Driving in Germany

“From the German Autobahn to the US Interstate System, der Führerschein or driver’s license – over the past few years we have done a LOT of driving in both Germany and the United States.

Although the US Highway System was modeled after the German Autobahn, you might find some surprising differences. Come ride along with us as we roam the roads of both countries!”

Very helpful, and funny, comments. From Germans. Explaining their logic:

“Germany: The problem that you cannot see the traffic light clearly when you are in the front row is resolved by the fact that the car behind you immediately honks when you are not driving when the traffic light changes to green :-)”

“The main reason why traffic lights in Germany are on your side of the crossing is clarity. Germany with its old town centers has many very irregularly shaped crossings, and a traffic light at the opposite side can not easily be attributed to a certain lane or even a road. When the first traffic lights were introduced in the 1920s, Germany experimented with the placement of the traffic lights on the opposite side or hanging down from cables spanned across the crossing. In the 1950s, all those installations were removed due to constant confusion of drivers.”

“Turning right on red lights is not often used in Germany due to pedestrian and bicycling traffic. When you are waiting on a crossing, chances are high that you not only have to watch out for car traffic, but also for pedestrians and other traffic you don’t regularly have in the U.S.. Thus in Germany, turning right on red lights is decided on a case-by-case base.”

“My instructor in Germany told me early on: “You are behind the wheel, you are handling a weapon.” This stuck with me.”

“About the driver’s license: there is a 40% fail rate on both the theoretical and practical exams here in Germany, which says a lot about the quality of the drivers the government is striving for. As I tell my kids: Driving is easy. Being a driver is not.”

Want to know the why for a culture’s behavior? Simply ask them.

Process. Procedure. Same meaning?

From the New York Times – 15 September 2021: “The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff twice called his Chinese counterpart in the final months of the Trump administration to reassure him that Donald J. Trump had no plans to attack China in an effort to remain in power and that the United States was not collapsing, according to ‘Peril,’ a new book by the Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.”

The NYTimes continued: “After speaking to Ms. Pelosi, General Milley convened a meeting in a war room at the Pentagon with the military’s top commanders, telling them that he wanted to go over the longstanding procedures for launching a nuclear weapon. The general reminded the commanders that only the president could order such a strike and that General Milley needed to be directly involved.

‘If you get calls,’ General Milley said, ‘no matter who they’re from, there’s a process here, there’s a procedure. No matter what you’re told, you do the procedure. You do the process. And I’m part of that procedure. You’ve got to make sure that the right people are on the net.’

The general added: ‘The strict procedures are explicitly designed to avoid inadvertent mistakes or accident or nefarious, unintentional, illegal, immoral, unethical launching of the world’s most dangerous weapons.’

Then, he went around the room and asked each officer to confirm that they understood what he was saying.”

But, wait, how does General Milley distinguish between what is a process and what is a procedure? They are not the same.


The German dictionary Duden defines Flexibilität (flexibility) as: flexible property, quality, composition, character; bendability, pliability; the ability to adjust, adapt, conform.

Synonyms: Wendigkeit agility, maneuverability, mobility; Nachgiebigkeit compliance, softness, resilience, yielding; Geschmedigkeit malleability, litheness, limberness.

Zero Tolerance

Americans typically prefer rules that are very specific, but not meant to be followed to the letter. Nevertheless, recently in response to a lot of complaints about inconsistencies in disciplining misbehaving students, many American school systems have started adopting strict zero tolerance policies.

These policies typically state that any student committing a wrongdoing will receive the same pre-determined punishment, no matter what the specifics of his/her offense are.

Schools have had quite a bit of trouble implementing these policies, and statistics have shown that the rigid rules have actually led to elevated dropout rates and an increasing number of suspensions. This is largely because American students are used to having a little “wiggle room,” and weren’t accustomed to the strict enforcement policy.

Wiggle room – permission to slightly bend a couple of rules, as long as most of the rules are followed.

Richtlinie or guideline

Americans have a higher tolerance for deviating from processes. Americans see processes and procedures fundamentally as tools. Whereas a German colleague sees in a process a Richtlinie (order, instruction), his American counterpart often sees a guideline. The term guideline is often translated into Richtlinie. This translation is false and misleading.

Like their German colleagues, Americans seek that fine line between process-discipline and -flexibility. The moment a process makes unnecessary demands which do not serve the overall goals, that process is deemed rigid. Americans will deviate by reevaluating the most important factors: risk, resources, back-up contingencies, and the final value-added for the end-customer.

Results delivered in a timely fashion, even if the product of a process is not followed step-by-step, are preferred over results delivered too late, but the product of a process vs followed step-by-step. Americans, both as customers and suppliers, can “sleep at night” with the so-called 80%-solution, as long as the missing 20% is compensated by the advantage of speed, responsiveness or price (cost).

When to deviate: Americans are quick to deviate from steps within a process or procedure if: it does not add value, does not help, does not move their work forward; external forces demand it, such as schedule, budget or customer demands; after getting input from experienced colleagues and/or permission from their team lead or process owner; and as long as the deviation conforms (compliant) with laws and regulations.

Americans speak of taking a down and dirty approach, of doing whatever it takes to get the job done, of being pragmatic.

Rules are made to be broken

In America, refusing to deviate from the rules is often perceived as negative behavior. There is a popular saying which states that “rules are made to be broken.” American General Douglas MacArthur famously expanded on this phrase and said “Rules are mostly made to be broken and are too often for the lazy to hide behind.”

Sam Walton, the founder of the Wal-Mart chain (which became the largest corporation in the world in 2002), wrote in his autobiography that the most important rule in business is to break all of the rules. He also gave preference to rule-breakers when hiring employees, as he considered them superior workers to their rule-following counterparts.

Many of the best known American scientists and engineers were also rule-breakers. Bill Gates broke the rules with his innovative software, Henry Ford with his moving assembly line and welfare capitalism, and the Wright brothers with their fixed wing aircraft, just to name a few.