Please meet Pia von Beren. Pia is from Bremen, Germany and moved to Argentina in 2013. She is working as a study abroad advisor with international students in Buenos Aires and also enjoys writing about everything cultural and educational. Pia, like Finnbar and Georgios, agreed to contribute to my blog, and to share her insights on German culture, respectively how Argentines would very often perceive us.
“What do Argentines think about Germans and Germany?
Telling Argentines I am from Germany, they usually suspect that my home town is Munich or – much rarer, trendy Berlin. The image many Argentines have about Germany usually consists of tall blond people who eat a lot of sausages, drink beer and live in the South, most likely in Munich where (as everyone knows), Oktoberfest takes place. Northern Germany and its culture is quite unknown to most of them, and the fact that Germany has a seaside and beaches which can actually compete with the Argentine coast often produces surprised faces.
Germany is indeed often associated with food – hot, heavy and traditional German food like meat balls with brown sauce and potatoes or the very famous Sauerkraut along with a good strong beer. The fact that the German cuisine is heavily influenced by international dishes, and that most modern day-to-day family meals include more pasta, rice and pizza than heavy dishes based on grandma’s recipes surprises most Argentines as much as the fact that Berlin is the Döner Kebab capital of Europe. It seems to be a carefully guarded secret that we do produce drinkable wines as well.
Whilst the German playas are something new to many Argentines, German business and working ethics are not. When talking about work and business, Germans are considered hard workers, very organized people and tidy and punctual in general. Law and order is what Germans seem to live for and our traffic rules (and that we actually comply) sometimes causes laughter. While many Argentines consider themselves being laissez-faire about punctuality and, in certain cases, chaotic – German standards of punctuality, order and efficiency are often admired. This also provides many Argentines with a good explanation for the strong German economy, our wealth and the high quality of products “Made in Germany”.
However, there are some points about the Germans which easily scare the warm hearted Argentines. Traveling through Germany or meeting Germans in Argentina, many observe that Germans do not kiss each other to greet but prefer to shake hands and avoid body contact and closeness. A colleague of mine one day asked me if we do not kiss at all, and how this lack of affections affects our romantic relationships… She seemed really worried. Well… thank God I could put her at ease.
Germans are considered to communicate very direct and honest, saying exactly what they think and criticizing other people if seen as necessary. Most Argentines, in contrast, rather focus on maintaining a good relationship and avoid criticizing others outside their circle of family or friends. Argentinians are actually famous for using chamuyero (smooth talking in order to archive an object of interest) rather than saying directly what they want.
When it comes to German history, most Argentines are quite informed about the Nazis and relate Germany strongly with this topic – understandable considering that this might be the only subject discussed in high school.
But how should we deal with stereotypes when confronted with them?
When dealing with stereotypes, one needs to take into account how little or how much Argentines might know about Germany. While Argentines are usually educated, open-minded and interested, most Argentines do not have much contact with tourists or foreigners in general, don’t speak a second language and have not left the Latin American continent. Their knowledge about Germany consists of a) what they learn in their history class (Hitler!), b) what they see on TV or read (a lot of Hitler too) and c) what people tell them and what they imagine themselves. Even though Argentines know that Hitler is dead and was a bad guy (luckily – in other countries there might still be folks not aware of this), they lack a clear picture of Germany today, and therefore construct an image which consists of Hitler, sausages and Oktoberfest.
That said, I do not want to generalize, as in every country, there are big difference between different groups of people. Some might have traveled through Europe or lived abroad as some of my closest friends did or like to read and inform themselves about other countries and cultures, and through that have a more realistic image of Germany and the Germans, whilst others have limited access to education and believe in the common stereotypes. Confronting stereotypes sometimes ends up in challenging situations which make me feel like I need to defend my country against these assumptions. I think, the best way to deal with this is to try understand what these stereotypes could be based on, give other examples and maybe even throw in some statistics in order to put things into perspective.
Making friends with the stereotyper is often one of the best ways to help people understand the German culture and present them with an alternate image of Alemania. Germans are usually popular and Argentines tend to be curious, communicative and easy going – the foremost requirements for real and authentic cultural learning and intercultural understanding.”
Thank you, Pia! What a great change of perspective for me as a German, also.