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“On American”

An email, which may or may not contain hyperbole, that I sent to my brother-in-law in Germany some years back …

American sensibilities and the nuances of American English are a complicated matter. So the guy you met is nice, funny. Many Americans are, but they also are, for lack of a better term, bullshit artists. Their small talk, a superficial default setting, might charm you, because it is, after all, their predominant style of communication. And so a guy like that, while cordial and funny with you in person, might be cold and impersonal toward me, since I’m not someone with whom he has a rapport. But that you might say about anyone. Still, Americans are great at being inauthentic and superficial to the point of being misleading. You might get the wrong idea about their character if you’re not perceptive. We’re good actors. This is the land of Hollywood movies, don’t forget. Duplicitous Americans, as well, are a dime a dozen.

I don’t think this is a pessimistic view, either. It’s merely the truth of the matter …

There is a tendency among Americans to not actually say what they mean. Unlike Europeans, Americans are indirect in their communication. For an American, to be so honest and forthcoming would be considered rude, since diplomacy ranks higher than efficiency; and being polite is better than being honest. Writing passively in a business email, though possibly requiring more words, is better than being concise, if it means being overly direct.

Kathleen’s boss said he could tell that she is German by the way she writes her work reports. It was not to be taken as a criticism, though, as he had no experience with such directness, which, if one isn’t careful, can be perceived as rude by American standards. So Kathleen has become a bit less direct and more passive in her writing in an attempt to fit in better in the workplace. Active writing, of course, has its place in storytelling, essays, and literature. But passive writing in business and personal correspondence is the norm in America.

On a personal note, I can’t tell you how many misunderstandings she and I had in the beginning of our relationship that were the result of our cultural communication differences:

“Why did you say you wanted to do that if you didn’t?”

“I don’t know, I was being polite. I thought you could tell I really didn’t want to do it!”

To Americans, Germans can appear cold, unfriendly, and brutally honest. To Germans, Americans can appear superficial, loud, and ignorant.

German directness still makes me laugh because it’s the complete opposite of how we are in America: we’ll lie to a person’s face in order to not hurt their feelings or to avoid appearing impolite.

Switching topics … Another example of our differences in communication comes to mind: In German, you wouldn’t say, “You’re wrong,” (rather, “That is false,” right?). The focus is on the statement, not the individual. Why not simply say, “You’re wrong,’ as we do here? It would be considered rude, correct? (Or maybe there’s another reason, I don’t know.) Which is why we Americans are also hypocrites, because we’ll tell a person that “you’re wrong” and then at the same time be polite to another person to the point of being dishonest. Like the nuances of English communication, it is a complicated matter.

Once, I attended a presentation in Boston held by one of Donald Trump’s business advisers. Take a guess what they said is the number one quality for success in business in America: likeablity. Not competency or intelligence. Being liked is what matters most. That still stands today, I believe.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to sacrifice competency and skillfulness for popularity on the job. Perhaps I’m more German in that respect.

If you appear unfriendly, then you may be perceived as a bad worker. That’s the way it goes.

And so there you have it.

Comments

I'd love to share this with my more international daughter, who teaches language to many foreigners.

I'm partly German descent. Trumpets.

Have I ever just said: "Your Wrong"?

maybe?

My mother, not German, made it very clear to me that I've got some kind of problem, best described as 1) too direct and 2) just like her sister Mildred.

Want an insult, have your mother compare you to the one sister who never married and wasn't very popular. (altho actually she was popular because she was very smart so there, nah nah, and had more money than the rest, HAH)

The likability issue is a no brainer if your associated with any serious sales types. Which I happened to have been associated with thru my sales person bullshit artist husband.

Why buy anything from somebody if you don't like them? Exactly. The most likable recent American President some people liked, they liked this person because they could imagine having a beer with him.

Dale Carnegie.

I hung out with the Scientologist aluminum siding salesman. Award winning. And he could get inside somebody house, to chat about siding and the next thing you know he on his knees, praying for the dead child, he noticed in the hallway photo corridor.

"where do I sign up for aluminum siding" is the general response.
 
I'd love to share this with my more international daughter, who teaches language to many foreigners.

I'm partly German descent. Trumpets.

Have I ever just said: "Your Wrong"?

maybe?

My mother, not German, made it very clear to me that I've got some kind of problem, best described as 1) too direct and 2) just like her sister Mildred.

Want an insult, have your mother compare you to the one sister who never married and wasn't very popular. (altho actually she was popular because she was very smart so there, nah nah, and had more money than the rest, HAH)

The likability issue is a no brainer if your associated with any serious sales types. Which I happened to have been associated with thru my sales person bullshit artist husband.

Why buy anything from somebody if you don't like them? Exactly. The most likable recent American President some people liked, they liked this person because they could imagine having a beer with him.

Dale Carnegie.

I hung out with the Scientologist aluminum siding salesman. Award winning. And he could get inside somebody house, to chat about siding and the next thing you know he on his knees, praying for the dead child, he noticed in the hallway photo corridor.

"where do I sign up for aluminum siding" is the general response.
This made me laugh out loud. Yes, do share with your “more international daughter.” She teaches ESL to adults? French folks?
 
I will....she is technically a tutor, conversational English. She works one on one, with folks who are everywhere. studied French in school. But then taught herself Spanish so now she is down in southern Mexico.

She has adults and toddlers. Spain and Italy and Brazil. Iceland. But its all English. She does't talk to them in their languages.

The result is my daughter can generate random conversations with just about anyone.
 
I will....she is technically a tutor, conversational English. She works one on one, with folks who are everywhere. studied French in school. But then taught herself Spanish so now she is down in southern Mexico.

She has adults and toddlers. Spain and Italy and Brazil. Iceland. But its all English. She does't talk to them in their languages.

The result is my daughter can generate random conversations with just about anyone.

That’s wonderful. Good for her. Must be a fulfilling experience. I was briefly a tutor of English as well, to foreigners, so I know how all that works; I mainly tutored adults.
 

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Cloudyskies
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