Culture shock for Germans when visiting Australia

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Hi all,

 

(Sorry for the length of this guys,...only just realised it may be a wee bit long :blink: )

 

I only recently returned from a trip home to Oz ... glorious 5 weeks of sunning it and hanging out with family and friends. My husband is German, but lived in Australia back in 2005 so he has some experience with the Australian culture and ways of life - plus he married me so he's generally quite comfortable around our crazy ways of doing things. Anyway ... during the first week back home a couple of German friends from Bavaria stayed with us in Melbourne. They planned to stay in Melbourne for a few days and then head off down the Great Ocean Road to explore some of the coast line for a few weeks. I was excited about them experiencing my home town and also about them meeting my family and friends.

 

On day three of their visit to Melbourne we head out for a lovely 'dinner with a view' down Southbank. But, by the time we had placed out orders our friends had begun voicing anger and frustration about being asked 'How are you?' when ever they entered a store, and absolute disgust and fury at total strangers wanting to make conversation (whether it be by the person serving them in a store or someone sitting next to them on a park bench). By the time our meals had arrived, Australians were understood and labelled as 'superficial' and 'insincere'. I tried to take on my role or 'social interpreter' but I was cut off and angrily told 'That is superficial, it's not real, you're not real. No you're not!' (to be honest I'm still not sure whether they meant 'you' as in me, or 'you' as in the plural form - 'you Australians') I found it sad and frustrating that the very thing about Australia that I was excited about them experiencing had infuriated them. I hadn't seen that coming. Maybe I should have after living 2 and a half years in Munich, but I didn't. I made a few more attempts to help and explain that some people genuinely try and make conversation simply because they like to talk, and when they ask you where your from and how you like Australia they are genuinely interested in what you might say (well,...most of them are anyway). But it didn't work. They seemed to become even more angry that I would defend this 'insincere' and 'superficial' behaviour. In the end I was basically told that I wouldn't, and couldn't possibly understand true and real sincerity in the form that they were talking about - "Why,...because I'm Australian?!" (what the!!) Actually, at that point I felt really angry and I basically poured myself a huge glass of white and stopped talking about it right there and then.

 

I've since been thinking about this and have wondered why this group of people haven't had the same intense reactions when they travelled to other countries. One of them has travelled across nearly every continent, and the other two have seen nearly all of Europe. Never have I seen or heard this reaction from them about other places, and so I'm a little worried about why /how it had been so quick to develop, and so intensely, in Melbourne.

 

Do you think it comes down to a difference in understanding of when, where and with whom friendliness/ warmth is applied to an interaction. My husband tried to explain it to me like this,... "why would I want to talk with someone serving me in a shop or sitting next to me in a restaurant. I don't know them. I talk with family and friends because we have a relationship. I do that with them because the relationship is real." He also tried to explain to our friends that people in Australia might not necessarily want to discuss their deepest thoughts and feelings with someone they've just met, but that they might consider and enjoy a light chat with a stranger,...but I don't think that helped very much. Not everyone in Australia will stop you for a chat, which is partly why this reaction surprised me. I mean it wouldn't have been every person that they met who would have tried to start a conversation,...but it can and does happen. And well,...I like it when it does,...I've missed it,...and it was so good to be able to do it without fear or confusion for 5 weeks. The problem now is that I'm in a group of friends who have let me know that I don't know what real sincerity is, which I translate to mean that I'm not sincere.

 

Has anyone got some advise or thoughts they might offer? Should I let it go, or should I try and work this misunderstanding out? Remember these people aren't going anywhere, and nor am I. I married their best friend, and he married me. In all honesty I'm a little scared of having another conversation about it simply because of how the last one turned out. I think I understand the differences which are at play here, it's just that I feel really yuck after all of it.

 

Mel

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Bloody hell, talk about overreacting!! Honestly, it seems to me like they need a good kick somewhere.

 

In Ireland, things are fairly similar, maybe not as "extreme" as that, but people do and will talk to you. It doesnt mean they want to be your new best friend or share their lives, its just an acknowledgement of "you are here, I am here, lets exchange a few pleasantries". Wheres the problem? I dont do it here as much, as its just not the culture but when in Rome...

 

I would let it go if I were you, for they clearly dont understand and you will just be more and more frustrated in trying to "apologise" for being Australian...

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Ouch, that sounds like a nasty experience. You must have felt pretty miserable sitting at that dinner table.

 

I think it's a little sad that they didn't just accept that culture is different everywhere you go. For instance, I find the "you have a nice day now!" in New York a little insincere, especially since it can be often said in a tone of voice which obviously does not wish me to"have a nice day!" Does it bother me to the point of complaining about it bitterly? Absolutely not. I think of it as part of the culture and accept it as so. They way Germans that I've never met like to wish Guten Tag on the street. Or some people always say "how are you?" and are not really interested in the answer.

 

Do you let it go? If by letting it go, do you have to pretend not to be their idea of insincere? If so, then I wouldn't let it go. Why should you have to pretend to agree with someone...that you don't agree with. Easier said than done, but maybe you could try not to let it get to you. Accept that they're are going to be close-minded about this and try not to let yourself get upset by their comments. They're probably not personal at all but that's hard to see when you're sitting opposite them at a dinner table.

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Let it go but don't take the ignorant bastards anywhere else that doesn't serve pork and has a waiter/tress scowling at you or ignoring you.

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You should have asked them why perfect strangers give gods greetings to them in Bayern and then express the desire to see them again when they leave.

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Let it go but don't take the ignorant bastards anywhere else that doesn't serve pork and has a waiter/tress scowling at you or ignoring you.

:D So true!

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it may well be 'insincere' but who cares - it can be nice to hear a positive attitude once in a while

 

just as the checkout people in germany wishing me a nice weekend or nice evening couldnt really care less probably if I dropped dead minutes after leaving the shop - thats not the point

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Sometimes the concept of warmth and friendliness is simply not understood here in Germany.

That's why people are made to feel welcome in Oz but in Germany if oyu go into your average shop / restaurant you feel like you have to apologise for even being there.

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Forget about the clowns...Send them to India where we smile,grin, greet and try to strike up a conversation with anyone... I think Oz is one of the best places to visit ...especially because of the people...

 

And I've heard the 'we dont have a relation, so we are not going to mix' argument before and drives me nuts...how in the world can you make friends in the first place, if you dont talk...reeks of some old world networking, introduction based mentality...With such a mentality, nothing's gonna open up their minds wherever they go... And to think one of the best travel ad lines I heard in recent times was the german equivalent of 'Do men make a journey or does journey make men' or something like that...

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I'd was going to ask if they'd been to New Zealand... :ph34r:

 

You know something, after 10 years of Germany being in Australia and New Zealand for 10 weeks recently made me realise that yes, I do like people being insincere. Hell, I'm bloody insincere myself. To the bone.

If being that kind of insincere is wrong, I don't want to be sincere. Ever.

That's part of my make-up and yes, I know what is coming... I no longer* get upset at the often lack of bitte and danke, but will it stop me saying those words? Hell no.

 

If such things are your core values, they probably won't change. Same for your Germanic pals.

And they may not see any issue.

When I got back, I was kinda I hope I never (more than once, more than twice) about it. So I spoke to the former Herr Indoors (an old pal, ex-boyfriend and protector of my plants while I was away).

"The people were so lovely, so friendly and warm, wanted to chat, it was so nice."

"Oh but Germans are nice."

I could only stare. He never understood in the 5 years we were together and he still doesn't.

 

It is different.

Look at the flipside: if having to be grateful for any crumbs of friendliness tossed your way makes a person sincere, do you want to be?

Never apologise for being you. Never, ever, ever.

Be your friendly self. You might just have to adjust to a different reaction to what you are used to. Good luck!

 

*slight exaggeration

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Yeah, it wasn't fun sitting at the table. I felt a little outnumbered actually,...which was strange...i've never felt out numbered on my home turf before. I really didn't know how to handle it, so in the end and basically drank and kept quiet. My husband was trying,...but it became a situation in which he felt torn and in the middle. I feel really bad about that actually. It was really hard to be 'pleasant' after that, so I drank and soaked in the view of Melbourne, and they went back to talking bavarian without me,...kind of like being in Munich really. :(

 

I think the thing that worried me the most was that these people are now, and will always be connected to my life. They went to Kindergarten with my husband, their girlfriends went to school with my husband,...their parents and his parents have known each other since they were kids,...blah, blah, blah. These people will play a large part in my life and there is NO escaping it. Normally I put stuff like this aside because I figure I'm not going to have to see or deal with the person who's annoying me for the rest of my life. But this is different. maybe you're right. I don't have a great deal of faith in these guys accepting something different to 'the way things are done' - and I don't another yucky situation. That was awful.

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In the 17 or so years I have lived here I have had more than the occasional conversation with Germans comparing US/UK with Germany. Whenever I suggest that people in he US/UK may be friendlier to strangers I am always rebuffed with the argument that it is a superficial or insincere friendliness. I have often been told that it is, in fact, harder to make 'real' friends in the US or the UK, because you first have to break through this mask of superficiality. Germans on the other hand cut straight to the chase, don't make idle chit chat, are selective in who they call friends, but make more sincere lasting friendships. I think it's a myth some people like to believe in to justify or explain their own discomfort in dealing with strangers. It is definitely a common attitude here and certainly not restricted to the OPs friends.

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At least the wine would have been good, melbel.

 

You may never get their acceptance until you leave your man and then you're the best woman ever, which is what happened to me, you may be able to forge a truce though.

Hope they don't start with the helpful* correction of your German too as my ex's pals did. :ph34r:

 

*i.e. unsolicited, show-offy and done entirely to put me in my place

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Bizarre, only a Bavarian could travel to the other side of the planet and complain about friendliness.

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Thanks guys,

 

I feel so much bettter already.

 

@ Katerina - I agree. There was a shop that I walked into while in Melbourne and as I was walking around the sales assistant and I exchanged the expected "Hello"s and "How are you?"s,...and then I just went back into being how I always was back home. I liked her top and commented on it, she thanked me, I asked where she got it from, she told me and gave directions, and then we just flowed into a chat about fashion, good places in Melbourne these days for a Saturday night drink, and the weekend weather. We bounced back and forth and it was loads of fun. It was so easy. It felt great! I thanked her, which confused her a bit, so I told her I'd been away from home for over 2 years and missed being able to do that. And Guess what,...she said...I know,isn't it great,...and then before we knew it we were off on another chit chat. I walked out of that shop 10 minutes later totally revived and beaming all over.

 

I get that I can't do that here. I learnt that lesson the hard way very early on. But it doesn't matter. I do a new version of it in Munich - it's the sort of version that doesn't scare people here too much, but keeps me happy.

 

I guess I just wanted our freinds to be the receivers of how good it can be.

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Do you think it comes down to a difference in understanding of when, where and with whom friendliness/ warmth is applied to an interaction. My husband tried to explain it to me like this,... "why would I want to talk with someone serving me in a shop or sitting next to me in a restaurant. I don't know them. I talk with family and friends because we have a relationship. I do that with them because the relationship is real."

You should remind your husband that had he not talked to someone he did not know, he may not have met you.

 

 

He also tried to explain to our friends that people in Australia might not necessarily want to discuss their deepest thoughts and feelings with someone they've just met, but that they might consider and enjoy a light chat with a stranger,...but I don't think that helped very much. Not everyone in Australia will stop you for a chat, which is partly why this reaction surprised me. I mean it wouldn't have been every person that they met who would have tried to start a conversation,...but it can and does happen. And well,...I like it when it does,...I've missed it,...and it was so good to be able to do it without fear or confusion for 5 weeks. The problem now is that I'm in a group of friends who have let me know that I don't know what real sincerity is, which I translate to mean that I'm not sincere.

Bah. I'm sick of Germans and all their deep talks. Can't people just shoot the shit once in a while? As Katrina says, be yourself and wish your friends luck. People who feel they should be unfriendly to strangers to prove their sincerity to their close friends and family must have real problems in unfamiliar social situations.

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Not to condone the original issue, but to be honest this kind of conversation no doubt happens here frequently, albeit from the reverse perspective, when we as expats complain to Germans about the lack of friendliness observed amongst the populace here.

They're probably surprised, and wonder why anyone would complain about such a direct, efficient approach.

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