Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kultur at the Workplace - Opinions

I know I saw I was going to do Interviews next but I am inspired by the following clip to write up my experience with German culture and opinions a little early.

This video is obviously an exaggeration but some truth lies within.

One day at work, this picture came up on my screen saver.

This is Baby Bird when he was about 1.5 for what most of you reading would assume is a Halloween picture. (Dumbo the Elephant if you need further clarification)

This was not so clear to my colleagues.

"Halloween is for scary costumes!" they exclaimed. "You can't dress up like elephants for Halloween!" they continued.

Let me stop you here for a second. They all know I am American. They all know I lived in America for most of my life. Why in the world are they arguing with me????? (Just to clarify-these were German nationals who have visited the US once or twice or who have never visited)

I tried explaining to them that besides the 10-15 year age range of mostly Y chromosomes, most people in the US don't dress up scary in America. Not to mention, 2-year-olds are just too cute to dress up anyway else!!!

"But I saw an American movie about Halloween and everyone was dressed up scary!" they still continued.

What can I say to that? {{throws up arms}}

I wish I could tell you I was exaggerating for this post but this was a real conversation between many educated people. I spoke with a few of them privately later and most freely admitted that Germans are an opinionated bunch. I also frequently see this attitude in meetings and until this conversation, I couldn't put my finger on exactly what was going on.

I have had to change the way I speak. Now, I basically just cut to the chase. They seem to appreciate it and I don't have to explain myself again anymore as often.

Although in the US, this attitude would come off as arrogant, it is seen as being confident and sure of yourself. Acting apologetic or prefacing sentences with contradictory arguments like I often do, is not a good way to get ahead in Germany as far as I can tell. Do your experiences mirror mine?

And I still don't think I convinced them that Americans don't have to dress up as vampires, witches and other scary creatures of the night. I dare not show them other Baby Bird's pictures of Halloween's Past.

After all, I am 25% German. :)


honeypiehorse said...

I find it refreshing. You know where you stand. Although I sometimes miss the shallow friendliness of American colleagues.

headbang8 said...

Don't get me started...

msnovtue said...

ROFL! it's not just in the workplace, tho. Although I've lived my whole life in the US, I know *exactly* what you mean--see, my Dad was German, and so were my Mom's parents (and by extension, her.)

We had a few simple rules for dealing with my father:

1. Dad is always right.
2. When Dad is wrong, see rule #1.
3. When rule #2 applies, don't bother arguing, just go ahead and do it anyway. Chnaces are, Dad will be telling you what a good idea it was after the fact.

cliff1976 said...

Stab an assertion into the weak link of your opponent's chain mail to immbilize or distract, then bludgeon with blunt argument(s) until he's down for the count, and you've won the conversation.

This is more or less how one German woman I know described German conversational style, after having attended one of those fancy-pants cross-cultural communication coaching crapfests (disparaging tone is mine, not hers).

Though I hate to paint with such a broad brush, I have to admit I've seen those kinds of tactics in use, albeit never about my own Heimat's customs or my family's implementation of them. Being told my personal preferences, perspectives, and experiences are INCORRECT (directly or indirectly) is one thing and is difficult for me to swallow. But I'm not sure I could ever see a Halloween cultural correction from someone over here as anything but arrogance.

Good luck working with those people.

Tammy B said...

I remember my husband talking about a professional training class that taught people how to behave in conversations with work colleagues. Long story short, "every work conversation has a winner and a loser." That really helped me understand some differences between the German and American work culture!

Yelli said...

@honeyhorsepie - I am still getting used to being greeted (sometimes by strange colleagues I don't even know yet) with no introductions but what they need from me.

@ headbang - LOL!

@msnovtue - it even extends beyond the workplace?

@cliff - I hear ya and I 100% agree with you. However, this conversation was no different than any other conversation I have had with them whether the subject be current philosophies of our career or directions to a nearby U-Bahn.

@tammyb - good way to summarize. I will keep that in mind. :)

Snooker said...

Tammy's comment is quite correct from my standpoint. I deal with this type of situation very frequently. Even though I'm in an international company, a majority of the people are Berliners or at least Germans.
Those from Berlin seem to be the worst for the "I WILL win this conversation" issue.
In this same situation I probably would have said something like, "So you are telling me that you know much more about American society, culture and traditions because you saw it in a movie, while I on the other hand am an ACTUAL American, born and raised IN America. Well then you must CERTAINLY be correct in this particular assertion."
That usually shuts them right up. If the logic doesn't get them, the language quite possibly will.

Claire said...

Haha, I think Dutch people are pretty much the same as Germans in this respect.

Baby bird looks extremely cute! :)