Embracing German directness and other culture shocks
Embarking on the expat journey has been a wild ride, filled with adventures and unexpected twists. Culture shock is real, and having experienced it, I'd like to share my story and how I've embraced these differences. These are my personal experiences, complete with stereotypes and my own biases, of adapting German cultural norms.
Straight talk and cultural shifts: Embracing German directness
Germans have a remarkable knack for direct and straightforward feedback, and I was in for an eye-opening experience with just how brutally honest they could be. My German partner summed it up perfectly: "Here, we don't sugarcoat our feedback!" She wasn't kidding. Germans love speaking their minds, especially when it comes to critiquing actions or ideas.
I recall a stark moment during my early days in Germany. At a team meeting, I proudly presented my ideas, only to face a barrage of pointed questions and critical remarks from my colleagues. It felt like my ideas were under attack, and to be honest, it stung a bit.
At that point, I couldn't help but think, "Do these folks know the meaning of tact?" I interpreted their directness as a lack of curiosity, or empathy. They often seemed eager to point out what wouldn't work, passing judgement without a full grasp of the situation.
Eventually I grew to enjoy this style of feedback. It became like a game - a challenge to see how I could finesse my ideas and get the best out of their critiques. Instead of taking it personally, I learned to engage, clarify, and ask for even better alternatives. It wasn't about tearing my ideas to shreds; it was an invitation to collaborate and refine them.
This cultural shift wasn't just a one-off "aha" moment; it was like learning a new dance that took practice. I discovered that the Germans had a knack for fostering innovation and problem-solving through their directness.
Enjoying a good rule
It may be an obvious stereotype, but like most stereotypes, there's truth to it. Germans love a good rule, even if they don't always agree with it or understand its rationale. What matters is that rules are followed, always.
You can witness this dedication to rule-following when someone dares to break them. This was particularly challenging for me coming from Australia, where we have plenty of basic rules but rarely enforce them on each other. In Germany, if you choose to make too much noise on a Sunday, jaywalk even when no cars are in sight, or wash your car in the street, someone will be quick to point out the rules.
I once faced a reprimand from a neighbour for hanging my laundry on a Sunday, and I was truly taken aback. It got me thinking, "What's behind this love of rules and pointing them out?" It probably boils down to this: Germans value fairness and stability, and it runs deep.
Supporting a just and fair society has historically meant giving up some personal freedoms in favour of rules. This social culture has shaped policies and behaviours. Employees and renters enjoy high levels of protection, and there's a robust welfare safety net for families, and those in need. Most Germans are content with this arrangement and continue to work hard, maintaining a consistently low unemployment rate.
I've come to appreciate fairness as a core German value, and I admire their focus on community support over individual wealth. They avoid discussing money to prevent social hierarchies. In fact, I read recently that 70 percent of Germans, under the right circumstances, would choose to invest in community support rather than pursuing higher pay. Where else would you find such a statistic!? In Germany, it seems to be about taking care of, rather than keeping up with, the Joneses.
These perspectives have definitely helped me to appreciate a good rule. If you're willing to accept that rules support the greater good and are occasionally pulled up for not respecting these underlying values, you'll assimilate well into German life.
Embracing tradition and innovation
Germany boasts a rich heritage of traditional industries, including the automotive, mechanical engineering, chemical, and electrical sectors. It's also undergoing a measured digital transformation, seeking global investment in cutting-edge technologies. Notable examples include Apple Inc. establishing its European headquarters in Munich and Tesla's Gigafactory based in Berlin.
This transformation, while promising, sometimes encounters resistance from the traditional German mindset. In a German organisation poised for digital transformation, I found myself balancing this tension. The transformation introduced concepts like decentralised decision-making and agility, which often clashed with the organisation's traditional hierarchies and bureaucracy.
Bringing these innovations into the organisation required compromise. We learned to work within the existing system and introduce ways to provide process assurance and senior manager involvement. It was about preserving tradition while ushering in change.
I learnt that transformation in Germany often means embracing existing structures, processes, and the famous "red tape". It's a delicate dance, valuing tradition while pursuing progress. This experience highlighted the importance of compromise in navigating the path between tradition and innovation.
Tradition is also an endearing part of German culture, with a resurgence of national and regional pride. Traditional festivals, complete with costumes, music, and celebrations, are common. It's easy to get involved and embrace these traditional cultural festivities.
So, what has all this meant for me? One of our basic human needs is belonging. As I write this, it feels as if German culture has become a part of me, perhaps even more than I realise. Culture is home, and home is where the heart is. Here's to embracing more of our Germanness!
Of course, these are just my personal experiences. Do you agree or vehemently disagree? What did you experience as a major culture shock when you first came to Germany? Let me know in the comments below!