Nibelungentreue

A German with extensive experience living and working in the U.S. made this comment:

“I more observed that you make easier commitments in some cultures, and somewhere it takes more time. Then, in some cultures you can adjust when the boundary conditions dramatically change, and in others you stick to you word whatever happens. I guess that probably is the concept of Nibelungentreue, which has both positive and negative implications.”

About Nibelungentreue see what Wikipedia has to say here.

Yes Signals

Germans focus on so-called Knackpunkte – literally snap or break points – those areas, which if they fail, all fails. The German yes is often given conditionally or with a warning: “We can do that, assuming that ….”, or “That would be possible, but only if ….”, or “At the moment we cannot give you a 100% guarantee, because ….”. By stating there is inherent risk involved, Germans are sharing the risk with the other party to the agreement.

“They pay their bills“

The German newspaper, Die Welt, complimented the Chinese highly when it wrote that they pay for their Mercedes Benz automobiles on-time. Zahlungsmoral literally means payment morals.

Zuverlässigkeit is not only a human, but also a product characteristic.  Germans expect dependability and durability, especially in technical areas. German power producers constantly stress the Zuverlässigkeit of their nuclear power plants.

Infrastructure in Germany is expected to have 100% Zuverlässigkeit. Brown- or blackouts of the electricity grids occur very rarely. The telephone network almost never fails. Lack of reliability in Germany quickly leads to protests by customers and citizens.

Tausend gute Taten machen keine schlechte gut. A thousand good deeds don‘t make up for one bad one. Wenn ich mich auf Dich verlasse, bin ich verlassen. To be dependent on you means to have been abandoned.

Unzuverlässigkeit is the opposite of Zuverlässigkeit. In the German context, to be labeled unreliable or undependable is a serious criticism, a flaw not easily removed. Unreliable people are not trusted, their reputation is damaged. It is the same for unreliable products.

If commitments are not met it is imperative to prove that external factors were the cause. Unzuverlässigkeit – unreliability – costs time and money and increases risk, which Germans do their best to keep at a minimum.

A German reporting from a state in the former Soviet Union: “The same problems keep repeating themselves. Aspects of important agreements are changed suddenly, which is not a problem as long as everyone is informed quickly. In team meetings we agree to a schedule, which shortly thereafter is not held to due to delays in the delivery of material, which had been ordered two weeks late. When we then contact other sources we find out that they are out of stock. Our work processes get written down, but within a month or two no one knows where they are or what they mean.”

Germans have great difficulty dealing with lack of reliability. Even with their own high standards do they have their problems. Compared to other countries, public transportation in Germany is very reliable. But not dependable enough for the Germans. The same goes for weather forecasts, an imprecise science. Not reliable.

Zuverlässigkeit

Germans plan far into the future. This only makes sense, though, if all involved are reliable in sticking to the plan. Zuverlässigkeit – dependability, reliability, soundness, trustworthiness – delivering what you promised by the date you agreed to.

Zuverlässigkeit is so critical to Germans that it is considered a virtue, as a matter of personal character developed over time. Zuverlässigkeit, therefore, needs to be demonstrated from the very beginning of a working relationship. It is the basis for trust.

Auf Wunder ist kein Verlass. Don’t depend on miracles. Eines ist sicher: Die Rente. One thing is for sure: social security. Und er rollt und rollt und rollt – Der VW Golf. And it goes, and goes, and goes – the VW Rabbit.

Wort halten

Wort halten – keeping your word – is understood literally by the Germans. It means holding firmly to an agreement, whether verbal or written. Commitments made out of kindness are considered empty and are unsettling for Germans – they promise what might not be delivered.

Words are so concrete for Germans that they can be broken – to break your word. Those who do not keep their word commit Wortbruch – literally word break. Agreements in the German context are like stairs. Keeping your word allows you to move up quickly and securely. Weddings are often referred to as giving each other the Jawort, literally the yes-word.

Wortbruch – no laughing matter. In December 2012 the German archeologist Hermann Parzinger accused the Turkish government of breaking their word for not adhering to an agreement made in the 1800s. For Germans, agreements don’t lose their validity over time.

The German Federation of Trade Unions accuses German companies time and again of breaking their word by not creating the amount of apprenticeships they promised. Wortbruch is the accusation. “Those who don’t keep their word, have lost our trust and support.”

Every political party in Germany, large and small, claims in their campaigns Wort gehalten, word kept. Germany’s largest companies are proud to keep their word without even haven given it. German products are known for their quality, for delivering what they promise.

Verlass or Verlässlichkeit – two other terms for keeping your word – mean dependability, reliability. Verlässlichkeit is the foundation for any business relationship. In Friedrich Schiller‘s work Die Bürgschaft (The Bond or The Pledge) Damian keeps his word by returning to the tyrant in order to give his life by hanging for his friend.

Pflicht

Pflicht means duty, obligation, liability, responsibility. Pflicht in Germany is a serious matter. Germans have a high level of Pflichtbewußtsein, literally duty-consciousness. Once they have made a commitment Germans feel obligated to meet it 100%. A Pflicht is like a contract.

Eigentum verpflichtet. With property come obligations. Adel verpflichtet. With nobility (gentry, wealth) come obligations. Wehrpflicht. Duty to serve in the armed forces. Rechte und Pflichten. Rights and obligations. Sich aus der Pflicht stehlen. To steal yourself out of responsibility. Jemanden in die Pflicht nehmen. To obligate someone. Pflichtfächer in Schule und Studium. Required courses in high school and university. Seine Pflicht verletzen. To breach your responsibility.

To be obligated. Rechte (rights) are things which are permitted. Pflichten (duties, obligations) are things which must be done. A German chancellor has not only Richtlinienkompetenz, literally guiding rules of authority or policy direction, she is also responsible for executing those policies.

German companies are not only obligated to pay their taxes. The automobile and chemical industries, for example, feel obligated to abide by voluntary environmental standards.

Employees obligate themselves legally to perform their work duties. Pupils and students obligate themselves to complete required courses and be tested in them.


Those professions which are viewed as important role models, such as medical physicians, civil servants and educators, have even a higher level of duty consciousness. Breaking their obligations is a sign not only of professional failure. It would damage their reputation.

For once you have obligated yourself, you cannot go back. Pflichtbewußtsein – duty consciousness – is the only way out.

Said and done

In general Germans place very high value on reliability. Colleagues who keep their word are considered to be treu (constant, faithful, loyal). A Ja from a reliable person means I really can count on that person.

Germans are particularly aware of the importance of this virtue in their culture. They expect commitments of any kind to be kept. Zuverlässigkeit ist Gold wert – reliability is as valuable as gold.

Ein Mann, ein Wort – one man (person), one word – is a sought-after character trait in Germany, in both the work environment and the private sphere. A quick, but not fully reliable, Ja is considered to be of low value.

Gesagt, getan – said and done. Germans expect words to be put into action. Versprochen ist versprochen und wird nicht gebrochen– promised is promised, and will not be broken. Germans are determined to keep their promises. Ein Ja ist ein Ja – a yes is a yes. Once said, it should be kept.

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