englishman abroad

The difference between Brits and Germans

Women can’t drive, men can’t multitask, Americans love their guns and the French are cowardly. Stereotypes are fun. They make jokes easy, and enrich life if not taken too seriously. They provide a cultural shorthand that facilitates communication. If we say that someone is ‘posh’ the stereotype is a monocle-wearing, mansion-inhabiting, caviar-eating aristocrat. If we say that someone is ‘a white van man’ (this is a very British stereotype) we presume that they read ‘The Sun’, work a manual job and smoke. Obviously, most of us know that a white van is not a reliable indicator of tobacco consumption, monocles don’t equate to social class, and there’s probably a man out there somewhere who can multitask. Maybe the Bermuda Triangle or Area 51.

However, not everyone has met a German before and I’d to clear up two stereotypes that exist about the dear Krauts.

  1. Germans speak an impossibly difficult language

It’s true that German has a couple more cases than in English, specifically the Dative and Genitive. But talking about time in German is much simpler than in English. The Germans tend to use the present perfect to talk about every past event. For example: ‘I have eaten’. Only very rarely do you hear ‘I ate’.

English constructions like: ‘I have been eating’, ‘I had eaten’ or ‘I had been eating’ confuse Germans greatly and are a nightmare to teach.

And let me lay another myth to rest: Germans do not have impossibly long words. Rather, they have compound words; here’s an example: Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung. I know it looks long but bear with me, it means ‘Certificate of employment disability’.

Now look at this: Certificateofemploymentdisability. A compound word is simply several words stuck together. We don’t do it in English very often, but you can’t really call four different words a new word just by removing the spaces, surely!!

  1. Germans are rude

From stealing all the sun loungers on package holidays to telling people bluntly that their food is terrible, the Germans have a reputation for rudeness. Is this reputation deserved? First, let’s have a look at this classic advert from the early 90s

Those tricky Germans trying to snatch the sun loungers! But let’s be fair, they were up first! The early bird catches the worm! It’s a little silly to feel entitled to something you turned up late to, isn’t it? Germans tend to value productivity and get up early accordingly.

Secondly there’s the abruptness. Germans are honest and direct, it’s a cultural thing that they expect straightforwardness in most areas. The British are subtler and more ironic, we are less honest when you think about it. Here are some British phrases and their real meanings:

  1. ‘Well, it’s an interesting idea…’        – your idea is impractical and I don’t like it
  2. ‘This isn’t your best work’                 – this work is terrible!
  3. ‘Isn’t the weather awful?’                 – silence makes me feel uncomfortable…

In Germany, this is madness; it’s better to be honest for points one and two. As for point three, let me put it this way: many Germans genuinely think that the British are obsessed with the weather. Silence is not a stigma.

I’ll probably make another post like this one in the future because there’s so much to talk about. If you have an idea then leave a comment!

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