Before you begin working your way to foreign language fluency, it helps to understand the culture behind the language you’re learning. After all, language exists to help a group of people express their ideas and beliefs. Germany is an old country with a rich history and culture. As you begin your German language program, gaining a strong grasp on this history, the values, and the etiquette will help you rapidly achieve success. In particular, Germans tend to plan out their thinking rather than being overwhelmed by too many details in order to maximize their efforts.
Ever been caught in paralysis by analysis?
Americans see that phrase as a description of what happens when someone obsesses over details and neglects the bigger task of reaching a decision.
Germans don’t think in the same way. They will form tasks that make the bigger process more organized, even if it means getting bogged down for a time in minutiae.
They will, however, be happy to explain the methods and meaning of their systems, sometimes in excruciating detail.
Those who violate the system might encounter some hostility. The would-be bus passenger in Germany who is visiting from another country might discover it isn’t possible to buy tickets from the driver. No expression of frustration or plea for mercy will keep the driver from denying that passenger a ride. Privately, the driver sees that foreigner as disorganized and rude – someone who didn’t bother to learn the rules.
But that same driver, in denying the boarding, might patiently explain the procedure for buying and validating tickets before catching the bus. Germans frequently go to great lengths to explain their systems for the benefit of those who need more clarity of thought in their lives.
Business people who work with overseas firms frequently find their German counterparts place a high priority on planning. Even if an event is many months in the future, Germans will map out their expectations and schedules, fully aware that circumstances could dictate scrapping those plans.
Why do Germans insist on this meticulous attention to details far in the future?
A cultural trait of German life is a high priority on order. A settled, organized strategy brings comfort and satisfaction. Many Germans find the prospect of living in a state of disorder quite disturbing.
Admit it: the very word “German” frequently brings to mind a list of companion words such as efficiency, organization, and even tidiness. How many other national identities connect so quickly to such words?
When interacting with Germans, it’s important to remember that this fundamental value is quite pervasive in everyday activities. It’s not unusual for someone with this mindset to pause in fairly common situations simply to consider the most orderly manner in which to proceed.
German education strives to find order and procedure, and then apply those lessons to the classroom work in which students partake.
To revisit the business event example, consider how most other workers approach such planning. In Spain, Italy, France, and many other Western countries, a much more last-minute procedure is employed. The reasoning is that getting too far in front of an event could mean wasted effort as circumstances change.
But most Germans are willing to take that risk in exchange for the comfort that springs from order and organization.