When you think of Germany, three things usually come to mind: World War II, beer, and unfriendly people. There is no disagreeing with the fact that the rest of the world generally views Germans as unfriendly, business-like people. After living here for two semesters, I can agree. Most Germans will not be overly friendly and talkative people like Americans are. It’s just their way of life.
So how on earth have I managed to adapt to the drastic change? For those of you who know me, I am often regarded as one of the loudest people ever. Years of growing up in my family have conditioned me to be loud, outgoing, friendly, and occasionally a little overbearing. I am an extrovert through and through. I don’t typically lower my voice very much in public settings. Basically, I contrast starkly with the German culture.
But I’ve had no problem acclimating to Germany. In fact, I have discovered that I (sometimes) like the culture in Germany more than I like the culture home in America. To begin with, people don’t smile at you on the street. If you smile at somebody you don’t know, the person will think you’re making advances toward him or her. It completely eliminates the awkward half-smile you give when you make eye contact at someone in the States. Germans are very focused people and don’t have time for trivial things such as smiling at someone on the street.
However, this can prove to be a problem at restaurants. It is a part of the German culture to sit and eat as long as they want – typically for hours. The waiters will not try and usher you out by presenting the check for a quick turnover. Instead, it’s nearly impossible to flag down a German waiter when you want to pay. Since they don’t come to the table and constantly ask, “how is your food?” you are free to enjoy your meal. It’s nice to sit back, relax, and just enjoy the company around you.
This often leads to the stigma that Germans are unfriendly and overall are not nice people. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I have made some great friends here in Heidelberg who have never been unfriendly towards me. Once we became friends, they were even friendlier. The Germans just don’t see the point in being anything but polite to strangers. They don’t want to visit on the busses or trains or even at the check out counter. They want to mind their own business and focus on what they want to do – not be distracted by others.
My time in Germany has changed me for the better. Over the past few years I have slowly been reigning in my extroverted tendencies and maintain better control over my voice and emotions. Since arriving in Germany, I am no longer known as the “loud friend”. I don’t want to automatically be picked out of a crowd as the loud American so I just lower my voice. For those of you at home who think it’s impossible for me to be quiet… just wait until you see me again. I actually can be quiet and can behave like a German is expected to. I mind my own business and am polite to others. Isn’t that one of the golden rules of life?
So for those of you who think Germans are still unfriendly, they’re not. It’s a different culture, which has different norms. Additionally, the German language isn’t designed to be as “soft” as English. It tends to be more assertive, which transfers to their mannerism.
And if living in Germany has taught me how to speak softly, then they must be doing something right.