Germany and the Love of Privacy

This unwillingness to discuss private time with colleagues reveals both the German distaste for small talk, but also the German desire for privacy.

Germans have a clear and robust sense of what should be in the public domain and what should not, and although there are exceptions for good friends, finding out what your colleagues get up to outside of work requires military grade interrogation techniques.

With waterboarding out of the question, I am left with little recourse other than to linguistically trap colleagues into giving away small details of their lives. The excruciating process of trial and error can last for years, until one day a colleague feels comfortable enough to actually tell you directly what they get up to when not at work.

How Rude! Are Germans too Direct?

If you’ve done any research into German culture, you’ve likely come across blogs, articles and forum discussions on the subject of German directness. Less politically-correct results may even simply state that Germans are rude.

It’s a topic of discussion as old as time; or, at least, as old as the Internet’s mainstream popularity. There is a lot of material on the subject, and it all basically comes to the same conclusion: Germans aren’t rude; they’re just direct and honest. If you can’t handle it, you need to grow a thicker skin (you big cry baby).

Small Talk: Why Germans Won’t Tell You How They Feel

One of the many clichés about Germany and the Germans says that they act in a not very friendly or even rude manner towards strangers. You might get that impression when you first come to Germany and try to get to know somebody else on a train, a bar or at work.

Especially as an American, you might be used to getting in contact with strangers really quickly. In Germany, you probably won’t. It is a scientifically proven fact that German people simply don’t chat in public places when they don’t know each other. But what is often interpreted as rude manners, is more like a basic inability of Germans to small talk – they simply are not used to it.

What Germans think they are good at

YouTube comments:

“After having lived for 4 years in the US I learned to appreciate some German traits. What comes to mind is efficiency, being detail oriented, having a long attention span, being direct and mostly honest, and – very surprising for me – compared to the US the relation to your superior is much more on an equal footing (okay not everywhere), despite calling your boss by their firstname in the US, work life balance, time for your family Politically, trying to find a balance between economic growth, workers rights, social security and sustainability (trying is the word here). On a material level, certainly bread (in all variations), beer, engineering of course, Sahnetorte (cream cake), Wurst (sausages as well as cold cuts); plumbing, online-banking, … Examples of what we still have to learn: seeing the good things (we are perfect in looking for “das Haar in der Suppe”, finding fault in everything); sometimes letting go of safety in favor of taking risks.”

“My sister lives in Munich and, although I’ve never lived there, I’ve visited Germany multiple times. Germans do many things very well. The towns are clean, safe, and well run. People are polite and civilized. Food is delicious and the beer is out-of-this-world. The women are so good-looking! My sister enjoys a high quality of life over there – she says that social services are comprehensive and stress-free to deal with. And all this without mentioning German achievements in science, medicine, engineering, commerce, and the arts. It’s a fine country. p.s. John Kampfner’s book on Germany is excellent.”

“As an Italian, I can say that Germans are the best when it comes to public facilities, infrastructure, punctuality and public order.. they also make the best beer you can find.. They need to improve fashion and social attitude perhaps (Not all of them are “cold” though) I would love to live in München one day!”