Getting along with the Germans
by Bob Larson
On a holiday trip to the US I was puzzled to hear a tour guide ribbing some worthy citizens of Iowa about their place of origin. Iowans, it seems, are generally regarded by other Americans as somewhat slow, even backward in a nice way and therefore legitimate objects of fun-poking.
Europeans on the verge of political unification should be allowed the same freedom to talk about each other, even in these days of political correctness, eurospeak and general mealy-mouthedness, to point out that there are a number of differences which mark off the citizens of one area of Europe from the citizenry of a different one. Hardly surprising that there are a few differences, considering the fact that the nation state has been a defining factor in most people's culture for between one hundred (Italy and Germany) and one thousand (Britain) years.
One American's view of the Germans is published in English by a publisher from Munich with a preface by Manfred Rommel (yes he is a relation) who is styled (rather than styling himself, we hope) in his translated title as the 'Lord Mayor of Stuttgart' in spite of the fact that his country became a republic in 1919. The author Bob Larson, who has been teaching and living in Germany for a very long time, is repeatedly referred to in Lord Mayor Rommel's preface as 'Dr. Larson', which in itself is part of the cultural difference he is writing about. Titles are very important in Germany.
The book is constructed in fifteen chapters dealing with insights into the way everyday matters are dealt with in Germany. Chapter titles include 'Learn to live with Too-Muchness' , 'Learn to shake hands and count backwards', 'Learn to eat twice as much', 'Just because it's German doesn't mean it always works'. Bob Larson shows how to describe cultural differences without being nasty or superior and reminds the reader of George Mikes' famous How to be an alien. Here are some tasters of Bob Larson's prose:
What creates the erroneous impression that the Germans are totally lacking in humour is not the quality of their jokes, but rather their reluctance to tease each other naturally and in public (not just in bitter, political satire in their cabarets and carnival societies), to drop their dignity, let their hair down, and clown around the way we Americans do. As very serious people who want to be taken seriously, they are embarrassed when they see us horsing around or poking fun at each other, especially in public.
The German seeks thoroughness in any form of instruction, whereas we seem to seek out its entertainment value. ... Just watch an old American film on the third German TV program and you will see what I mean. Before the film is shown, you will be given a mini-lecture on the history and significance of the movie or its stars and producer, and then told the storyline in sufficient detail to kill whatever suspense or interest it might have held for you....
Who is this book for? Any non-German who has lived and is living in Germany will echo dozens of observations; anyone who is intending to live in Germany or who needs or wants to visit the country will find warnings of myriad pitfalls. But native Germans, too, will benefit from Getting along with the Germans. After all, it isn't every day that we get to hear what other people honestly think of us.