My name is Sean, I’m 30 years old and I am an American hailing from the great state of Ohio. I am a veteran, blogger, self-styled beer expert, student of political science, and all-around good guy. I live with my family near Schweinfurt in Lower Franconia. Like most American in Schweinfurt, the US Army brought me here. Schweinfurt has been a garrison town since the end of World War II. I came here in 2001 and was assigned to an artillery that was part of the 1st Infantry Division (the Big Red One). About a year after I got here I met a lovely German woman and eventually fell in love with her, and the rest of the country.
Can you tell me about a cross-cultural blunder you have committed in Germany?
Bwah, just one? I have found it exceedingly difficult to maintain that typical formal manner in which Germans conduct themselves around people with whom they are not well acquainted. As an American, I am all about the sort of “Hey buddy, I’m Sean. Nice to meet ya!” mentality. I find myself constantly referring to people by their first names – regardless of how well I know them – and mixing up my “du’s” and “Sie’s” or “dir’s” and “Ihnen’s”. Sometimes several times in a single conversation with the same person.
What strikes you most in Germany (good and bad)?
Good: How clean and safe it is.
Bad: How “rude” the people are. Let me clarify. I come from an area of America where platitudes and insincere small talk are considered polite behavior. The Germans are having none of this. It took me a while before I adjusted my expectations of what is considered polite.
What do people in your country think of Germany and Germans?
Much the same as people in every other country. Germans all wear Lederhosen and Dirndels. They eat nothing but Bratwurst and Sauerkraut, and they drink their beer from huge mugs. Unfortunately, 70 years removed from WWII, the association with national socialism is still evident.
Do you like German food?
I love German food. Germans have a very “meat and potatoes” diet. I grew up in an Irish family, so that fits my style perfectly. Roasted pork, grilled pork, fried pork. Pork. Pork. Pork! You really can’t go wrong there. There is nothing more fine than the Schwein.
What advise can you give to a newcomer?
First thing is first, LEARN THE LANGUAGE! There is no more important aspect to integration than this. Just learning a little bit of the language makes life infinitely easier. Sure you can fake the funk, gesturing and grunting your way through most every day situations. But why make things harder than they need to be?
Secondly, get over the old way of doing things. Embrace the new social norms, attitudes, communication styles, everything that is different from how things were “back home”. Chances are that you didn’t move to a new country just to keep the same old lifestyle. Sure, some of the ways of doing things might seem silly or inefficient. But for the most part, they are just different, and in some cases better.
Lastly, get out and get involved. Clubs are a huge part of German culture. Social clubs, sports clubs, hobby clubs, etc. are great places to meet new people, make friends, and learn about local culture and customs.