Understanding Germans

Elephants are afraid of mice; some people have blue blood; men are aggressive and better at driving; women are more talkative and created for cooking; Germans are pedantic and love beer more than anything else… How many of these clichés have you heard? And how many of them are true? Of course, I’m no scientist to tell you anything about elephants, but I have recently taken part in a discussion with Kerstin Sommer from the FAU’s Welcome Centre on the topic of the most common features of German people. From my own experience and the knowledge received on one cosy evening, I have a few things to say (brace yourselves for some theory 🙂 ).


Probably you have noticed that some people can talk for hours without any noticeable aim or sense, and others get straight to the point with no extra details or introductions.  The first can be described as speakers of a high context; the latter of a low context. This division, of course, has nothing to do with prestige or ranking; it just indicates the number of words someone needs to produce a message. Germans belong to the second category, which means that they are not rude or reserved because they talk so little – it is just the norm for them. And vice versa, people who talk too much are not nosy or intrusive; they just need to include more information in a single sentence.

Time also matters

How do you prefer to organize your work? Do you do one task at a time and focus strictly on this one task itself or do you start a few projects at once and pay more attention to other people involved and your relations with them? In the first case, you would be a monochronic person; in the second, a polychronic one. What does it change? Your perception of life and other people. I guess this is why many say that Germans are pedantic, love rules and directions, and keep everything in order. And basically this is true, but is it really that bad? Personally, I like to have a schedule for my day or week, so I know I don’t waste my time and I’m not overloaded with 50 tasks at a time. OK, sometimes it’s too many rules (e.g. when it comes to bureaucracy), but if you spend more than 1 minute to understand them, they wouldn’t look so horrible at all.

 It’s all about space

Each person has a personal ‘bubble’, i.e. a distance or a space he or she feels comfortable in. And if you cross this line, they would treat you a bit hostile or unfriendly. Have you ever noticed that someone makes a step away from you during a conversation or did you do it yourself? It’s not because they don’t like you; it’s because you’ve invaded their personal space area. Such small interventions can actually spoil the first impression or prevent you from making a new friend.But I have good news for you: you can still overcome these problems. Just bear in mind that Germans need some personal space, at least at the beginning of your friendship.

There are only two types of people: peaches and coconuts

Imagine a peach. What’s it like? Soft and tender on the outside with a hard seed inside? Now imagine a coconut. A hard shell with a soft and sweet inside? Now, a harder task: can you relate yourself or your acquaintances in these descriptions? I must say, yes, it might be difficult to “crack” a German, but I absolutely understand them: before becoming friends with anyone, you should want to get to know each other. I respect them for such a healthy judgement and caution. And, after all, they are just humans with their own feelings, sense of humor and attitude to life. So, probably, you have more in common with them than you think or have heard from rumors.

Though this theory looks a bit dry and disconnected from this reality, it actually quite nicely explains some most typical traits of most people. You shouldn’t be angry with someone, because they were born and raised in another society and might have a bit different habits. At the same time, it’s not that difficult to understand others, if you stay open-minded and accept the unique madness of every person.

These and other topics and discussions you can find at our Newcomers’ Club

Olha Kuzmyn