Monday, February 20, 2006

It was not what he said, but the way he said it.

Before I get to my post, let me just say thanks for the comments. I feel the love and I send it right back! I feel a lot more connected to my friends and family with this blog and that makes it totally worthwhile. I am also a complete idiot and forgot a shout-out to my mom and second-dad in South Carolina. My mom is also a faithful reader and my dad is always encouraging me to write a book.

Claire looks around the room and says: "Everyone, this is my mom and dad. Mom and dad, this is everyone."

The South Carolinians: "Hi ya'll."

Okay, now for some more German/American craziness.

There is a large difference in the behavior of small talk between Americans and Germans. Americans can be friendly to a point that it is almost scary and many Germans are so direct that it is almost mean. Germans view Americans as "superficial." On the other hand, Americans view Germans as cold and distant. It is not that Germans do not want to be your friend, but they will be stand off-ish in the beginning. When they figure that you really are interested in being their friend, then you will have a friend for life who will do ANYTHING for you. However, a German will always be straight with you and not sugar coat anything. Which I suppose is good, but also unnerving. These differences reared their sauerkraut-covered head last week.

I am trying to build a website and I have no idea what html is. So, one two weeks ago (when I really should have been working on something else) I spent the entire day on the internet reading html and CSS tutorials. After a few hours I had built up some confidence and I worked a little on my own site. When I was finished, I had a front page with headings and pictures and different colors and links. In fact, I was pretty proud of myself. I sent two friends, a German and an American, the link. The email was entitled "Look at what I did."

The American wrote back a really nice email. It started out, "That is great, Claire! I am impressed." She then later mentioned a few things that I could improve. I felt good. Thanks, New Yorker. Last week I got a response from my German friend. The first sentence was, "I don't know what it is, but I don't like it." He then went on to list several things that were wrong and mentioned at the end that I should probably get a professional who has more experience. I was devastated and started to cry. Not heaving sobs, just a few tears and trembling lip.

Now, I must interject that the person who wrote this email is a good guy. In fact, I consider him a friend and I value his opinion. He is the one who reserved the domain name for me. Nevertheless, it really hurt to read it. My German tried to sooth me by reminding me that sometimes things just don't translate well. Yeah, I'll say.

Ignoring the rule that you should never respond to an email when you are angry, I sent a reply that I was hurt by his email. The next day he called and emailed me at 9:00 a.m. He was very sorry. We both agreed that it was a misunderstanding. I don't take criticism well (Gasp from my mother, "Tell us something we don't know, Claire."). But Germans . . . the art of criticism, they know not.

This weekend, these differences reappeared. I was visiting some friends for German coffee and cake hour, which by the way, is one of the best things about living here. The children of the hostess were in attendance. Her daughters are in their early 20's and very charming. One daughter started to complain about southern Germans.

"They are so nice when you meet them. They will ask you many questions and suggest a meeting. But then they never call to follow up." I am from the South. This sounded very familiar. I said that I understood how frustrating it is. In fact, I am probably (wait . . .no definitely) guilty of this same thing. I tried to explain that often people are interested in meeting for coffee, but things come up and you forget. This does not mean that you do not think about the person and do not want to talk to them.

The daughter said that she preferred north German coolness to superficial southern hospitality. I prefer the latter.

"But how do you know if someone really likes you?" she asked.

"Oh, honey, in my mind everyone likes me. It makes life more pleasant," I responded.

As Carrie on Sex and the City would say, "I need my relationships with a little milk."


The German said...

"Oh, honey, in my mind everyone likes me. It makes life more pleasant," I responded.

As Carrie on Sex and the City would say, "I need my relationships with a little milk."

Ohhhh yes she needs it ;-)
The German!

Mareike said...

Last night I watched on BBC America a British award show (can't remember what it is called). It was awfully funny. I love the British Humour. And it was a great night for our friend J.G.... Just to keep you posted.... and to give you some inspiration for tomorrow's blog.

Anonymous said...

Building a website you say? That is awesome. What is it for? I say keep at it. It sounds like you've got the basics down and the rest isn't that much difficult. Most of it is just trial and error.

And it sounds to me that Germans are a lot like New Yorkers. Abrupt and not too interested in sparring feelings. The plus side with that is that you always know right where you stand. But, yeah, I prefer the indirect approach when it comes to criticism :-)

Anonymous said...

i agree with E, not only are New Yorker rude, but anyone north of the mason-dixie line(remember our trip to Boston). only in the south are people really friendly!
Love mom