husband??? Other than maybe 1-2 things, you described him to a T. Crazy. I had no idea Germans were all so similar. I just assumed mine was unique. :)

  2. This is fabulous Beth. I will be using this with my undergrad global management class next week.

    1. Thanks, Dan - I'm flattered! :-) I'd like to be a fly on the wall to hear the discussion that arises.

  3. I gather from my discussions with my more conservative acquaintances that most Americans do actually agree that climate change is occurring. The debate seems to be more centered on the cause of that change, humans versus natural process.

    1. I'm glad to hear that it's being recognized. I usually hear things like, "This has been the worst winter in years! [scoff] Global warming...!"

  4. On the first day of German classes I ask my students to envision and describe what they think a typical Japanese, Norwegian, Chinese and Mexican person is like. Most of the characteristics they list are physical features based on just their looks. Then afterwards I ask them to do just the same with Americans. Most of the responses are based on actual appearances instead this time; t-shirts, baseball caps, jeans, sweatpants and sweatshirts, etc. This leads us to an interesting discussion of their images of Germans (light skin, fair hair, etc.). Once I show them images of prominent Germans today from the soccer scene, government, etc. we discuss how much German society is changing and that the stereotypical picture many Americans have (had) of Germany is not in line with how diverse and multicultural Germany has become today.

    1. That sounds like an interesting first day of class! I wonder what they would do with Canadians. Thanks to "South Park" Canadians seem to be the butt of the joke for an entire generation of Americans. Usually when I heard some such stupid remark in school, I asked the student what Canadians are like. They had no idea.

      One of my favorite units included the "50 stereotypes Germans have about Americans" and the companion "...Americans have about Germans" from die Welt a number of years ago. It's now rather dated, but it was so interesting to see how the students reacted to the impressions of Americans!

    2. P.S. Good to hear from you, Herr Tollefson!! :-)

  5. I think a lot of these could apply to all of Europe (knowing what's going on in the world... not just your own country, no air conditioning, vacationing outside their own country). Refusing to cross when the little man is red is all German (-speaking country) though.

    1. That doesn't surprise me much. I actually have spent very little time in Europe outside of Germany! A long weekend in Vienna, five days in Rome, 5 hours in France (in the Alsace), and several weeks in Scotland.