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.

Thou vs Ye

In Old English, thou/thee were used to address a single person, while ye/you were used to address more than one person. However, as English developed, the terms ye and you were used to politely address a single person – first the king, then other high born nobility and the clergy, and eventually anyone at or above a person’s social status.

By the end of the 16th century, the word ye had virtually disappeared from daily speech, and the term you was quickly replacing the term thou.

As Early Modern English began, the word thou became associated with emotions, rather than number or hierarchy, and most people would only use thou if they were angry or in love. Ironically, these days people very rarely use the informal thou to indicate formality or to sound more archaic:”Thou shallt not lie.

Harry Truman Plain Speaker

Americans who use direct communication are typically labelled as plain speakers. It is difficult for plain speakers to rise high in American politics, and one of the few to do so was Harry Truman.

Truman’s entrée into politics began in 1922, when he was elected to be a judge in the Jackson County Court. He served as a judge from 1922 to 1924, but despite his reputation for honesty and efficiency, was not reelected in 1924. Undeterred, Harry ran for judge again in 1926, this time winning his election.

In 1934, Truman became a senator, and in 1944 he was nominated to run as vice president with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The two men won their campaign, and Truman then came to office as president following FDR’s death in April 1945.

In 1948, Truman ran for reelection, and to the shock of the public (who considered his defeat inevitable), Truman won reelection. In fact, Truman’s defeat was so widely anticipated that some newspapers went to print with the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman” before the election results were known. As a result, there is a famous photograph of Truman smiling as he holds up one of these newspapers after winning the presidency.

Harry Truman left the presidency in 1953 and retired from political life. Some examples of Truman’s Plain-speech:

On why he opposed silencing dissenters: “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”

On why he would not accept the Medal of Honor: “I don’t consider that I have done anything which should be the reason for any award, Congressional or otherwise.”

On politics: “We now see that other past presidents, have found a new level of success in cashing in on the presidency, resulting in untold wealth. Today, many in Congress also have found a way to become quite wealthy while enjoying the fruits of their offices. Obviously, political offices are now for sale.”

On politics: “My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference. I, for one, believe the piano player job to be much more honorable than current politicians.“

“Thank You”

Politeness is so ingrained in Americans that sometimes they will respond with the polite formality before realizing that their politeness might seem a little out of place. In the American television show “Scrubs: Med School” the main character, a med student named Lucy, complains to her teacher that she doesn’t feel like he’s trying to teach her anything. The teacher tells her that he’s not, because he doesn’t waste time on people who won’t succeed. Her response to this was “Thank you” before walking off and criticizing herself for thanking him.

Learning to speak American

In her blog – Learning to speak American – Vicki Hollett from the UK asked herself if Americans were more direct than the British. Hollett writes:

„Indirectness is an interesting feature of politeness. Like most people, I don’t always say what I mean. So for example, I might say, ‘Do you have a pen in your bag?’ when really I mean ‘I want a pen’. And people ask for things indirectly like this all the time:

Those biscuits look nice. (Give me one) Is anybody else here feeling hot. (I’m hot. Open the window.) Have you finished with that newspaper? (I want to read it.) Are you going past a post box on your way home? (I have a letter I want you to post.) Are you busy? (Help!)

The ambiguity in requests like these has social benefits. If I can get what I want because you want to give it to me, then life will seem like it’s harmonious and pleasant for us both. And if I haven’t gone on the record with a request, then it’s easier for me to rescind or modify it later.

So I might say ‘Those biscuits look nice’ hoping you’ll offer me one. But then if you say ‘Yes, I bought them for my kids’ school’, I can say ‘Oh how old are your children?’ and we can both pretend I wasn’t asking.

Now people often say Americans are very direct, but I’m not sure how true that is, particularly when it comes requests like these. An American would say cookies instead of biscuits and mailbox instead of post box, but they seem just as likely as me to make requests in this roundabout fashion.

In my experience, Americans are pretty much like Brits when it comes to saying what they mean directly. In short, they don’t.

It was once considered the height of good manners to ask for something by first offering it to another person. For example, a typical piece of dinner dialogue might have been:

“John, would you like some more bread?”
“No, Bob, but would you like some?”
“Yes, I would.”
“Here you go, then.”

Although no longer the fashionable way to indicate that you would like something, it’s not uncommon for Americans to use this roundabout way of asking for a favor.

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