Please meet Milica Andrić. Milica is a student of English Language and Literature at University of Novi Sad in Serbia, active in various European student organizations. Her experiences with German people are mostly related to the field of higher education and intercultural communication. Milica is sharing her thoughts on German lifestyle and business:
“Coming from Serbia, a country which looks at Germany as a promising land for all of those trying to make it big, I have had ideas about what Germans and Germany are like since I was very young. Precision, punctuality and order but also stiffness, awkwardness and strictness are usually the first associations people in my region have about Germans.
But, I have had opportunities to travel to Germany both as a tourist only to look at amazing architecture and as a student, attending conferences about higher education. My opinion about Germans and their way of life has changed, once I saw it with my own eyes.
I have chosen the five most common phrases I’ve heard from Serbian people talking about Germans. My experiences with Germans have proven some of them true, while I have dismissed the others, recognizing them as untrue and baseless.
1. Germans are cold and distant. FALSE
Though compared to the culture of the Balkan nations where people are extremely open and loud, German politeness bordering stiffness may seem hostile, but this is simply not true. As per the experiences of most foreigners, Germans take some time to open up to people, but once they do, they can be the most welcoming and pleasant people to work with and generally spend time with. Taking some time to actually meet them and get accustomed to their way of life and thinking will pay off in multiple ways.
2. Germans preserve their tradition. TRUE
Europe is an amazing place to explore and visit because of the number of different cultures, customs and all the amazing people living in it. German culture and tradition definitely contributed a lot to the diversity of European culture. So, why shouldn’t they be proud of it? Just look at the Oktoberfest! Bringing people together from all over the world to enjoy amazing beer and food is never a bad way to celebrate your tradition.
However, it is probably not a good idea to start talking about history with Germans, unless you are extremely close to that person. Although Germans are one of the rare nations that are perfectly aware of even the not so good things about their history and are working very hard on correcting the mistakes of the past, it is probably better to wait for a German person to open up that topic.
Note: You will probably piss off a German person if the only thing you know about their tradition is drinking beer and eating sausage. German tradition is far more interesting and richer than that.
3. Germans have no sense of humor. FALSE
I have actually had a bit of an unpleasant situation when I tried to tell a dirty joke to a group of Germans in order to break the ice on a meeting. Whether it was because it got lost in translation (I wasn’t confident enough to say it in German) or because they just didn’t find it funny, they just looked at me and started with the agenda.
For most Germans, even the young ones, business meetings are not a place where they will tell their most favorite joke or tell you something funny that happened to them. Unless you enter the circle of their close friends, you will probably never hear it. Even if you do not find some or any German jokes funny, fear not! They have very language based humor, filled with puns you will understand only if you are fluent at German. Since I am still struggling with my German, I never quite got a hang of it, so if you are anything like me, just smile when everyone’s smiling and hope that it was a joke.
4. Germans are effective, precise and punctual. TRUE
When I visited Germany two years ago, attending a student conference in Berlin dedicated to improving higher education, I tried to go unburdened by the prejudices and preconceived opinions about Germans. Coming from a culture where German was synonymous with precision and punctuality, I was not disappointed. The conference was organized extremely well, and I don’t think any part of the program of the four day conference was late. In that sense, the belief about German punctuality proved to be quite true.
For me, it proved to be a bit of a problem, considering public transportation schedule is precise to the last minute. Being used to buses running late by at least ten minutes in Serbia, I had to rush to catch my connection to the airport. My only advice for using public transport in Germany is to believe that the bus actually does leave at 12PM if it says so in the schedule.
5. Germans don’t know how to have any fun. FALSE
This one is probably the most ridiculous but mostly wide spread prejudice about Germans. I have recently heard a very close friend of mine say “Germans have only work suit and pajamas”, implying that all they do is work and sleep. But, this couldn’t be further from what I’ve experienced in Germany. Exactly because they work hard during work hours, they have more time to experience life and to simply have fun.
Whether that’s going to a night club, having a drink or two with their friends or inviting them over for dinner, Germans are no different from any other nation when it comes to what they do in their free time.
Of course, every person is different and even the same culture influences him in a different way. So, wherever you travel and whoever you meet, don’t assume you know somebody just because of the culture they belong to.”
Thank you, Milica!