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).
Bitte nicht immer “wir müssen” sagen, sondern eher “wir werden alles unternehmen, dass wir … erreichen”. Mehr zupackend argumentieren, der klare Wille muss bei den Menschen ankommen. Danke.
Please don’t always say “we must”, but instead more like “we will do everything possible, so that we … achieve more.” Argue more dynamically. Get across clear determination and willpower. Thanks.
That was the advice given by a German professor for information security and data privacy. As a comment on an article in LinkedIn.
Armin Laschet, the Premier (think governor) of Germany’s most populous state, Northrhine Westphalia, is the Christian Democratic Union – CDU (think Adenauer, Kohl, Merkel) chancellor candidate in the September 2021 federal elections in Germany.
Berlin, 1936, the Olympic Games. The great American track and field athlete, Jesse Owens, wins the gold medal in the 100 meter, the 200 meter, the 4×100 meter dash, as well as in the long jump.
What many people don’t know, however, is that the silver medalist in the long jump, the German Carl Ludwig “Lutz” Long, had given Owens the kind of advice that only a true colleague, and friend, would give.
Going into the 1936 games Long had been the reigning German champion and holder of the European record. The Nazi hierarchy – and the German people – had anticipated gold for Germany.
In the qualification round Owens had fouled twice in a row by stepping on the white board delineating the jump-off point. A third foul would have disqualified him. Jesse Owens would have failed to advance to the final round. The crowd, the millions listening by radio, and especially Owens himself, were unsettled.
After that second fault, Lutz Long walked over to his competitor and advised him to simply imagine the foul line to be located one foot closer than it actually was, saying that he just had to avoid fouling a third time, and that his third jump would easily be enough to advance to the next round.
Some sources claim that Long went so far as to lay down his white towel marketing where Owens should leap from, ensuring that he would not foul a third time.
Jesse Owens took the advice given to him by that German, advancing to the final round, and then setting a record which would hold for decades. Lutz Long took the silver.
Immediately after the medal ceremony, when Owens and Long stepped off the podium – and in full view of Adolf Hitler and many of the highest ranking National Socialist officials – Lutz Long, the German, smiled, shook hands with Owens, then hooked Jesse’s right arm into his left and proceeded to walk with him around the track, smiling, talking, congratulating.
1936. Tensions in Europe were very high. The German regime was espousing a crude racial theory. And in the United States, an African-American like Jesse Owens was treated as a second-class citizen, at best. With the world watching, and in conscious defiance of his own government, Lutz Long, a German, reached out to his archrival to give a small bit of helpful advice. Unsolicited.
Postscript: After the 1936 Olympic Games Jesse Owens was celebrated triumphantly in the U.S., only then to be forgotten for two decades, and to struggle financially, until the 1950s brought him a presidential appointment as American Ambassador of Goodwill by Dwight Eisenhower, and with it lucrative celebrity endorsements as well as a long, healthy, happy life.
Lutz Long, his German friend, died in battle against the Western Allies in Italy at the age of thirty. Fast forward the video above to 1:38 mins:
“You could melt down all of the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating for the twenty-four carat friendship I felt for Lutz Long at that moment.” Jesse Owens
MerriamWebster online defines advice as: a recommendation regarding a decision or course of conduct as in „he shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties (United States Constitution); information or notice given; an official notice concerning a business transaction.
Examples of advice: My advice is to sell your old car and get a new one; take my advice and sell your old car; He needs advice from an expert; She’s been giving him some expert advice about investing; “May I ask your advice about something?” “Certainly. I’m always happy to give advice when asked for it.
Middle English avis, advis view, opinion, from Anglo-French, from the Old French phrase ce m’est a vis that appears to me, part translation of Latin mihi visum est it seemed so to me, I decided. First Known Use: 14th century.
Interestingly, see the synonyms MerriamWebster lists for advice. Adjuration: a solemn oath; an earnest urging or advising. Admonish: to speak to someone in a way that expresses disapproval or criticism; to tell or urge someone to do something. Admonition: a criticism or warning about behavior.
In other words, advice can be received as solemn, earnest (heartfelt, conerned) help or as disapproval, criticism, even as a warning.
MerriamWebster online writes: a person who you like and enjoy being with; a person who helps or supports someone or something; one attached to another by affection or esteem; a favored companion.
Middle English frend, from Old English frēond; akin to Old High German friunt friend, Old English frēon to love, frēo free. First Known Use: before 12th century. Among its synonyms are alter ego, amgo, buddy, chum, compadre. comrade, confidant, crony, familiar, intimate, pal.
What is a Freund?
dwds(dot)de writes: Vertrauter, someone you can trust; jemandem innerlich verbundener Mensch, a person who is especially close to another. Old High German (8th Century) vriunt, friend, next closest, mate, relative.
This is not the place to address how Americans and Germans diverge in the understanding of friend, friendship, what it means to be a friend. But here is a thought:
Is it not the true friend who has your best interests in mind, and therefore is willing to risk the loss of your friendship in order to convey a message which is painfully important for you to hear?
Formulated differently: What true friend, who sees that you are on the wrong path, would not speak to you about it?
When typing in „advice“ into amazon(dot)com – USA – roughly 140,000 books are listed. When inputting Ratgeber (literally advice-givers) into amazon(dot)de – Germany – about 640,000 books are listed.
There 320 million people in the U.S. In Germany there are 80 million. The American population is four times larger than the German. However, there are four times more books written in Germany on giving advice than in the U.S.
The Germans give advice and the Germans take advice.
With the recent popularity of YouTube and other amateur video websites, people have been staging scenarios and filming people’s reactions to them. This is particularly popular in the U.S., where, in addition to amateur reaction videos, in 2008 ABC created a television show called What Would You Do?
In the show, actors and actresses pretend to be in situations in which they would benefit from unsolicited advice (domestic abuse, drugged beverages, etc.), and the show collects statistics on how many people offer advice or warnings.
Typically, most Americans who witness these situations don’t get involved. In one episode, in which a caregiver in a park berates the elderly man for whom he’s supposed to be caring, and refuses to take the elderly man home when asked, only one-quarter of the people who witnessed the interaction intervened. Other episodes typically have similar statistics of intervention.
There are hundreds of American advice-givers on the web. Let’s read what they write about unsolicited advice:
“Your opinion is valuable, your advice even more precious. So, save it. Keep it for yourself. Odds are, you need it more than I do. So, please don’t give that sh*t away, certainly not without even being asked.”
“Have a nice day,” said the mom to her teenage daughter; to which the daughter replied, `Motherrrr, will you pulleeeeze stop telling me what to do!´ I empathize with both parties in this old joke. Sometimes we get so overrun by unsolicited advice that even the most innocuous, benevolent advice becomes intolerable.”
“Unsolicited Advice: We’ve all received it at some point in our lives and we’ve all given it as well. In some few cases, if we didn’t know enough about the circumstance to ask for advice then we are appreciative if someone tells us – but those moments are few and far between. The majority of the time we feel that the other person is trying to take our own power away. We feel as if they believe that we are not capable of taking care of ourselves and knowing what we need.”
“Four tips on how to give unsolicited advice: 1. Rephrase your advice as your own personal experience. 2. To repeat: Keep your stories short and relevant. Most people’s attention span is a lot shorter than your speaking ability! 3. If you must give direct advice disguise it as “How I did it” or “How someone else did it”. 4. Accept that the recipient will reject or act on your advice at their own will and allow them their self motivation.”
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