German Veto

If discussions about a possible agreement are not business-like or unfocused, Germans will readily exercise their veto. Or, if they have an alternative approach, they will reject the initial proposal, thereby affecting a change of course and eliminating unnecessary discussion.

Germans tend to be well prepared before deciding on whether to enter into an agreement, and assume that the other parties are too. Usually, they have a plan or proposal ready. Instead of explaining point for point why they reject a given proposal, they simply respond with a no.

Because the no can come fast and definitively, it can throw the non-German party off balance. One needs to remain calm and describe clearly the reasons for one’s own proposal. If they are valid, the German partner will take them seriously and actively seek out the best approach, including a compromise.

Personal liability

Germany is a country based on the rule of law. And there are many laws in Germany. The Germans abide by them. For Germans, rules and regulations are one way to reduce risk of personal liability. This can make working with Germans difficult for non-Germans. A conditional German yes might very well be based on the fear of being made personally responsible for the outcome of an agreement.

Working with Germans or setting foot on German soil immediately involves coming in contact with German laws. Why are escalators in Germany so slow? Because the store owner is liable for any accidents.

Bus drivers in Germany will only let passengers enter or exit at designated bus stops, even if it is only ten meters away. For legal reasons. When sending an email to a group of friends the other email addresses should not be visible. Personal email addresses are private and protected by Datenschutz, information privacy protection laws.

Computers often need repair. Employees of companies are not permitted to take action, unless they are in the IT department. If repairing leads to further damage, the employee is personally liable. For it is not their job, but the employer‘s, to repair company equipment.

The same goes for cleaning. Rolling up your sleeves and cleaning dirty windows in your office is a nice gesture, but not a good idea in Germany. The employee is liable for any injury incurred during the cleaning. The company‘s insurance company certainly will not pick up the costs. And the company can even charge the employee for not focusing on the work they are paid for.

German laws also prescribe clearly in which locations what kinds of commercial space can be used for. Many an organization has learned the hard way that the space they rented cannot be used for the purposes they intended.

Yea-sayer Nay-sayer

The Yea-sayer Nay-sayer is a so-called school-opera written by Bertold Brecht, Elisabeth Hauptmann and Kurt Weill in 1930. Initially it was titled The Yea-sayer, and the plot revolved around the question of whether an individual must be agreeable to sacrificing themselves for the good of society.

In the first version of the piece a boy gives permission for his own execution. After a sting of discussions with students and workers Brecht’s The yea-sayer was modified into a second version, where the yea-sayer is presented in contrast to a nay-sayer.

This nay-sayer calls the blind obedience of the yea-sayer into question. The function of the yea-sayer has seen a variety of literary interpretations; perhaps the most common interpretation being that the character represents the expression of a false obedience with regard to authority and social norms.

Indeed, the term yea-sayer has a negative connotation in the German culture. To be a yea-sayer means to say amen to everything. Not to resist. To accept anything. Better to be a nay-sayer in this case.

Nay-sayers may be more complicated and unpleasant for those around them, but at least they stand up for their own beliefs. An (initial) no could simply be a way of expressing oneself first.

Not literal-minded

Yes or no. They seem clear, digital, literal. Words. Unmistakable. Unmißverständlich. un-misunderstandable. Hard, definitive, immovable. Not just the German logic at play here. English as a foreign language, also. Sure, Germans speak English well, some very well, not a few exceptionally well.

But what about nuances? Language is not mathematics. It is far more complex. Kulturbedingt. Imbedded in, shaped by, determined by, understood through national culture. Germans are Germans. Americans are Americans. National culture is a harder fact than any mathematical one.

Many Germans speak English more literally, because it is for them a foreign language. Nuanced thinkers they are. In their language. Germans. They can be literal, but they are most certainly not literal-minded.

German civil servants

German bureaucracy is equally confusing to many Germans as it is to foreigners. This is why most major services have open office hours with personal counselors. However, even one of these personal consultations can result in you accidentally setting up a road-block for yourself.

How could this happen? Usually because you asked for something that was not possible on their part, or at least perceived to be that way. You could be asking the impossible of them without even being aware of it, or you could be asking for something that apparently extends beyond their job description. The majority of German civil servants are really not that touchy, but not being able to get around one who is can be extremely difficult.

German civil servants tend to put the structure of their organization ahead of their own part. Their tasks were given to them for a reason, and it is not in the interest of the organization to let small issues spread to the attention of other departments if not necessary. After all, even the smallest component of a system is necessary to keep the whole from falling apart.

Providing information is always in the job description of these counselors, and they are happy to give it to anyone who takes consideration of their busy schedule by coming in advance. Coming well prepared is critical, also. In most cases they will take care of all of your needs to the fullest possible extent right there and then.

Anger at German Nay-sayers

In October 2009 the newspaper Westfalenpost published an article titled Verärgerung über deutsche Neinsager – Anger about German Nay-sayers. It was about Germany’s role in foreign politics.

From the outsider perspective Germany is considered to be a difficult political partner. Anyone listening to the buzz around Washington, Paris, or Peking will encounter Germany being discussed in a critical, but also derisive tone, which suggest an inability of German politics to represent Germany as the most economically strongest and most populous country in Europe.

“The trademark ‘culture of restraint’ which once sufficed for German foreign policy, can no longer be viewed as an expression of modesty, but rather as failure. The capitals of the neighboring countries are reacting with increasing bitterness to the German ‘nay-sayers’, who simultaneously point a finger in the opposite direction and try to teach their partners a lesson.”