Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Are Germans Rude?

Since I have been here in Germany, I have been asked several times by friends back home, Are Germans Rude?

Yes. And no.

Does that clear things up?

Let me back up a bit. I was born and raised in America. I am a fourth generation American on one side and on the other side I have ancestors that came over from Europe in the 1720's. We've been in America a long time. My parents never raised me to think Americans were better than anyone else. America did that for them. In school learning about World War I and World War II, the idea that a good life depended on capitalism, and the media. Especially media. We are the Land of the Free! and Home of the Brave! (play ball!), the birthplace of Wonder Bread and Mac'n'Cheese, Coke and Pepsi, jeans and sneakers. All things American are better and therefore Americans are too. I felt safe in the knowledge that I was who I was. American.

Then I met this guy, Matt. Matt was also an American. But instead of being raised by people who grew up in a middle class, Southern California home like I was, he was raised by people who grew up in Germany, during and after the war. We were the same, but oh, how we were different. 

Matt and his parents were blunt. To put it mildly. I will never forget when Matt's mom said to his sister one day, "I don't like your shirt." Matt's sister then turned to me and said, "Kelly has one too." She then looked at me. "I don't like it when Kelly wears it either."

What?! You don't like my shirt?! I felt personally attacked. What am I if not what I wear! My clothes are me. To attack them is to attack me.

Through the course of our relationship she has also told me that she didn't like my choice in paint colors, carpet selection, the layout of my house, what I named my children, and a few other things that I have blocked from my mind. Every time she, or anyone else in Matt's family, informed me of something she didn't like I felt hurt. Now let me say she never told me that she didn't like me. She just said that some of my choices she didn't like. When she did like something, she let me know that too. She loved my yard and my flower beds and constantly approved of my selection of furniture. She also complimented me on my parenting. Why could I not forget that she didn't like my shirt?

Being raised an American, I grew up with the moral lesson from the movie Bambi. "If you can't say nuttin nice, don't say nuttin at all." Wise advice, Thumper. In my life I never said anything purposefully rude unless I wanted to be just that. Purposefully rude. So Matt's mom must be thinking the same thing. Right?

Fast forward to August, 2012. I now live in Germany. My only experience with Germans were my in-laws. I was nervous, but hopeful. I would give Germans a chance. My first experience with a German in Germany came the week we lived here. We live in housing on the American base. As we started up our government issued washing machine to do a load of laundry, I heard a POPPING sound come from deep in the washer. Water continued to fill the machine, and then went over the washing bin, and over the top onto our government issued floor. We quickly shut off the water main for the laundry room and put in an after-hours call to the repair service contracted to work on base. 

Knock knock. Our German repair man was there. 

First, he was very put out that he had to come over at 8:00 pm and he let us know that. Why couldn't our washing machine break during more respectable hours like 9:00 am to 12:30 pm or 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm, hours that many German businesses are open. He walked into our laundry room and as I described what happened he held up his hand and said, "Stop. This is your fault."

What?

He then went on to tell me that because I left the lid open on my washing machine, the water didn't shut off. 

Are you for real? The washing machine repair man doesn't know that washing machines have a load setting on them that tells them how much water to fill the bin with? What kind of repair man is this? He then informed me he wasn't a repair man, he was a plumber and he could do absolutely nothing but tell me I am an idiot for not knowing how to properly operate a washing machine. He then got one last comment in. As he walked out of our laundry room he turned and said, "You need to clean this up."

Thanks for the tip because I was just going to leave it and hope it evaporated.

After the repair man/NO repair man left, my husband just shrugged his shoulders and said, "Typical German." That is probably my worst experience with a German here. But here is a list of top complaints from non-Germans and Germans I know about things that have happened to them. At least Germans are equal opportunity offenders. 

1. Getting doors to shops slammed in their face as they try to enter and the shop wants to close.
2. People cutting in line. 
3. Accidentally dropping a piece of trash and getting yelled at for littering before you have a chance to pick it up.
4. Getting honked at if you wait at a green light longer than .08 seconds after it has turned from red.
5. Told they are being too loud.
6. Told they are taking up too much room in a walk way in a store.
7. Told they are taking too long at a cashier.
8. Told they don't know how to properly park.

I wanted to write an objective piece so I asked three Germans their opinions on if Germans were ruder than other nationalities. They all answered yes, followed by a but. 

One of the Germans who I asked grew up here in Germany, has lived here her whole life, but is married to an American. She told me a story of going to the store, asking if they had marzipan, and then the clerk telling her "I suppose we do," and then the clerk turned around and left. My German friend found this to be extremely rude. But she understood why the clerk did it.

One reason Germans are perceived to be rude is that they take things quite literal. If you ask a German "Do you know what time it is?" They will look at their watch and say "I do." After all, you didn't ask them to tell you what time it was.

Another reason Germans can be seen as rude is they feel it is their place to let you know you are messing up right then and there. Being too loud? You need to be quiet. Taking too long? You need to hurry up. Too fat? You need to lose some weight. Too skinny? You need to gain some. Some of my American friends find this bluntness too much. Others embrace it.

Take this German scenario: someone is being too loud in a movie theater. As soon as the German thinks that someone is being too loud, they turn around and tell them to be quiet. Can't that person see people are trying to watch a movie? The loud person will do one of two things.

1. They will say Entschuldigung, excuse me, and then be quiet, OR
2. They will say something close to Lassen Sie mich in Ruhe, leave me alone, and continue to be loud.

If scenario number one happens, all is well. If scenario number two happens, the German will throw up their hands in defeat and realize that the offender is beyond help and get up to find another seat. And that's the end of it.

Things don't escalate in Germany like I've seen them in America. Let's play this same scenario out in America. Someone is being loud in a theater. The American who thinks someone is being loud will usually sit there in silence, fuming, turning around giving "The Look," but it usually takes Americans being annoyed for awhile before they work up the nerve to confront someone. And the person being confronted? Will they say sorry or will they get confrontational themselves? Will we have ourselves a big ol' movie theater brawl? 

Back to Germany. Germans are not warm and fuzzy. Being born and bred in suburban America, I like my warm and fuzzy. I like small talk and chit chat with strangers. I like smiles. I like greetings. If you say "hi" to a German, they will stop and ask, "Do I know you?" Happened all the time to my husband when he lived in Berlin. I have found that some Americans here feel slighted if Germans don't go out of there way to make you feel welcome or liked. Are Americans such babies that we need to be coddled all the time? Like me, affirm me, shower me with kisses (I am guilty on this one, say you like my shirt!)

Another common complaint is lack of customer service. Our good friends lived in Japan before here and they said they experienced culture shock moving from a place where the people bent over backwards to help you out to a place where people didn't really care if you needed help or not. 

You wouldn't think that so many small differences would cause so much offense. We all are considered "Western Civilization," right? We all enjoy similar standards of life. Can't we all just get along? 

On the other side though, Matt's aunts and uncles who I met for the first time embraced me and my children like long lost family members, which I guess we really were. They were kind and accepting and excited to hear all about our time in Germany. 

I guess what it boils down to, is that it seems (to me) Germans are intolerant of ignorance. You can't use the phrase "I didn't know" to give you a free pass. If the German knows, you better know too. There is real rudeness, and then there is perceived rudeness which turns out to be nothing more than cultural differences most of the time. My mother-in-law wasn't being rude in the slightest (she thought) to me when she told me those things. People have always spoken their mind to her and she was just doing the same. I have a great relationship with my in-laws. They are amazing people who made a home and raised a family in a foreign country. Now if I could only get them to like my shirts.


What have your experiences been? Have you felt that people have been rude in your travels? Have you found one country or culture to be ruder than others? Let me know.

Stay tuned for tomorrow - Are Americans Rude(r)?

This blog is merely the opinion of one little American girl and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of all Americans or reflect the politeness of all Germans. This blog was not meant to be offensive, it was meant to be thought provoking. And of course, funny.  

21 comments:

  1. i dont think germans are rude at all! of course, this was octoberfest and i was drunk most of the time. lol. french, i think they are rude.

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  2. I think it's hard to classify a whole nation as rude, HOWEVER, there are reactions and attitudes that are common in certain cultures. Germans are very brusque. Could be taken as rudeness.

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  3. When I grew up in Germany, I didnt think people were rude. That's just how they were. Then I moved to America with my husband and his family. I felt claustrophobic with how nice people were. I felt like it was fake. After 10 years we moved back to Germany. NOW I think Germans are rude. It much easier to raise kids in America. America is much more friendly to children.

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    1. That's because you've gotten used to the American hospitality. The blog post says it's cultural differences. It isn't rocket science.
      Just my two cents.

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  4. It was funny and thought provoking. Got me to thinking a little about my mother-in-law. I wonder if she is part German. He, he he!

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  5. Living in Turkey I had to get used to a culture where it's absolutely fine for your (110 lb) friend to pinch your upper arm fat and say, "you're gaining weight!" And, like the Germans, I think, they have a directness that can be offputting to someone who comes from a very indirect culture. It's okay, for instance, for someone to decline an invitation with a stark "no" instead of a "oh, I'd looooooove to but I can't because I have this dentist appointment at the same time. Can we do something next week?" And I too, miss conversations with strangers in the street. Where I come from, if you haven't had five pointless conversations with people you don't know about the weather, you're just doing it wrong. And I had to learn the hard way that smiling at strangers will get you about fifteen Turkish boyfriends following you around. On the other hand, people are much more helpful here than at home.

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    1. I hate that I feel like I can't stand up for myself. I am a foreigner so, I have no say. I wouldn't know what to say to someone anyway if they were rude to me. I need to learn some good German cuss words! Thanks!

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  6. For the most part I feel German rudeness is a cultural difference. Most of it doesn't bother me, but one that seriously does is lining up at stores (cash registers).

    I will say that the German friends I have made and continue to make go above and beyond. Once friendship is established, it is a true friendship.

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  7. I agree and disagree. Yes, some things are very annoying, like cutting in in supermarkets and so forth, but most of the things are cultural differences. I know Americans here in Germany too, and I think they are for the most part, very nice but have the tendency to moan about this subject infront of Germans. This for me, is absolutely beyond the line and infact worse than anything you described here "hey we just moved and here you are all really damn rude". Remember as a language, German is by definition more direct and this is also seen as a rude trait, apparently. If people are so annoyed by things like this, they should should just leave!

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  8. I disagree with the "they are not rude they are direct explanation" There is an arrogance and a persistent need to be wilfully inappropriate that is rampant among Germans. They know exactly the effect their behaviour will have on their target and they enjoy insulting and denigrating others. They are aggressive and very pushy. They really do believe they are superior to others but in reality they are boors..

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  9. @Anonymous right before me: Arrogance and aggressiveness, huh? So what about you own comment? Oh, in fact, what about Americans?? (Every single one of them, of course, generally and without exception!) Maybe you're offended that American arrogance and aggressiveness has found an equal in the Germans. But I don't think this would even be possible.

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    1. While there ARE rude and arrogant Americans and people in every country, Americans don't come anywhere close to the levels are rudeness and arrogance as in Germany. Sorry, but that is the truth, you just don't want to hear it. Germans are inappropriate in a way that is like a five year old child. Some things just shouldn't be said.

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  10. I am a german planning to live in the anglophone world for a while wuthin the next years... I have met several English and American people, I have worked with them and I even have a friend from the US. For the most part, i really enjoy their company. They are so much more polite and respectful than most Germans. Knowing that i am a grumpy German, i always try to adapt, smile more and criticize less when meeting them.
    Anglophone people are very easygoing and that is why you get in contact with them much faster than with Germans. It's refreshing and extremely uplifting, compared to German-German interaction.
    There's a downside to it however, at least from a German perspective: The longer you know them, the less you really know them. They invite you to have a beer together, but they don't necessarily mean it - sometimes it's just out of politeness. You never know whether they really like you or whether they are just too afraid to show you they don't. They keep you guessing - after months and years of friendship you never really know if they smile because they sincerely enjoy your company... Or if they are just putting up with you, smiling it all away. Sometimes it is obvious that something is wrong -right now- but they just won't tell you what it is or what you could do about it.
    For a German, this is very hard. I don't know the nonverbal cues if the anglophone world, so their refusal to just speak their mind and be clear about things, that can be very straining at times... They don't even do it when you beg them because you desperately need an honest answer (at work for example). This is the point where politeness becomes problematic.
    All in all though i see the problems people have with german rudeness and very often it's just unnecessary. But the good thing is: you can always say: "now, you are being extremely rude" Germans can put up with a little bit of criticism every now and then.

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  11. How cool! We live in Idstein, just a little bit north of you! I'm just beginning to blog about my bi-cultural experience. Being a native German coming back to my home country, I've been going through some confusion as well as enlightenment... Have fun in Germany and maybe you'd like to visit me at thegermans.wordpress.com ! Karin

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  12. ""Do you know what time it is?" They will look at their watch and say "I do." After all, you didn't ask them to tell you what time it was."

    Said no german ever.

    To be honest it all boils down to one thing: Germans arend rude, Americans are just fake nice. Germans are pretty straight forward and will tell you the truth to your face. An american would behave the same, only if they are angry, So thats where this comes from, I guess.

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    1. Americans aren't fake nice. Having manners and being courteous and civil is not fake.

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  13. My mom grew up in German (24 years) and she complains everyday about how much ruder the people have become. Her coworkers also complain about it too. I've been living in Germany for two years and it definitely blows my mind how rude people can be. It's really not everywhere. I've been to towns where the people are just...German. They don't smile, they are very exact and to the point, but they are helpful. They'll give you directions, explain things, and even suffer through your broken German. It's really nice and I've met wonderful people that I can call my friends.

    Some places on the other hand make me think very bad thoughts as related to WWII that I shouldn't say. People cut in front of me in line, people pushing/bumping me while walking and being yelled at like it's my fault, store clerks walking away from me when I approach to ask a question, everyone trying to pass themselves off as being smarter than you, and people actually refusing to speak German with me (I can't even explain this), then, b***h about foreigners not being able to speak their language.

    Just depends.

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  14. In addition to Germans I've noticed people in large cities in other countries can also start asserting themselves much more than usual. For example on a couple of ocassions I've found in Manhattan there were people who kept telling me which side of the sidewalk I should walk on and told me "get that side", people who told me I was too slow deciding what I wanted to order in a restuarant,and people telling me I should sit down on the subway when there were seats available instead of standing up "to avoid injury".

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  15. Hi,

    i am an Asian living in Germany my whole life.

    Germans are the worst people in the world. They are rude, they make no space for others on the sidewalk, they are ignorant and arrogant, they hate Americans and German children are crazy.

    Germans dont care how other people feel. They have a "Me first - mentality" which sucks.

    Germans usually dont know what personal distance is.

    Germans are full of hate to other nationalities.

    Never trust a German !

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    1. Think before you paint German people with the same brush! Treat them with respect and they will do the same. If you still hate it there, then LEAVE.

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  16. I once worked at a summer festival, and my boss was a German woman. I was in charge of one of the stands. Upon arrival I noticed the stands weren't placed as we'd agreed so I asked her, 'Remember when talked about setting the stands like this and that?' And her answer was, 'Yes I do remember, it's my job, not yours.' In a dead serious face. Throughout the festival we'd communicate through whatsapp, and her profile picture was a photo of her little daughter. When the festival was over we were greeting each other and I said, 'Your child is beautiful, you must be so proud!'. Or something along those lines. 'How do you know?' she asked, in a question that seemed more as if she was taking a jab at me. 'Um... your profile picture'. Her answer was a 'Huh' and she went on about chatting and being friendly again. Such a funny and terrifying woman, lol.

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