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."
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.