9. Februar 2012

The method in German madness

I’ve come to realise that there are quite a few prejudices we as English speakers have towards Germans and their way of doing things. But after getting to know the German way a little better and experiencing it first hand, I’ve come to the new realisation that many of these prejudices are a result of not knowing why certain things are done in a certain way. The moment you get behind the ‘why’ their ‘way’ starts making a lot more sense.

In essence, it all boils down to two words: German efficiency. However, I think this term has become so over-used, often in a negative way, that it’s lost its meaning. We have this view of Germans that make them appear quite cold, simply functioning like machines or robots in a production line, much like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. But in actual fact, that’s incredibly far from their true character. Yes, Germans know how to work hard and how to get the job done. But there’s method behind the madness. The harder and quicker you work, the more you can play. And that’s exactly what they do. Germans are efficient, not to prove a point or because it’s all there is to their lives, but because it tends to make life a lot easier, and there’s more time for fun. So yes, when Germans are at work, they do their job really well and they’re incredibly focused. But as a result, they have more time for themselves. To prove my point, Germany is one of the countries with the most vacation days. And they certainly make good use of it.

Once you understand this aspect of the German character, other oddities start making a lot more sense. Take the simple example of a press release. Germans prefer to start with facts and perhaps finish off with a beautiful description towards the end. The English, on the other hand, might find this quite forward and as if you’re pushing the product too hard. When we as English speakers write a press release, we tend to sweet talk the reader first, before getting anywhere close to the actual reason for the press release: the product. Neither of these approaches are either right or wrong, because there can be argued in favour of both of them. They’re simply different. But I do seem to be noticing a pattern. I’ve spoken about the differences between the way we do meetings, small talk and office chatter too. And it all boils down to the same thing: Germans are in favour of getting straight to the point, not beating around the bush, and getting business out of the way first. And although this might seem as a sometimes colder approach, they do seem to get the job done a lot quicker than other people do.

To be quite honest, the more I ponder it, the more I think we might, in fact, all benefit from an extra dose of German efficiency.

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