Germany vs. UK – culture differences
First of all tea, tea is a national drink of Britain, it is a tradition to drink it at any possible break time: in the morning, evening even midday breaks. This unfortunately is an aspect which lacks in Germany, and a lack thereof is likely to cause frustration for a German is much more likely to drink coffee with tea being reserved more for the elderly. For someone like me who doesn’t drink coffee it was rather a shock and immediately had to stock myself with some Earl Gray and Green.
Another rather stark difference is the mentality especially when it comes to communication, a typical English interaction starts with two people exchanging pleasantries, what went right is the code that the British speak, what went wrong is something you learn after a compulsory cheeky pint with the lads 😉
Opposed to that is the German style of directness, for instance let’s say your pet passed away, in Britain you can’t just say that, you have to entertain your listener and having established a right level of trust such information can be shared; British people are often confounded having to listen to a German who they have never met before tell them how their marriage is going, how their kids are at school, what prospects do they have, it all leaves us with just ‘woah’ and ‘wow’ So that just happened!
Furthermore it is hard to disguise your emotions, in Britain we have a culture of understanding that what one sees is not necessarily what one feels, we have to guess and can never be sure, given the circumstances assume what someone feels despite what one says, in Germany what you put out either verbally or via expressions is what is taken for granted, it is what it is without further need to occupy yourselves with the feelings of others. It sounds harsh and can initially produce many incorrect conclusions, after all who is to know that you sitting down with a grumpy face in the morning doing work is not you being dissatisfied with what you do or others but just letting the morning tea kick in and carry on doing what you enjoy!
Another difference is following the rules, in Britain it goes: ‘if it’s not going to kill me and I can get away with it then let’s do it’. We are quite averse to danger and strangers but when it comes to cutting corners we do it, nobody bats an eye since everyone does it! Cross the street where you weren’t supposed to, ‘ehh, whatever’ says the chap next door, ‘back in my days I did the same’ an intergenerational understanding and trust is the story of the British. Germans however, oh that wouldn’t fly with them!
Coming from the Prussian style educated people, obedience to the state and the rules is overly upheld, and cutting corners is a risky business, it’s 2 am middle of the street with no cars and 2 minutes till the light turns green, well you better wait, God forbid you cross and someone sees you, if you’re lucky maybe their stern look of disapproval will be it but if you’re unlucky a hefty fine is already being written by the local Polizist.
Another difference is how they educate people, a typical British school teacher will tell you what to do and write, your goal is to remember and apply further, the ground is set you just need to make sure something grows out of it. Memorise and apply and there’s a lot of freedom to do what you want. Teachers are there to teach what is in the curriculum, your own motivation and passion is what is supposed to drive you through the boring bits. This isn’t always a good thing, students are segregated into ability sets based on that curriculum with set 1 as the highest and set 3 as the lowest but nothing is more demotivating than being put in the lowest set despite some initial motivation, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure for those selected systematically to be lower.
Germans on the other hand do things differently, a teacher doesn’t explicitly say do this and that but rather it’s always on you to follow your intuition and use logical thinking skills to produce an effective solution. Let’s say you want to connect a device to the right port, a British teacher would just say connect the yellow cable to the yellow port and then connect it via HDMI into the television so you can move on with the lesson, a German teacher on the other hand will ask you questions and the task is on you to figure out how everything fits. The usual boring bits which are seen as nothing more as a distraction or annoyance are given greater attention in the German world. Initially seen as rude or impolite, or even pointless for a person raised in Britain, the genius of that reveals itself with the fact that it teaches patience and thoughtfulness; not brushing things aside to get to the ‘fun’ bits but seeing the potential fun in what is normally brushed aside, a valuable life lesson which may betray the secret of stereotypical German efficiency, after all if you take care in performing even the most mundane tasks, you are bound to do everything right, right?!
Text and pictures by Seweryn, EVS/ ESC volunteer sent to Germany by IB Polska.