“That’s not the way one does that.”

„So macht man das nicht“ – that’s not the way one does that. „Wir machen es nicht so“ – that’s not the way we do it. „Das ist nicht richtig so“ – that’s not right. „Das ist falsch, wie Sie es machen“ – you’re doing that wrong. „Ach, Sie gehen so amerikanisch vor“ – ach, you’re taking such an American approach. These sentences I’ve heard many times. Of course, it could have been that I did most things in the wrong way.

So many times I have had the impression that in the German context there is the right way to do something and the wrong way. Implied in such thinking is that there is only one truly right way. All other ways are wrong.

I don’t understand much philosophy, but my impression is that Germans develop their ways of doing things deductively, from generally accepted principles. Kant, Hegel, and all of those great German philosophers, wanted to explain human existence – break the code, so to speak – so that people (individuals) know what to think and what to do.

They put together systems which are incredibly complex, all-encompassing, which explain all sorts of human interactions and interconnections. Rather German: complicated, hardly understandable, nonetheless intricate, impressive, somehow wonderful. Yet, more than somewhat abstract, distanced from everyday experience.

Not egotistical, much more collectivistic

The German “that’s not how one does it” comes from above, from on high, not dictated downwards, but more as if it were simply a given, based on some irrefutable logic. The tone of the statement is always as if there was really nothing, or at the most very little, to discuss. 

Not “I want it done in this way” or “I know best how this should be done.” Not stubborness, obstinance or ignorance or egotism. Those are not German character traits. Quite the contrary the Germans are very open-minded people in many ways. Ignorant? No chance, instead intelligent, well-informed, intellectually very curious. And not egotistical, instead far more collectivistic.

I cannot explain it. It’s puzzling, enigmatic, mysterious. Perhaps Germans think that in any given situation there can be only one truly optimal way to do something, and therefore „bevor ich Deinen Weg ernsthaft in Betracht ziehe, sage ich, unser Weg ist der richtige, oder eher der richtige” – before I seriously consider your approach, I say that our approach is the right one, or more or less the right one.

“That’s not the way one does that.”