German Humor meets American Mentality

This from German Science Comedian Vince Ebert:

A comment: “A German compliment sounds like this (and I quote my brother): “You look fat in that dress, but great dress!!!”

Another comment: “In the U.S., we have a satirical News outlet called “The Onion” that writes fake stories to make fun of our culture and government. In Germany, I’ve heard their version of this is a website called “Stupidipedia” that’s a satirical version of Wikipedia, that’s full of fake, interconnected information. They made a whole encyclopedia as a joke. The Germans do in fact have a sense of humor, its just over engineered like everything else in Germany.”

“What the hell were you thinking killing all of the Native Americans?”

An interesting comment: “The smoking areas on train station platforms are actually more helping to concentrate the cigarette waste in one place so it’s easier to clean, that’s why I like this system. It’s meant to keep smoke from non-smokers but whatever… It has working benefits.”

One cliché after another. The German people have a wonderful sense of humor.

Still too direct

“Germans, in general, can often be more direct and straightforward than Americans, and to be honest even after living here for eight years, that directness is still sometimes a little shocking for me, a little bit too much, or even sometimes has made me cry!”

A comment: “Just your example about some shop assistent telling you that the piece of clothing does not fit you at all: I’m always more suspicious about a shop assistent telling me how good it fits keeping in mind he or she just wants their merchandise sold. So I tend more to appreciate an honest, though maybe direct answer.”

Another comment: “I’m always irritated how well the Americans can hide the truth of what they are thinking behind compliments and smiles. In Germany If you are getting an honest critique, then the person likes you, thinks said critique can improve you and is interested that you do better. So its a good thing 😉 “

Oh, here’s a good one: “As a German, i feel like lying when i am asked about my opinion and i would try to let it sound “nicer”. Everyone is honest and tells what they think about everything. I tried for a while the way that is used in the staates and i gat really that awfull feeling of lying and i konstantly had to think about how i say things and not what i like to say.

In my opinion germans are just used to that honesty and fee unconfortable to alter the opinion just to sound nicer. The other way around, when i meet people from the staates, i have allways that feeling they are sneaky and false, they try to hide their thoughts behind words. I was never sure how they really are and think.”

“Well, that was complete shit.”

Berliners respond to the question “Are we Germans direct?”:

And one of the comments from a German: “When I was in high school, I can remember, another student gave a poorly-prepared presentation. Directly thereafter the teacher simply looked at him and said in English: “Well, that was complete shit.”

Say what you do. Do what you say.

“Say what you do and do what you say”, that’s the motto of German engineer, Norbert Rudat. I think 99.9% of Germans would agree with it.

But wait, wouldn’t everyone, from every culture, agree with it? Perhaps. But are other cultures as literal about it? And I don’t mean literal-minded, but instead meaning something literally as they say it.

For example, do Americans always mean exactly what they say? And do they always say exactly what they mean? What about other cultures: China, France, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico?

Mr. German Man is direct

An American woman. Married to a German man. How her husband is very direct. And about how Americans learn to be indirect, especially when giving negative feedback.

Warning ! This woman is a youtuber. And an American on top. So, she is more than a bit animated. And frankly, she could have made her points in about two minutes instead of seven and a half.

Watch the first three minutes.

Conversation as Interview

Germans like to get to the point quickly. They are more interested in the content than the person. They know before the meeting what they want to learn, hear, the information they seek. The conversation is often more of an interview than a discussion, as if they came prepared with a list of questions.

Figures of speech: Es gibt keine blöden Fragen. Es gibt nur blöde Antworten. There are no stupid questions. There are only stupid answers. Gut gefragt, ist halb gewonnen. The right question is half the right answer. Fragen kostet nichts. Asking doesn’t cost anything. Fangfrage. Trick question.

Löcher in den Bauch fragen. Literally translated: to shoot holes (with questions) in the other person‘s stomach. Preisfrage. Price question. Das kommt nicht in Frage. Literally, that does not come into question, or absolutely not.

Eric Schmidt – Google

The former Google CEO has reinvented himself as the prime liaison between Silicon Valley and the military-industrial complex.

General Thomas, who served in the 1991 gulf war and deployed many times to Afghanistan, spent the better part of a day showing Mr. Schmidt around Special Operations Command’s headquarters in Tampa, Fla. They scrutinized prototypes for a robotic exoskeleton suit and joined operational briefings, which Mr. Schmidt wanted to learn more about because he had recently begun advising the military on technology.

After the visit, as they rode in a Chevy Suburban toward an airport, the conversation turned to a form of artificial intelligence.

“You absolutely suck at machine learning,” Mr. Schmidt told General Thomas, the officer recalled. “If I got under your tent for a day, I could solve most of your problems.” General Thomas said he was so offended that he wanted to throw Mr. Schmidt out of the car, but refrained.

In an interview, Mr. Schmidt — by turns thoughtful, pedagogical and hubristic — said he had embarked on an effort to modernize the U.S. military because it was “stuck in software in the 1980s.”

Yes, Eric Schmidt is an American. But check out his last name. He is thoughtful, meaning intelligent. He is pedagogical, meaning can be pedantic. He is hubristic, meaning arrogant. Schmidt.

Poker Face

In Cologne very recently. A conversation with a graduate student interested in doing research on business cultures. We had spoken at length by phone a week earlier. But I could not remember the details. So many interviews since then. I start off explaining the basics, am not sure if and to what extent she understands me. I continue, going into more and more detail.

Hardly any change of expression on her face. A direct, but impersonal look. Do I go more in-depth or stop? I ask if she understands me. She does. Ok. We move on to more topics. Same dynamic. I explain that she needs to let me know if I am going into too much or too little detail. She does neither. Frustrating for me, most likely for her, also. Time not well-spent. Nothing new for me. I’ve experienced this time and again, and unfortunately all too often with prospective customers.

Frank und frei


Honesty. Honorableness. Straightforwardness. Truthfulness. Candor. Directness. Fairness. Honesty is often confused with impoliteness.

In Faust II (1832) written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany‘s greatest writer, Baccalaureus is criticized for being rude, rough, abrasive. He responds with: “Those who are polite in German are lying“.

Literal: In the truest sense of the word; without interpretation. “He literally took apart the automobile, piece by piece.“


A euphemism is a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing: pre-owned car instead of a used car; sex worker instead of a prostitute; in between jobs instead of unemployed; senior citizen instead of old person; underserved neighborhood instead of impoverished neighborhood.

frank und frei

Literally frank and free, as in “Let me speak frankly and freely with you”. The term ‘frank’ is an age-old German word for free. The Franks were a Germanic tribe which successfully withstood the influence of tribes migrating from the Nordic countries into what is today’s northern Germany. Frank as a male first name was derived from Franko: a member of the Franks, meaning courageous, free.

“May God help me“

Martin Luther (1483-1546) – German, Catholic priest, Augustinian monk, professor of Theology – was the foremost driving force behind the Protestant Reformation, challenging fundamental teachings of the Church.

In April 1521 Luther was under intense pressure to recant his theological teachings before the Reichstag in Worms, an assembly of Germany’s worldly and religious leaders. Luther responded with:

“I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.” Luther, a German – direct, honest, and transparent. And for many, uncomfortable, difficult, and challenging.