Culture shock for Germans when visiting Australia

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if someone that you dont know or even that you do know is asking you Informally how are you/ya whatever in a social situation be it a restaurant or at a party it's usually meant as a how are you in this exact moment.. instead of asking do you have salt and pepper do you like the food do you need more drinks or 100 other questions they ask "how is it going" or "how are you" to give you the chance to say "actually where is the shitter?" "I could do with a few more shrimp on the Barbie" "the beer tastes like XXXX get me a NSW beer pronto" or whatever.. if they want to ask "wie geht's?" they will ask something like "how have things been with the family/job/health etc is everything alright??"

 

if you're too stupid to work out "how are you" from a waiter is "how is your dinner? do you need some drinks? is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable because at the end of the day I want you to enjoy yourself here so you come back and ensure my future salary payments" then they are either fucking stupid or German.

 

Two things make you want to go back somewhere to spend your hard earned money

 

1. they make better food than you could at home

2. the service is quick efficient and friendly

 

sadly both points are about as scarce and hens teeth here.

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It seems only Germans can be annoyed with someone asking them how they are, to the point that it's basically a cliche, even among Germans themselves these days. Next you'll be laying out your towel on the beach chair at 5am.

I'm not German and I find it annoying. As I explained, it's the fact that it's a waste of time in most situations. You can see the person is bored out of their mind at the register beeping away and putting stuff in your bag and then they drone out the question "How are you?". You can straight away tell it's a learned thing and they only say it because they are used to it. They are in no way interested in knowing how you are or hearing your version of your daily events. They most likely aren't even listening and will forget your face 10 seconds later. I know this because I worked in the retail industry when I was young and had experiences there (in Australia). Now, as I said, I'm sure not everyone is like that, sometimes people DO care and are genuinely interested and you can start a conversation with them, but more often then not they aren't (since it's their job) and it's a waste of everyone's time.

 

You're right though, the best thing to do is say "Fine, thanks" and move on and I learned to do that quite well. This doesn't change the fact that it serves no purpose to anything/anyone whatsoever though.

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it's a waste of everyone's time

It might be a waste of your breath, but the millisecond it takes to come up with a "fine" is not going to stop you taking up a hobby; you could even say it while sticking some more stamps in your album or doing a yoga pose if you wanted. I'm impatient or knackered myself sometimes and can't really be bothered, but if we all avoided even that minimal level of social interaction, it would be a little depressing. The cashier doesn't have to tell you "sign here please": she could just hand you the pen and receipt. If you ask where the butter is, the shop assistant doesn't have to speak; he could just point. This would all save time and raise efficiency, especially as you could go shopping in a face mask without cracking it.

 

In other words I don't think this is a logical argument about time-saving.

 

Has anyone ever heard of smile therapy? People who are feeling a bit down are advised to look in a mirror and smile at their reflection. This is because our simple brains are programmed to associate smiling with happiness, and release all kinds of nice endorphins when we do it. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/smile-it-could-make-you-happier/

 

So being superficial can make you feel happier. But maybe when you have a socially taught (or not) belief that minor social interactions are a bad thing, that would then stop you feeling happy in these situations, so you just wouldn't get the same buzz as people who've been brought up to value minor social interactions.

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It might be a waste of your breath, but the millisecond it takes to come up with a "fine" is not going to stop you taking up a hobby; you could even say it while sticking some more stamps in your album or doing a yoga pose if you wanted. I'm impatient or knackered myself sometimes and can't really be bothered, but if we all avoided even that minimal level of social interaction, it would be a little depressing. The cashier doesn't have to tell you "sign here please": she could just hand you the pen and receipt. If you ask where the butter is, the shop assistant doesn't have to speak; he could just point. This would all save time and raise efficiency, especially as you could go shopping in a face mask without cracking it.

 

In other words I don't think this is a logical argument about time-saving.

 

Has anyone ever heard of smile therapy? People who are feeling a bit down are advised to look in a mirror and smile at their reflection. This is because our simple brains are programmed to associate smiling with happiness, and release all kinds of nice endorphins when we do it. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/smile-it-could-make-you-happier/

 

So being superficial can make you feel happier. But maybe when you have a socially taught (or not) belief that minor social interactions are a bad thing, that would then stop you feeling happy in these situations, so you just wouldn't get the same buzz as people who've been brought up to value minor social interactions.

 

Well said Ann, this man/women must be socially inapt & miserable, there is nothing wrong with being polite, i was thought that anyway and i am sure most of where.. I think its nice when i get on the bus or in the supermarket and someone greets me with a guten Tag or hello, cheers me up in fact. Even end up chatting for a bit. :D

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Although this post was started years ago, it seems to have been revived lately which is great. The various comments provide interesting insights into cultural differences. What I find amusing is that as an Australian, I find Germans to be generally more superficial but in a completely different way than interpreting how best to answer "How are you?". Instead, in Germany more emphasis seems to be placed on a person's perceived social status. For example, whether they have a title and can call themselves "Dr Bla Bla", what kind of job someone has, what kind of car they drive etc. My husband, who is German and grew up here before spending over a decade in Australia, has mentioned on many occasions to me that people in Germany are generally more hierarchical and often treat others differently depending on these factors.

 

I completely understand people using their titles in professional situations, when it may be important to know a little about their qualifications. However, I find it odd that some people use their titles with their names next to the doorbell of their personal residence. To me, that usage seems to be out of context and irrelevant. I'm sure the postman and visitors can figure out that Frau or Herr Dr Bla Bla are the same people as Frau or Herr Bla Bla. It makes me wonder whom they are trying to impress and if they are so insecure that they feel the need to do so.

 

Similarly, I find it strange that many Germans seem to like/require photos on CVs. This has been discussed extensively in other posts so I won't elaborate, other than to add that in my opinion it's another example of what I consider to be superficial.

 

By mentioning these things, I'm not meaning to be critical of Germans. It's simply an observation of cultural differences. After all, to use an old but good cliche, life would be very boring is we all thought and acted the same way.

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I completely understand people using their titles in professional situations, when it may be important to know a little about their qualifications. However, I find it odd that some people use their titles with their names next to the doorbell of their personal residence. To me, that usage seems to be out of context and irrelevant. I'm sure the postman and visitors can figure out that Frau or Herr Dr Bla Bla are the same people as Frau or Herr Bla Bla. It makes me wonder whom they are trying to impress and if they are so insecure that they feel the need to do so.

 

That's just a tradition. Maybe it played a role in former times, but definitely not now. This tradition is not limited to Germany (or D-A-CH countries). In Poland it is common to use "mgr" in signatures (magister). In Czech republic "Ing" is very popular (engineer). The funny thing is that if someone is Dr. Ing. people address them as "Dear engineer (Ing)", but not "Dear Doctor".

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In other words I don't think this is a logical argument about time-saving.

Of course you have to have a level of social interaction which makes sense. I have nothing against employees that come to me when I'm browsing and ask me if they can help me, this is perfectly fine! I'm talking about the times it's a forced behaviour which is not serving a purpose (grumpy sales people for example). In that case it definitely is a logical argument about time saving and wasted effort.

 

 

So being superficial can make you feel happier. But maybe when you have a socially taught (or not) belief that minor social interactions are a bad thing, that would then stop you feeling happy in these situations, so you just wouldn't get the same buzz as people who've been brought up to value minor social interactions.

I don't think people are brought up thinking minor social interactions are a bad thing, they are just indifferent to it.

 

You're right though, the way the person is brought up plays a major role here. If you're used to a specific way this behaviour is hard wired into your thinking and can have an influence in your daily happiness. If that's the case then why not embrace that behaviour? All I'm trying to say is that not everyone thinks like that and you have to respect the people that aren't like that (and that doesn't automatically make them robots). I'm able to find happiness in other aspects of my life, without the need to chit-chat to strangers.

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I don't think people are brought up thinking minor social interactions are a bad thing, they are just indifferent to it.

 

Ask a German what they think about "Small Talk"; the name alone shows that it is not considered part of their own culture but something from the US or UK. Here's an article trying to encourage people to see it more positively, and describing how chatting is seen in Germany pretty well:

 

Smalltalk erfreut sich in Deutschland keines übermäßig guten Rufes. Die einen hindert er daran, schnurstracks zum Bigtalk, dem eigentlichen Thema, vorzudringen. Andere übersetzen "small" mit "seicht". Da sie nicht gern an der Oberfläche surfen, sondern Themen in der Tiefe behandeln möchten und sich über die Essenz des Seins austauschen wollen, hat Smalltalk für sie keinen hohen Stellenwert.

http://www.wissen.de/smalltalk-und-unterhaltung

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Ask a German what they think about "Small Talk"; the name alone shows that it is not considered part of their own culture but something from the US or UK.

And why is that a bad thing? Just because you're from a culture that considers it positive (and benefits from it) they are supposed to see it and adapt? It goes back to my previous point that you have to respect the different cultures and ways, especially if you chose to be in that country for whatever reason. I lived in Australia for most of my life and find those questions annoying sometimes, but I still say "Fine, thanks." and move on.

 

 

Smalltalk erfreut sich in Deutschland keines übermäßig guten Rufes. Die einen hindert er daran, schnurstracks zum Bigtalk, dem eigentlichen Thema, vorzudringen. Andere übersetzen "small" mit "seicht". Da sie nicht gern an der Oberfläche surfen, sondern Themen in der Tiefe behandeln möchten und sich über die Essenz des Seins austauschen wollen, hat Smalltalk für sie keinen hohen Stellenwert.

While I agree with the article in a lot of points I highly doubt a lot of store/checkout employees are interested in having a conversation with you regarding your daily events and how the weather is when they ask you how you are. This goes from personal experience here and was my original point.

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And why is that a bad thing?

It isn't a bad thing; it is an explanation of why German people literally do not feel the benefit of minor social interactions, to explain their behaviour in situations such as the one at the start of the thread.

 

I find that to respect different attitudes it helps to understand where they come from*, and this is the reasoning that I've gone through to help myself understand why Germans would pooh-pooh or at least engage more rarely in the chitchat which gives me such pleasure. Here it is again briefly:

 

- One human trait is that when we act cheerful, we feel more cheerful.

- So in theory all humans should feel more cheerful when they engage in cheerful chitchat.

- However, some societies value chitchat more highly than others.

- In a society which places a very low value on chitchat, that negative view counteracts the positive benefits - people do not feel as cheerful as they are aware that they are engaged in a frowned-upon activity. As chitchat does not make them feel as cheerful, they ask themselves "why do something that is practically useless AND doesn't make me feel cheerful?"

 

This psychological** approach helps me understand where Germans are coming from instead of simply saying that they don't do chitchat because they are unfriendly grumps.

 

The question is, of course, why some societies place a higher value on chitchat. I've heard theories along the lines that it comes from the strict class system in the UK, where it was historically more important for people to be polite to one another. That seems very simplistic to me, though - apart from anything else, the German kings haven't been gone that long, I feel.

 

*Admittedly this may be something of an obsession and possibly not always quite as interesting to the people I present my theories to as it is to me.

**OK, pseudo-psychological, but I'll take whatever helps me reduce the paranoia.

 

Oh, and for anyone interested in the "when we act cheerful, we feel more cheerful" part, coincidentally I've just been reading "Thinking Fast and Slow", and there's a lot in there about that.

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A comment back to the OP: I have just stumbled on this post and thought I'd add to the debate. For what it's worth, I agree with the comments from your friends about the "superficial" and "insincere" way Australians talk and behave. I am Australian. I returned to Australia one month ago after living in Düsseldorf and Munich for 5 years, after living prior to that 16 years in Brussels and Marseille. I am finding the everyday behaviour of many Australians shocking. Not just in the shops and restaurants, but also in the office environment. I would also add "naive". Or maybe I mean "unaware", I don't know exactly. Certainly very ... childlike. I am finding it impossible to have a grown-up conversation or debate with my compatriots about any "serious" subject: the environment, relationships, immigration, office problems and issues. Eating out and shopping at most shops is an awful and brutal experience. And the way most Aussies now speak, with these strange upwardly inflecting accents, as though every sentence is a question, is impossible to take seriously. Well anyway, that's how I feel four weeks after returning here. I have never really believed in reverse culture shock but maybe that's what I'm experiencing. I will give this some more thought and maybe write again after a few more months. 

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