What do foreigners think of Americans
The image that Americans have of Germans is heavily influenced by clichés. How much of it is true? Our American intern compares American expectations and German reality.
The way Americans see Germans is heavily influenced by pop culture - we know the images of evil Nazis, of Bavarians wearing lederhosen, of beer and sausage. Countless war films and some nasty comedies such as National Lampoon’s: European Vacation or Euro Trip are likely to have contributed to this. As soon as you are in Germany, however, you will find that these pictures are wrong, or at least pretty exaggerated.
Read James' Analysis in English:
Cultural differences: About beer, lederhosen - and coconuts
If Americans had to describe the German mentality in a few words, they could say: serious, efficient, hardworking, cold. There may be a tinge of truth to it, but for the most part, it's wild exaggeration. Yes, Germans take their work seriously - but they stick to their working hours and, like many Americans, don't work late into the night. Work is work and the end of the day is the end of the day. Most Germans stop working after work. This can take some getting used to for Americans, especially if they are waiting for an answer. You then have to come to terms with the fact that she won't come until the next morning, after work starts.
As for the supposed seriousness and coldness, it is a cultural misunderstanding. Let me explain it this way: Germans are like coconuts. It can be difficult to get to know a German - but once you've cracked his tough shell, he often turns out to be a warm and funny guy; not at all serious or cold. Germans are often skeptical of the exuberant friendliness that Americans display: they regard it as superficial and insincere.
Another big misunderstanding has to do with Oktoberfest. Many Americans think that all Germans celebrate Oktoberfest in October. In fact, it is a Bavarian tradition. The festival is celebrated in Bavaria - at most in southern Germany - but not in all of Germany. And it is not celebrated in October, but in September. Lederhosen and dirndls, these notorious items of clothing, are worn on special occasions (e.g. the Oktoberfest). Most Germans wear normal clothes. And they don't listen to that much brass music either.
Anyone who talks about Germany clichés must of course also talk about the war and post-war Germany. Germany changed fundamentally after 1945. The Germans do a lot to ensure that a dictatorship like that of the Nazis cannot repeat itself. This includes that incitement to acts of violence and the denigration of minorities are strictly forbidden in Germany. As well as Nazi symbols. As a foreigner, you shouldn't necessarily make Nazi jokes, that doesn't work out well. Foreigners have been arrested in Germany on several occasions for making the Nazi salute. The Germans don't understand joke there.
Food: Much more than just sausage and potatoes!
Local food is of course one of the main differentiators between nations. Americans who eat out in Germany quickly notice that sausage and beer are almost always on the menu. There is really often sausage. And potatoes. And beer. Incidentally, the latter is often very cheap. Despite the prejudices, Germans don't just eat sausage, potatoes and beer: They are also very open to other foods. There are plenty of Italian, Greek, Asian and Middle Eastern restaurants in the larger cities in particular.
However, there is one big difference: the operation. In America, waiters try to be as quick and friendly as possible. This is mainly due to the fact that their income is largely made up of tips; they don't get a full salary. It's completely different in Germany. Anyone who goes out to eat in Germany should bring more time with them. Incidentally, this applies to all of Europe. The waiters here get a full salary, so they don't depend on tips that much. In addition, they are not as friendly as American waiters - which would be inappropriate anyway, because Germans, as mentioned above, find this exuberant friendliness superimposed. Often, after the first order, a waiter will only come to the table on call; he doesn't check regularly. In addition, Germans stay seated longer, especially when they are out and about in larger groups. Eating out is a social activity in Germany. You might well spend an hour or two in a restaurant in a larger group. The waiter may still only come by two or three times. Don't fret - it's just a cultural difference.
Transport: Wow - real local transport!
Hopefully you don't plan to drive a car in Germany. There are more differences than just traffic signs and laws. Taxes are higher, gasoline is more expensive, and a driver's license costs a small fortune. Germans are much more environmentally conscious than Americans and try to keep environmental pollution as low as possible. In addition, Germany is smaller and more densely populated than the United States. In many situations you don't need a car at all. Cycling is often friendlier and easier. In addition, the local transport network is better developed and more modern than in America. In most regions, one ticket is valid for different modes of transport. The prices depend on the period of validity and the destination and can be quite high - but compared to owning a car, German public transport is still cheap.
Frankfurt am Main: Germany's most American city
Before you read on: There are two cities in Germany called Frankfurt. Frankfurt am Main is a city in the southwest. Here are the famous American skyscrapers. Frankfurt am Main is an important financial and cultural center in Germany. There is also Frankfurt an der Oder, a small town in the east, not far from the Polish border. The following is only about Frankfurt am Main.
The picture that many Americans have of German cities and villages shows half-timbered houses with pointed roofs and small windows. You can also find houses like this here and there. In the meantime, however, these "old buildings" are often rebuilt. In addition, many historical buildings - and entire cities - were destroyed during the war. Practically the whole of Frankfurt city center was bombed in the war. In the meantime, large parts of the building have been rebuilt in the original style, but these buildings are not original.
A strong American influence is noticeable in Frankfurt am Main. This is because the US armed forces had important centers here and were there for decades. In Frankfurt and the region there were at times entire American quarters with American schools and shops.
In the post-war years, Frankfurt developed into an important financial center. Many international companies settled in the city. The American presence is no longer as great as it was thirty or forty years ago, but there are still many foreigners living in Frankfurt. English works best as a lingua franca.
East and West: The split is still there
The fall of the Berlin Wall was almost thirty years ago. Germany is reunited. Even so, the consequences of the long split are still being felt. The western part of Germany - the so-called old federal states - is much more prosperous than the eastern part.
The current refugee crisis has intensified many resentments - especially in the former Soviet countries including the GDR. The combination of remoteness, homogeneity and economic stagnation seems to contribute to the fact that xenophobia is on the rise again, especially in some regions in eastern Germany. This is especially true of hostility towards non-white people. In Frankfurt am Main, however, these problems are rare.
Politics: Inevitable in the age of Trump
For many Americans, politics is a taboo subject - at least not one that is suitable for everyday conversation. That changed with the Trump administration. The spectrum of European parties seems to be somewhat larger on the left than in the USA. If one wanted to make a direct comparison, one would have to say that the conservative parties in the middle in Europe are most similar to the US Democrats. The Republicans are further to the right. In principle, there are more parties in European parliaments, which in some cases means that small parties only represent particular interests.
When it comes to Trump, many Europeans are pretty skeptical, but Germans are downright annoyed. Trump and his style of government may remind you of German authoritarianism - and often also of fascism. In Germany there is concern that Donald Trump is leading the United States on a dangerous path.
One tip at the end
Most Germans speak English. However, if in doubt, it is useful to have a few German sentences ready - especially: “Sorry, my German is not that good.” You can get very far with that.
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