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Old May 8th, 2015 #1
Alex Linder
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 45,434
Blog Entries: 34
Alex Linder
Default Differences Between German Culture and Other Cultures

If we think of Germans as cold and formal, what does that mean for Germans' views of non-Germans?

Germans must realize they are found cold and formal by most other peoples. What do they think of this issue? Do they think of themselves as cold and formal as well? If not, how do they characterize other cultures among themselves? Sloppy? Chaotic? Disrespectful? Goofy? Purposeless? What is the mirror-stereotype Germans have of non-Germans?

Judith Meyer, well-traveled native German, author o... (more)

Germans do not think of themselves as cold or formal - however, there is a stereotype that people living in the north of the country are rather cold and people living in the south of the country are rather more welcoming. This mirrors similar sentiments in many countries, including the US, France, Italy, etc. ... but you won't find e. g. Bostonians or Venetians thinking of themselves as cold. People always think that their own behaviour is appropriate and anything less or more would be inappropriate.

A lot of this cold/formal Germans stereotype is simply a stereotype propagated by people who haven't spent much time here. For example, the French afaik don't have the reputation of being cold and formal, yet they use even more formality in addressing each other (often using job titles rather than names) and imho there is little difference in how the French relate to strangers compared to how Germans relate to strangers.

There is a grain of truth to the stereotype though in that Germans are more formal than e. g. Americans. In Germany, what you call formal is considered being respectful. For example, people start out by addressing each other as Mr/Mrs X rather than first names because this is saying "I respect you as an adult" - only children are immediately addressed by first names. There can be no friendship if you don't respect each other first. The switch to first names is the outward sign of having a closer relationship, for example one where you can call each other names in jest without lingering doubts whether some of that was meant for real.

Since it is known that some cultures don't make the same distinction, Germans don't usually get offended if a foreigner uses the wrong address, but in business situations, the set of American mannerisms as a whole leaves doubts whether that person is capable of being serious when necessary.

By those mannerisms I mean for example that in America, I have met many (though not all) people that start off more jovially, introducing themselves with first names even in a business setting, making a lot of body contact, joking around as if they had been long-term friends with you already - to a German, this comes across as fake or superficial. If we just met, we're obviously not great friends yet, so if you pretend otherwise, that cannot be your true feelings. Do you mask your true feelings in other situations as well, still putting on a friendly face when you really hate my guts? Germans are used to more honesty. If a German doesn't like you, you'll know. If a German doesn't yet know if he'll like you, you'll know as well, and it's only a problem if you're American and didn't expect the relationship to include an evaluation stage. That's what some call 'cold'.

Another thought: if you treat strangers like friends, what is the difference between being a stranger or your friend? And how does your behaviour differ between friends and good friends? Anecdotally I heard that Americans tend to have more people they call friends than Germans, while Germans call less people friends but have deeper connections to those.

EDIT: please note that, as per the OP's request, I described typical and stereotypical views of Americans. These are the result of evaluating American behaviour by German standards, which leaves the impressions I described. These impressions are hard to shake off if you grew up in Germany, and many people don't even know that German-American cultural differences are so large that they are getting the wrong impressions. Having spent a lot of time around Americans, I am well aware that this kind of behaviour is just normal in America, i. e. the personalities and the human relationships are the same, while the outward appearance of them is very different. Also read my reply to Travis in the comments.

If you want to understand Germany better, please stop by my blog Understanding Germany.


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