How do the Germans see their multicultural society, especially in the light of current influx of migrants? I had an opportunity to sit down with my two good German friends and had a longer discussion with them on cultural differences and how to overcome the difficulties. Meet Lorena and Inga (yes, I did find another Inga while living in Cologne 🙂 ) who also gave some awesome tips on how to deal with “the Germans”!
What do you think: is multikulti dead in Germany?
Lorena: No, I wouldn’t say that. But I also live in a big city where people from many different cultures and countries live together; people, who bring influences from their own culture, such as different food…
Inga: I also wouldn’t say that. If someone brings a friend along who doesn’t speak German, then we automatically speak English and no-one really makes a big deal out of it.
But we keep hearing about anti-immigration movements such as Pegida, who are clearly against, let’s say Muslim migrants…
L: I think these movements are completely moronic. Of course, when people come to a foreign country they have to adapt to the new culture, as they are the ones choosing to come. However, we shouldn’t reject people simply because of their origin and religion! What matters is that the people who come to a foreign country are open and try to show this openness, for example, by giving a clear signal that they’re trying to learn the language of the country they live in.
“I think these movements are completely moronic.” – Lorena
I: I agree. But at the same time I don’t think it is supposed to be only a few countries that welcome the refugees in the current crisis. It cannot be only Germany and Sweden, who take them in, while all others say that “no, we do not have room for them.”
L: It has to be proportional and balanced between the EU countries depending on the share of the population and how big the country is.
So now that a refugee or a migrant like me has arrived in Germany, what are your recommendations on how to best integrate in the new society?
I: The most important thing is to know the language and it’s like that in any country, not only Germany. Take, for example, France: they don’t even want to talk English to you, so it is even more crucial to learn their language. And the language skills help to build contacts with the locals.
L: Knowing the language is absolutely fundamental for everything, simply because with that you set an example that you want to settle in and feel home. If you don’t do that then it clearly sends the signal: “Oh well, I don’t know when I’m moving on, so I don’t need your language.” This is a wrong attitude. You should always try and make the best out of the situation and to be open towards new experiences – also towards the new culture, where you are going to live. It is not always easy, but I’m convinced that both sides have to give every effort to make it work. Additionally, Germans really appreciate when someone tries to speak our language, because we know how difficult our language is. I always appreciate people’s effort!
I: I absolutely agree.
But it is not really easy to have the courage to speak German…
L: Everybody has this fear at the beginning, but this is something you MUST set aside. I know it from my own experience when trying to speak in Spanish and Portuguese. And why? Because, first and foremost, talking is the easiest way to learn the language. It goes quickly and in this situation you shouldn’t be angry with the person who is correcting you. I am always grateful when I get critical feedback as it allows me to develop my language skills. Of course, it is the question on how this is presented. When someone explains you in a nice manner, that you’re not supposed to use this word and instead use some other word, then I really like that. And honestly, no one will scream at you when you say a word wrong… The worst thing that could happen is that someone doesn’t understand you. So I don’t see where is the problem?
“The worst thing that could happen is that someone doesn’t understand you. So I don’t see where is the problem?” – Lorena
But what are the particularities when someone tries to settle down in Germany?
L: I would definitely say that people in Germany are very honest. And it is OK to criticise openly. It’s even normal and culturally accepted. In many other countries it is often a bit fake and we’re not really used to it, that’s why we come over as too frank. We’re very outspoken. When someone asks me what I don’t like, then I tell it. If the person doesn’t want to hear my reply why to ask in the first place? It doesn’t make sense to us. Germans are brought up to be honest and open since we believe it allows the problems to be solved quicker when you are allowed to criticise openly.
I: Of course, in such situation you should remain polite, but you can always tell if something is wrong or ask what the problem is.
At the same time it often happens that the foreigners take the German straightforwardness of Germans as criticism and feel like they are scolded. Any tips on how to deal with that?
L: It’s difficult. The best solution is to talk about it. If you don’t say anything, then nobody even knows that you have an issue with the feedback or that you feel bad about something. If you’re too polite or have learned in your culture that you shouldn’t criticise openly, then here you will face some problematic situations, since the other person cannot really know that you feel offended.
Would you really recommend addressing these issues?
Both: Yes, definitely!
I: When I have the impression that I’m doing something wrong and I ask about it, then normally the answer is that: “No, not at all. I meant it in a different way…” And then it’s settled.
L: So really, if you don’t say anything then the other person doesn’t know anything about it and the situation will not change.
I: By the way, I think that the problem also is that German language sounds grouchy to non-native speakers….
“The problem is that German language sounds grouchy to non-native speakers.”– Inga
L: Oh a definite misinterpretation… 🙂
I: Even when we laugh while speaking, then the people tend to think that we’re not happy with something…
L: Yes, the Germans are described as cold in southern countries. And, of course, we are somewhat colder, if you compare us to, let’s say, Brazilians, but in fact we’re simply more distanced at first. There it is kisses here and there in the morning when you arrive at work, in Germany you come to work and say “Morgen!” and then you sit. And that’s it. So yes, it might be friendlier elsewhere, but I don’t think it means you will find friends more quickly somewhere else. I actually have a problem with it. In Germany it’s not necessarily easy, especially when you compare Rhineland and Bavaria where I come from… The friendships you make in Bavaria are more difficult at the beginning, but when you have a friend there, it’s for life. In Rhineland everything is great and fun and “let’s go for a coffee”, but somehow this never happens…
“The friendships you make in Bavaria are more difficult at the beginning, but when you have a friend there, it’s for life.” – Lorena
I: I’m born in Rhineland and as I recently visited Bavaria, I must say, I did have the impression that people are much more reserved. I don’t think it is as easy to find friends there as it is in Cologne 🙂 By the way, I also think that people from Hamburg are cold.
L: I agree, there you notice it even more. But in Bavaria once you’ve “cracked the shell”, then it will hold… Of course, people in Munich are somewhat different, more arrogant, than the Lower Franconians, like me 🙂 The Franconians are warmer. The regional differences tend to be generally very strong in Germany….
In this case, what is your favourite regional stereotype?
L: Of course, everyone wears the Lederhosen and Dirndl in Bayern on a daily basis… This is such nonsense, but people all over the world think that. So that’s my favourite stereotype.
I: It often seems that for the rest of the world Bavaria equals Germany.
“It often seems that for the rest of the world Bavaria equals Germany.” – Inga
L: Outside of Europe everyone says instantly: “Oktoberfest, Sauerkraut and Lederhosen.”
I: And then I have to explain them that NO, sorry, but where I come from there’s Kölsh (beer from Cologne – ed.) and no white sausages.
Any final words of advice?
I: When you move abroad then you cannot really expect that everyone accepts you the way you are, so you have to make this extra effort to fit in a little bit. I wish that people who move here would take an interest in Germany, in how it is to live in Germany and as a German. Both sides have to budge an inch and to give effort. And Germans are rather open people, so it’s worth trying.
“I wish that people who move here would take an interest in how it is to live in Germany and as a German.” – Inga
L: In general, people should be open to new experiences, make the best out of life, go explore new countries, learn new languages… But it is also important to be open towards other cultures and people that come to your home country. It is important to put yourself in somebody’s shoes and to think how it is for them: how would it be when you arrive somewhere, where you don’t know anyone and don’t master the language.