Being too happy with yourself is not a virtue in Germany. It is however equally unacceptable to engage in something without being good at it. The best compromise is to be very good at something without bragging about it. Altogether, it takes some effort to get a Germans to tell what they are good at.
After a little insistence, Alain (29) says he does quite OK in running and cooking. `I would like to be better at both. In running, I would like to be able to run marathons within 3.5 hours, but I so far haven`t managed that. Annika (27) thinks she is good at speaking foreign languages: `We Germans are forced to learn foreign languages, because, outside Germany, hardly anybody speaks ours. In Europe, you can get away with German but as soon as you get to another continent, German is useless. I lived in Honduras for two years, and you can imagine that my German was not of much use there.`
`In Germany, work and private life require different qualities and different roles`
Beside being good at languages, Annika is no exception to the rule that every German is good at his/her job. `I work as a commercial agent for a cruise ship company. I think I am very strong at convincing people, at organising and at being patient with others.` Maria (23) works as a waitress and she, too, is convinced that she is very good at her job. `I like serving drinks to guests. There are different people everyday, which keeps the work exciting.` Heike (23) likes playing Frisbee but she is not yet very good at it. She is more confident talking about her job. `I am quick at understanding situations and processes, which I think make me a good worker.` Stefan (24) thinks that Germans are good at their jobs because they are persistent in what they do: `Whether I feel ill or not, I will go to work. The only reason not to go would be if I fell over.`
Ramon (25, photo) explains why people are so much more eager to talk about work than about their private qualities. `Work and private life are two entirely different worlds in Germany. At work, or even already during studies, you are at any time expected to exceed yourself. Not being good at what you do is not even an option, while getting better at it with the passing of time is a standard requirement. Germans are also much more formal at work than at home or in private spheres. Colleagues often address each other with `Sie` (formal you), including all of the titles the other person may have.
Christian (25), of whom some people say is he is good at writing, has the following ideas about German working life: `Risk is to be avoided. Emotions at the work place are seen as a a factor of risk: a potential weakness that is to be kept separate from work. Friendships at work equally tend to be superficial and they rarely extend into the private sphere. Work is work, and everything that interferes with its efficiency is frowned upon. Personal relations, whether positive or negative, may well turn away concentration from the job at hand.`
Goals and concepts
Young Germans are educated to be very goal-oriented. They learn at young age that planning and discipline are vital ingredients for performance. A German without a goal is like a Pole without a boyfriend/girlfriend, a Czech without a job or an Italian without family. The best way to reach goals is to aim straight, without looking right and left from the moment the itinerary has been decided on.
`People look at you in a strange way if you have no goal, or if you are not doing what it takes to reach it`, says Almuth (22). `I want to become a doctor, so I am studying medicine. I don`t like the studies, but I am good at forcing myself to pass exams. My sister has a different way of making her dreams come true. She wants to work in a theatre, but she is not following the conventional path of studying at the drama academy. Nobody understands what she is doing, even though she herself is very convinced of her decisions. This time, she is planning to go to France for a while, but how does that relate to becoming an actress? She seems to have no fear. Some people find that very difficult to understand. They will fear in her place.`
Andreas (30) can deal with different ways of reaching goals, but he does not believe in reaching goals without proper preparation. `I can`t see how somebody would get anything done without first defining the goal and then sorting out a concept.` Having lived in Spain and Cyprus for a short while, Andreas is aware of the way Germans care a lot about time and punctuality. `I don`t think Germans are very flexible. If you call a plumber in Cyprus, he may well be three days late and see no harm in that. In Germany, time is time and an agreement is an agreement. The younger generation may be a bit more flexible, although working life is still likely to push them into conservative ideas. Especially in science and business circles, people have very conventional work ethics. I myself like to secretly rebel against that. If I have to wear a suit, I will for example try to get away with wearing spots-type shoes. One can only change one little thing at a time.`
Andreas continues: `I think Germans are not very good at enjoying life. They are very serious about obligations. I myself try to do things a bit differently. Beside my job in the university laboratory, I also do some DJ-ing or work as a sound technician. It started as a hobby, but I took it quite seriously. If I do something, I like to do it well. I think I got as far as I could reasonably get. I know how to get the crows moving. I also think I am good at mobilizing people for ideas. But time has come for a new challenge. Maybe learn a new language..`
Advantages and disadvantages
Germany owes a lot to its goal-oriented approach. Nora (21) is convinced that Germany would not be producing excellent cars if efficiency and p?nktlichkeit were not so highly valued. `Germans are always striving for perfection. Simply good is not enough.` Jana (24) thinks that the perfectionism also leads to a lot of complaining and gossiping. `People don`t know their neighbours, but they for sure have an opinion about their behaviour.`
Jana does not think that German humour suffers from the love for explaining and streamlining information. `I don`t really understand why people think that Germans are not funny. We like jokes and we have a big underground scene of comedians who come up with hilarious performances. Fortunately, our achievements in science and sports are more appreciated. On the negative side, we may be a quite bureaucratic. We are good at creating an information overflow but at least the instructions are always clear. Contrary to other countries, German bureaucracy is predictable and not related to personal favours.`
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