Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Not cold, but reserved

Ay yi yi. Delve into the expat blogosphere or chat forum and you'll find people lamenting how cold Germans are. Americans especially are wont to say how their little feelingsies were hurt when the meanie German didn't return their goofy grin. Others have felt the cold, hard stare of  a German having a good look. Or heavens forbid one needs customer service.

Do those reporting on this try to learn German and try getting to know Germans personally, in a social setting, instead of out in public? Have they ever tried to learn about a culture and find out what facial and body expressions are typical for that area? Instead of expecting the store clerk, who is there to serve all the other waiting customers, to be a perfect test person for trying out German, have they considered finding an actual tandem partner to work on the language in a non-stressful environment?

I don't find Germans cold at all. Do I find the German culture more serious? Yes, I do, but that doesn't mean that its residents are without mirth. Do I find their behavior with strangers a bit more reserved? Yep, but I appreciate this in some ways.

When I'm out running errands, I have no desire to smile at random strangers or chitchat with the cashier at the store; I'm going about my business, and to be frank, I'm not interested in what others are doing. As an introvert who is socially quite active and plans many group events, I feel as if I don't get enough time to myself, so errands are "me time" and allow for introspection. I don't mind a polite hello-your total is-thank you-have a nice weekend-goodbye with the store cashier; that is sufficient conversation with a stranger.

Why should there be a pressing need to look at/smile at strangers on the street (other than to have a general awareness of your surroundings for safety reasons)? I find it very curious to hear from Americans who feel slighted if random people on the street don't want to engage in smiling at one another or saying hello. I try to avoid doing this with strangers unless it would be blatantly impolite to do so in a situation with low risk factors. For me, it's a safety measure and means of avoiding harassment. I've found, from attending university somewhere that has a tough downtown scene, that not allowing strangers to engage you or approach you is part of keeping yourself safe. While I don't feel that it's so insecure here in Germany, it's still important to be careful.

Before judging random Germans to be cold (or any other culture, for that matter) just because they don't want to engage in your ways of interacting, I would like to suggest integrating more into German life. Meet people in social situations where they're more likely to have the time and interest to meet others. Don't judge things based on some very superficial interactions.


  1. I get what you are saying but I do think that the customer service here has a lot of room for improvement. Some people aren't so bad but some are downright rude and there is no need for that!

    1. I'm with you 100% on that one, but I *am* glad that they don't want to quatsch with the customers!

  2. I very much agree that Germans are not cold. They smile when there's a reason to do so, not just because some bloke is passing them on the sidewalk. I am totally with you on the chatting with cashiers thing. It annoys me no end when cashiers in the US (though I know they're just trying to be friendly) ask me how I am or about the weather, or even...if I have something fun planned for the weekend!!?! I haven't had any negative experiences with customer service that I recall, but I get it that others have.

    To each his own, I guess. Like you, I prefer the typical German way of interacting with strangers - take care of business as efficiently as possible and move on. I do, however, occasionally let the American in me out and grin pleasantly at a passer-by if we catch eye-contact. :-) And since I live in a small town, even strangers have been known to say "Morgen!" to each other when passing on the street or path.

  3. I think it depends on where you live. In some parts of Germany the local population are friendly (nodding/saying hi when walking down the street). In other parts of Germany the local population will do everything but look at you if you're crossing paths.

    The same thing happens in the US when you travel to various cities or states.