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Are Germans rude? Killing the stereotypes after living in Berlin

| 113 comments | Category: particular languages, travel

Rather than learning languages for academic or professional reasons, I do it to vastly improve my travel experience by allowing me to socialise almost entirely with residents of the country I am visiting.

Even though all the studying I did in for my exam in Berlin prevented me from socialising as much as I would have liked, after spending four months there I can say that I have a better understanding of German (and in particular Berlin) culture, and I am ready to challenge the silly stereotypes that too many people have of the Germans and the German language.

German sounds horrible!

It might be true that more typical languages that English learners tend to go for like French and Spanish can sound pleasant to listen to even if you don’t understand them, but it’s better to think outside of those limitations. Comparing German to Italian, for example, is like comparing ice cream to pizza. The most enjoyable food doesn’t have to be “hot” and certain aspects of communicating in German can be more pleasant than in other languages.

English and German are in the same language family (Germanic), so a lot of what makes German sound “different” can actually be its similarities that we don’t notice in English and may not expect to encounter in other languages. Listen to this video of what English sounds like to non-natives (from an Italian perspective) and you’ll get a better idea of how strange it can be!

English also has weird strings of consonants that can cause problems to non-natives but seem totally normal to us. Words like catchphrase and thousandths have several consecutive consonants together that German doesn’t outdo much (definitely not as much as a language like Czech).

The tone and musicality of German is actually something that makes it much easier to understand and leaves less room for misinterpretation, as is the case in other languages. The clear separation of words vastly helps you to understand them (compared to French for example where words are merged together when spoken). I find the discussion of whether this is “pretty” or not to be totally irrelevant myself. We may as well argue about which colour is the “best”.

Why are they so angry?

This superficial argument is like saying you understand what the elephants are thinking as you see them through binoculars on safari. Without the right context and understanding of how German works, any conclusions you might make may amount to nothing remotely close to the truth.

The clear way that Germans speak is something that we would tend to do in English if we were angry and wanted to make it clear what we are angry about. For example, you can imagine an angry mother sternly warning her son: “Don’t – you – dare – do – that!” clearly enunciating each word.

This is a style of expressing anger in English. Applying it to German just doesn’t work in the same way. In understanding what they were saying I can generally say that from my (albeit limited) experience, Germans lose their temper way less than many English-speakers would do. In fact, Germans tend to be way more patient from what I’ve seen. What sounds harsh to the untrained ear can actually be a funny joke or helpful advice etc. when you listen to the actual words.

When you actually pay attention to what they are saying, rather than applying the wrong non-verbal cues (using English tone and body language rules) to imagine what you think they are saying, you’ll see that they are talking about the same things you and your friends talk about in other languages.

They all speak English and will never help you with your German

As expected, when I announced that I’d be in Berlin for this mission (rather than some small unknown village), many people told me that I’d find it extremely difficult to convince Berliners to help me with my German, since they all speak “perfect” English.

Like in other places there are people who did poorly in school, or don’t expose themselves to foreigners enough to maintain a good level. But for the most part, they do indeed have a better level of English than southern Europeans or some Asian countries.

Despite this, it was extremely easy to convince Germans to help me. Even in my first week I was successful and for the main three months of the mission I almost never spoke English with Germans – the few times I did were because other foreigners (not learning German) were present or in my final weeks before leaving. When they saw how devoted I was to my project they were happy to give me lots of encouragement to boot!

This confusion is another issue that results from the Germans being accused of something that is actually entirely the lazy learners‘ fault. Germans are actually usually really helpful so if you look like you are undergoing medieval torture as you struggle to speak the language, they’ll want to save you from that discomfort and may speak English because of that.

I made sure to make it clear that I was enjoying myself, that I was devoted to making serious progress and used all my usual social (Language Hacking) tricks when out and speaking with new people, and without exception I never even had to work hard to convince anyone to help me, even when my level was quite poor. They simply went with the flow. Sadly the flow many expats command is “German is too hard and Germans don’t want to hear me try” and that mantra becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

German is one of the hardest languages in the world

Since I’ve also learned other “hardest languages” in the world, like Hungarian and Japanese, I will discuss this ridiculous concept another time soon. But first, I can confirm that German itself isn’t particularly inherently harder than many other languages in the world. It all depends on the learner and his/her attitude.

Expats I met who had been living in Germany for a long time would complain about how German is too hard to speak, and I could see very clearly and told them very frankly that this complaint and devotion to believing in it was what was actually holding them back from speaking it.

I was attempting the exact same language as they were – the main difference I see is that they simply focus on the negative and look for more reasons to prevent them from speaking it. An optimistic approach can dramatically change their potential to make progress. What helps me to get through languages quicker is not some magic part of my brain that has sprouted up in recent years to turn me into a language-guru–it’s actually the ability to focus on the positive and have new information about the language help me to progress rather than hinder me.

But simply telling someone “Chin up! It’s not that bad!” is not enough, since there are aspects to the language that can seem intimidating at first, especially if its your first foreign language and if its explained to you in traditional dull academic ways.

Because of this I will be writing in great detail about Why German isn’t as hard as you think and will take all the “hardest” aspects of the language and attempt to explain them in such a way as to turn some pessimists into optimists and help struggling learners dramatically improve their progress by attacking what I feel is the route of the problem for a lot of them: the wrong attitude that German is hard.

I learned German for five years in school and the wrong attitude kept me believing that aspects of German were too complicated for me to get my head around them, and so I did poorly in my exams and never truly dived into properly speaking German until this year. Starting over fresh and forgetting the overly technical way that the language was explained to me in school saved me from being doomed to never speaking it.

Sometime soon I’ll be releasing a guide to hacking the German language: giving short-cuts to get around seemingly difficult aspects, explaining a better way to look at the Accusative, Dative, Genitive problem, and seeing that the word order and remembering vocabulary is actually way easier than people think it is. Sometimes all you need is to hear these things explained in the right (non-overly-technical) way and it all makes perfect sense. This guide will not attempt to replace any courses, but augment them for learners already vaguely familiar with the language but feeling intimidated by it.

I am positive that what I have to say can help people to progress in their German, as I have been giving this advice to other learners throughout my time in Berlin to help those struggling with the language themselves and it worked to help some of them get out of their shell and finally speak.

If you’d like me to mention any aspect of German you find particularly hard, let me know! More on that guide soon…

Are Germans strict/rude?

There are many stereotypes I won’t even dignify with a response, but the strict one comes up a lot. I imagine this is influenced by the “German sounds harsh” idea, and perhaps gets combined with the Germans’ fame for efficiency. How well they design cars was the least of my concerns for my time there though.

I did find it curious that Berliners would almost always wait at red traffic lights before walking across the road, even when there were no cars for miles. Most other places I’ve been would have people “jaywalking” in this situation quite frequently (I personally consider the red man a suggestion rather than a rule; it’s a good suggestion only if cars are actually on the road).

You will also see bus stops indicate the minute the bus is expected to arrive at any given stop – I remember how hilarious Brazilians found this concept when I mentioned it to them, but I think things like this are helpful and it’s something I’ll miss in other countries. Conveniences like this have come so naturally to me over the last few months that I simply consider other countries as doing it wrong to be honest :P

One thing that may influence the idea of them being “rude” is that I did find Germans to be very honest. Nobody will ever argue about this being bad, but some Germans tend to be very frank about the truth and this will probably hurt your feelings if you are too sensitive. I actually found it quite refreshing, but it took some getting used to!

For example, I was dancing for several hours one night and a girl I had just met told me that I smelled and could do with a shower! It was true of course (it was a hot night and I was dancing enthusiastically – you can’t trust the 24 hour anti-persperant ads!) but this is not something that you would hear from people you have just met in many cultures. I suppose this level of non-sugar-coated honesty could be read as rudeness if you jump to conclusions too quickly, but that girl continued to dance with me after sharing the “interesting” information.

So, if you’re sensitive about your weight etc. you should probably not ask Germans if those jeans make you look fat! ;)

But this isn’t rudeness. You could argue that many other countries are way too sensitive – to the point of dancing around issues and never being direct enough.

Germans have no sense of humour!

When Germans laugh and smile, it’s because something is genuinely funny. I don’t like the inauthentic “thank you for shopping at Wal-mart” smile that is sometimes overused in places like the states. Many European countries don’t go around laughing and smiling at every single thing, and this means that when they do smile/laugh you know its genuine.

What this means is that if someone doesn’t laugh at your joke (either because they do think it’s funny but not enough to guffaw out loudly, or because it’s actually a terrible joke) you might think that they don’t have a sense of humour. I don’t know if it’s my personality or being Irish, but I didn’t find this at all in Germany and found many Germans quite hilarious and content people.

Anywhere you go requires a change in mindset

The fact of the matter is, if you truly believe any of the above headings, you will filter out any information that doesn’t support it and only look for confirmation, and you’ll probably find it. I know this because I did it myself when I refused to be open minded about a culture I didn’t like in the past. I’ve met people who insist that I’m not “really” Irish because I don’t drink, and not surprisingly if they spent time in Ireland, most of it was in pubs.

If I had a weird stereotype of all Belgians being hair stylists for example, I could confirm this by spending all my time in Belgium in hairdressers. No matter where you go, you will find your stereotypes answered if you look for them. I prefer to start with a clean slate if possible and get to know the people as directly as possible. Perhaps more Germans are rude, strict, humourless and angry than I think, but because I wasn’t looking for these signs, I didn’t find them.

After discovering all the interesting cultural differences, what I usually find is that we aren’t that different after all. It’s one reason I can feel at home so quickly in many places. Berlin was one of these places and I will miss it!

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Have you had a different experience with the Germans? Agree or disagree with anything in the post? Leave a comment below and share the post on Facebook! Thanks :)

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  • guest

    If there are no difficult languages, why aren’t you aiming for fluency in Hungarian?

  • http://www.ihatemymessageboard.com/ Tracy O'Connor

    I grew up on an US Army post in Germany so I don't think I had the full cultural immersion but I did meet and speak with enough people to get a feel for the culture. I do think Germans are, in general, different than Americans but we're all individuals and I can't say that any particular personality trait is better or worse than others.

    So, so, so miss the importance placed on being punctual.

    Funny how people do think they know all about somebody based on where they are from. My husband is Irish and now lives in the US with me and people are always assuming he'll want to drink and tell him all sorts of things they “know” about Irish people based on having one Irish grandparent or something!

    Looking forward to your guide. I feel like I never learned German properly because my teachers were very intent on explaining it in a very technical, dry way that only confused me. Vocabulary came easy to me but to this day I get an anxious gnaw in my belly thinking about conjugating verbs. My parents would have been better off sending us to a German school to sink or swim!

  • Itzenca

    > I could confirm this by spending all my time in Belgium in hairdressers.
    Aren’t you taking this whole ‘immersion’ thing a bit to literally ? :D

  • Itzenca

    > I could confirm this by spending all my time in Belgium in hairdressers.
    Aren’t you taking this whole ‘immersion’ thing a bit to literally ? :D

  • http://www.b-speak.com William

    Who said “speaking German is like having a war within your mouth”?

    Most German people I met were really rigorous. I remember my boss asking me about a missing 1€ receipt when we were doing the accounting. ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Hopefully you'll like what I have to say in the German guide – I will not be technical at all, except to use academics terminology (like “accusative” etc.) and turn it into something that human beings can understand!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    They are rigorous indeed! I used to have a German flatmate who would sit us down and argue about 50c for 10 minutes on the phone bill :P I thought it was charming :D

  • http://faoiseamh.blogspot.com/ oranje68

    When I lived there I nearly always spoke German to people I met and many of them had good English (I knew this because sometimes I had to say I don't that in German, can you translate and they inevitably did straight away). They actually were far more from the camp that yoiu should learn German if you are living in Germany. It is not like with Dutch people or Scandinavians who will often point blank refuse to engage with you in their language unless you are pretty fluent.
    I have to say though that I found German people to be quite serious which was a good thing for me. Coming from Ireland where there is a very superficial friendliness (often drink induced) it was a relief to meet people who normally meant exactly what they said.

    • James

      Funny… my first time in Sweden I went up to the bar armed with the pathetically small amount of Swedish that I knew and ordered a drink. The bar tender (who was rather busy) instantly got excited, smiled, and proceeded to speak back to me (very slowly) in Swedish. We made the transaction and we were both happy.

      I think these types of generalizations are best avoided. If you put off positive energy you will get it in return.

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

        Well said James!! People don’t realise that it’s their own attitude that is influencing the outcome. The problem is that it’s a vicious circle. If you are treated badly once, you may expect this in future and not be as friendly yourself. Putting some extra energy in at any stage will give you so many benefits with ANY culture :)

  • http://www.howtogetagrip.com/ Matt at How To Get A Grip

    Dude, as a Belgian resident, I can confirm that all Belgians are INDEED hairdressers.

    (Except those of them that aren't)

    I love the Germans. As a proud Brit (but definitely not in the Lionheart/Cross of St. George/Little Britainer mold) I can say that their sense of humour is as close as I've found – after fairly extensive European travel – to that of the good folks in the UK. Our sense of humour is our saving grace.

    But not nearly as good as the sense of humour of the Irish, of course …

    Wonderful post. Thanks.

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    I really think I'd enjoy it in Germany, Berlin is one of those places that I just have to visit and would seriously consider moving to.

    Right, well, onto the important stuff:

    Are German girls hot? Does being foreign give you a bit of an advantage? Where are the best bars/clubs to go to find a lovely frauline to take home with you? :D

    Is the beer really that good? Is it cheap?

    What are living expenses like in Berlin? I've heard that even though it's one of the largest cities in Germany and the world, it's actually QUITE affordable and it's entirely possible to survive there on $1500-$2000 a month (so that's like 1300-1800 Euros)–that true? Sounds great.

    Thanks again for providing such awesome value in your content, Benny.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Glad you enjoyed it :) I definitely appreciate British humour waaay more than American for example! I can see the parallels with German humour for sure! Thanks for the comment!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Some day I'll have a Dutch/Scandinavian mission and we'll see if they refuse ME ;)
    Germans are definitely among the least superficial I've met – if people see past the frankness they'd see the genuine friendship involved :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    1. The German mission exhausted me so I want a difficult challenge, not an extremely difficult one as usual.
    2. I'd be confident at this stage of being able to reach fluency in 3 months in an Indo European language. Based on my Hungarian experience I can scope my chances of Asian etc. languages and how far I'd feel I'd be able to progress in a short time. Hungarian is an experiment in serious non-Indo-Europeanism for me, so I want to aim high but not promise anything.
    3. There are no difficult languages. It all depends on the person. And this person has decided to aim for conversational level. Conversational level is extremely complex – just that it doesn't fit with my own definition of fluency. It will fit with some people's though.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I loved German girls personality and directness – if you are into tall and blond you'll be in heaven. I actually prefer Latinas, but I won't say no to a blond!
    I don't bar-prowl. I met all the prettiest and most fun girls during the day in parks etc.
    I don't drink. Can't tell you anything about German beer.
    It's quite affordable. For me 1k euro would be more than enough – depending on your living style.
    Glad you're enjoying the blog!

    • bobthechef

      Sounds like you made all of that up. You know, if you’re going to lie to your audience, at least don’t rely on such flatly erroneous stereotypes. Next you’ll be telling me that Japanese women all look like anime characters.

      Also, way to be provincial. Berlin doesn’t disprove any German stereotypes. At all. It actually comes closer to reaffirming them precisely because Germans generally have a dislike of Berlin, or at least see Berlin as an utterly un-German city. This was the case before the war as well. Munich is completely different. Those who feel at home in Berlin will feel out of place in Munich.

      So, FAIL? Yeah, FAIL.

  • http://faoiseamh.blogspot.com/ oranje68

    That would be interesting. In my experience with Dutch (before I was fluent), Swedish and Danish people always reply in English so you can keep speaking their language all you want but they will ignore this fact. It is a reason why I know very few English speakers who speak good Dutch though it is one of the easiest languages for an English speaker to learn.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    It's not just a case of constantly speaking their language. It involves making it interesting for the listener – talking about stuff they are personally involved in (rather than giving your life story as many people do) and generally having the kind of personality that invites people to help you more. These psychological and social tools are a big part of what I do when attempting to speak a language. I am absolutely confident that I'd have no problems with the Dutch.

  • Itzenca

    > It is not like with Dutch people or Scandinavians who will often point blank refuse to engage with you in their language unless you are pretty fluent.

    Excuse me ? Is this really the case, even after you explain that you want to learn their language ?? Maybe we assume (I'm Dutch) that you 'just' want to communicate, and yes, in that case, speaking English may be the most economical option.

  • Itzenca

    >I am absolutely confident that I'd have no problems with the Dutch.
    I'm curious about this statement. Does it imply that you foresee problems with other nationalities like, for example, Russians, Vietnamese or Peruvians ?

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    It implies what I said – I think I'll have no problems with the Dutch. If you want to draw your own conclusions from that, be my guest, but I'm not implying anything about other cultures in the statement! I also don't think I'd have problems with the countries you listed.

  • http://twitter.com/madokat madokat

    Since I was in Munich for most of my stay in Germany I can't say much about Berlin, but I LOVED the Germans.
    I understand where the “Germans are rude” stereotype comes from. I have to admit, I was not used to some of the customer service – or lack of- when shopping. But being back in Hawaii, I really miss the straight forwardness of Germans. I'm sick of the “thank you for shopping at Wal-mart” smiles like you mentioned. (I work in retail and I hate the overly cheesy smile that we have to put on while working).
    I did feel a bit out of place sometimes in Munich since I'm an Asian girl. I'm not saying that there aren't any Asians in Munich, but I stick out a little more there than in Hawaii where I totally blend in with everyone since we have a huge Asian population here. I didn't mind feeling out of place, but there were two occasions where I encountered some racist slurs (once on the S-Bahn and once just walking down the area around Marienplatz). But they weren't from Germans! Both of the racist slurs came from British guys. :( I'm not convinced that all Brits are rude because of those two occurrences though. :) They were just a bunch of drunk British teenage punk tourists I guess. argghhh, racism makes me angry. haha
    Oh, and speaking of drunk… (I know you don't drink) but I appreciate the way that Germans drink (in the Munich beer gardens) or just the way Europeans drink (well, the ones I've met anyway). A few of my friends and I went to a bar to get a drink, and it was a very nice experience as we just sat around and talked. It was a totally different from how majority of the people drink in the US (or maybe just the state of Hawaii?) where everyones “waaaaasteddd” and puking into things and drinking just to get laid. I will really miss the Gemütlichkeit I felt in Germany where everyone drank to be social as if they were going out to have a cup of coffee or something.
    I really miss the efficiency of public transportation there too!
    Thanks for this post! :) I hate it when my friends make fun of me for learning German. (They can't even speak a language other than English!! HA.) There's too many stereotypes of it being a language that consists of mainly guttural and spitting noises spoken by big men drinking beer in lederhosen. x_x German's a beautiful language! ;)
    Ich vermisse Deutschland!!!
    (don't you miss hearing the words “doch” and “genau”? haha)

  • Sujeewa de Silva

    Benny,

    I think you're really spot-on with your observations. As someone who learned German years ago, and worked with Germans for about 20 years, I can readily agree with everything you've said.

    And I enjoy reading all your posts. Way to go!

  • http://faoiseamh.blogspot.com/ oranje68

    Itzenca,
    Yes, it is the case. I speak fluent Dutch so they don't do it to me any more but when I was first learning Dutch it was extremely difficult to find any Dutch person who would reply in Dutch.
    In fact my (Polish) wife still gets people relying in English all of the time. If you read any forum for foreigners in Holland (http://www.expatica.com for example) this is the recurrent complaint everybody has about learning Dutch.

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/108211145653718284448 Russ

    That all rings true for me as well. I have really enjoyed my visits to Germany and could easily imagine living in Berlin. Very cool city!

    BTW I'm also recently relearning German (after unsuccessful years in high school long ago), so I'm enjoying reading about your ideas and experiences with learning German in particular.

  • http://addictedtolanguages.blogspot.com Lisa

    I'm Dutch and if someone would ask me to speak Dutch, I would. You shouldn't say EVERYONE here will refuse to speak Dutch to foreigners, I'm sure most people will speak Dutch if you ask them nicely :) I can imagine it's more likely to have that problem in the west/big cities though.. there are a lot more foreigners there. I was in Amsterdam this week, and I was behind some British girls in the queue at the Mc Donalds. The girl who worked there thought I was with them, and spoke English to me. I responded in Dutch and.. she continued speaking English! o_o Here in Groningen when people mistake me for a foreigner and I respond in Dutch, they apologize and switch to Dutch.

  • http://faoiseamh.blogspot.com/ oranje68

    You are right Lisa, it was a generalization and there are always exceptions.
    That doesn't take away from the fact that most foreigners I know cannot speak Dutch and the reason they inevitably give for giving up is because (most) Dutch people kept replying in English.
    It happens to my wife nearly every day though her Dutch is reasonable (albeit with an accent).
    I will give you a quote from my very early days in NL (in Eindhoven in the 1990s) so that you can understand what I mean.
    Me – Maar waarom spreek je engels tegen mij? Ik heb je in het nederlands aangesproken.
    Other person – Because I would rather use my good English than listen to your shit Dutch.

    What I did actually was to read as much Dutch as possible and watch Dutch television all of the time. That meant that I had a good enough vocabulary to start pushing back when people replied in English. Most English speakers especially cannot be bothered to put that kind of effort in so they never bother to learn Dutch.
    If you go to Spain, France, Poland etc. nobody will speak English back to you so it is much easier to totally immerse yourself in the language. In Holland you have the choice of using English even if you don't want that choice.
    Just to repeat what I said earlier this also happened to me in Sweden and Denmark when I tried to speak their languages imperfectly. I have heard it happens in Iceland too. Basically where lots of people speak fluent English you can expect this to happen, especially when they can hear from your accent that you are an English speaker.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Many foreigners I have met in MANY places in the world don't learn the local languages. This is also true in Spain, France and Poland. Holland is not special for this even if there are way more opportunities to speak English. This isn't an issue with the locals forcing English on you – it's the learner not adapting well enough and embracing an English-protective bubble. Maybe this bubble is easier to find in Holland, but it's the same phenomenon that happens everywhere else.

    I can confirm that the level of English in Budapest is not very impressive, and yet I met someone who doesn't speak any Hungarian and has maintained an English-speaking bubble for six years. This is certainly not the Hungarian's fault – he just didn't try hard enough, but of course gave me plenty of excuses why it wasn't possible.

    If you met someone who was rude to you then don't talk to that person. I find people willing to help me with my language missions and socialise with them and I am absolutely sure that I can find these people in Holland when I go there. If I meet assholes I'll avoid them. If 95% of the Dutch are assholes (although I seriously doubt it) then I'll find the 5% and spend most of my time with them.

    Where lots of people speak fluent English you can expect to get replies in English if you get used to it and accept it as the norm. Most of what you said is something I have heard about Berliners and yet I didn't find it true. If it happens to “most” people, so be it, but I'm trying to get readers of this blog out of the “most people” mindset ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    I also love the Germans! German will of course be a permanent language for me that I will continue to improve on so I can get to know many more of them in future :)

    I didn't mention the customer service issue because that is actually present in several European countries, especially France.

    My favourite words in German are “naja” and “ach so!” :)

    • David Moraes

      hahaha those are my favorite words too =) But “doch” IS also amazing. What a great way to contradict someone!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Thanks! Glad you've been enjoying it :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Thanks Russ – I'll definitely miss Berlin!
    Hopefully you'll enjoy what I have to say about German!

  • http://faoiseamh.blogspot.com/ oranje68

    >This isn't an issue with the locals forcing English on you – it's the learner not adapting well enough and embracing an English-protective bubble.
    - Agreed, you have to make a much bigger effort if you want to speak the native language in countries where everybody is effectively bilingual (with English as the other language). It is not comparable with Poland or countries where very few people speak English, in those countries you get cut off from the society if you cannot speak the language so it is sink or swim.
    > This is certainly not the Hungarian's fault
    - No it's not because the guy you are talking about will have had countless chances to speak Hungarian on a daily basis. That's not the same as somebody taking Dutch 1 who keeps getting replies in English every time he tries out his Dutch. Of course he can (and should) keep trying but not everybody has the stamina. It is a real issue for people that demotivates them.
    >I find people willing to help me with my language missions and socialise with them and I am absolutely sure that I can find these people in Holland when I go there.
    - Of course, in that case you are creating the right environment. In Poland you wouldn't have to go out of your way to find people who would speak Polish back to you, being in Poland is enough.It's just a different level of effort.
    >If it happens to “most” people, so be it, but I'm trying to get readers of this blog out of the “most people” mindset ;)
    - Thanks, you are doing a very good job encouraging folks to have the 'yes we can' mentality.

  • http://twitter.com/madokat madokat

    and how can people say that Germans don't have a sense of humor? Just look at the Oktoberfest top hit from last year!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2p6bukyCfc
    They're making fun of models and with a bayerische Dialekt! ;)

  • Lisa

    Regarding rudeness – having lived in Berlin for 23 years, I beg to differ!!! Are you sure you were in Berlin, Germany, and not Berlin, Vermont or something? ;-)

    I have visited 17 different countries but by far, the rudest people I have ever encountered were here, despite the fact that I am now fluent in German and speak without an accent. Perhaps they were kinder to you because they noticed you were essentially a tourist.

    Whether it is the cashier who practically shoves your groceries on the floor to make you bag faster and get the hell out of the store, the bus driver who slams the bus door closed in front of your nose out of Schadenfreude (a great German word!) and makes you wait 20 minutes in the snow and cold for the next one, or the car driver who practically runs you over when you try to cross the street with a baby carriage (zebra crossings are a foreign concept for the most part), Berliners are the epitome of rudeness. It was not always like this, but in the years ensuing Reunification, people have become ruder and unfriendlier. This may be in part due to their financial situations (the unemployment rate is high), but that is not my fault and should not be taken out on me!

    I used to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I came to the realization that I was just being “blauäugig.” However, it is unfortunately currently not feasible for me to return to my native country or move elsewhere, otherwise I would be long gone.

    • Jonas Pinta

      there’s one thing, that’s just more than wrong: “This may be in part due to their financial situations (the unemployment rate is high)”. german economy is the the best in europe! there are even just a few more countries in the world that have a better economy.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Sorry Lisa, but I'd have to argue that you are simply looking for confirmation that Berliners are rude. I did the same thing in Paris myself and it made me have a horrible experience until I decided to start over fresh this year. I am sure the same thing is happening to you. In my 4 months there, the only person who was rude to me was the bouncer at Berghain.
    Cashiers work quickly and that gets you through the queue and out faster. In other countries I'd complain that the entire process is way too slow and I'd rather waste less time in supermarkets. Until you mentioned it there I didn't even realise that they are more efficient in supermarkets. Buses and supermarkets don't require me to speak so much and I dress normally so I am absolutely sure that most people presumed I was German until I started to speak with an accent. They would have treated me the same as anyone else in non-speaking situations.
    I think you have your filter set to “find proof they are rude” so I am sure you can give me thousands of examples. My filter was set to finding proof they are nice so I only have one example. You'll notice other comments here agreeing with me about Berliners. Please read this post about my negative experience in Paris and consider if 23 years of calling Berliners the rudest people you have ever encountered and perhaps the way you talk to them etc. is actually what is causing the problem…

  • adventurerob

    My experience of Germans as a kid was 'they all wake up early and reserve the sunbeds with their towels'. It was generally negative.

    However in my travels, I only met fun, nice, honest and humourous people from Germany. The sense of humour is definitely similar to British which is why I tend to get on with them better than American's

  • Lisa

    Hi Benny,

    I can understand your support of Berliners, but either we have a different definition of “rude” or I have higher expectations than you. If you travel to other parts of Germany you shall notice the difference, and then perhaps you shall understand.

    As I said, Berliners were not always like this. There has been a definite change over time, and had you lived here 20 years ago for an extended period, you would know what I am talking about. Over the years I have given Berliners chance after chance, each time my good intentions were shot down. That does not mean that one is closed minded, it means that one is observant. Culture and customs are not stagnant things, they gradually evolve.

    Actually, friends have described me as overly polite. Perhaps this is why Berliners see me as the perfect victim – they assume I will not “fight back”. For example, it is easier to pick on a little old lady than a guy who is 6 foot 4 and weighs 250 lbs. There have been numerous experiments and studies done on how appearance and sex effect the way people deal with others. I can give you one simple example. One very close friend of mine is Turkish. He is not very tall for a man, probably about 5 foot 8. However, he says that when he wears a certain hat, everyone suddenly leaves him alone. Amazing what a difference a simple hat can make!

    However, I too had decided to start over fresh. I finally realized that I cannot change them, and that I either have to accept it or move elsewhere.

  • Lisa

    Sorry, I forgot one thing that does indeed support your opinion. Here I will give them credit: I now have a daughter who is almost 8 months old and I must say that I have definitely noticed a difference in how Berliners treat me now that I walk around with a baby carriage. Now they are more inclined to be helpful and polite, and strangers even strike up conversations with me. People often also make room for me in the subway, which they didn't do when I was obviously pregnant.

  • Ariane

    I in no way find German as offensive sounding as people claim it to be. As for the other things you wrote about Germans, I haven't met enough Germans to judge.

  • Ariane

    Can you give examples of American humor that falls flat, please?

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Americans that I have met in my travels (although those who are well travelled get globalised of course so this counts less) and all the rubbish on American TV. There are some shows that I do actually find very funny, but it seems to be the exception rather than the rule. I lived in the states for about 8 months and I found this aspect of American culture frustrating. Whenever I myself or others don't acknowledge bad jokes people simply said that us Europeans have no sense of humour. Germans tell bad jokes too but there are no fake laughs to comfort the joke-teller and encourage them to keep at it.

    I find American humour to lack subtelty and as I said in the article I dislike it that you have to acknowledge every single joke with laughter whether it's good or not. To me this devalues the concept of laughter. There are exceptions and I have met dozens of hilarious Americans though.

    • Bey Ship

      I’m here 4 years later, but I’ll reply anyway. I find much of my country’s (America) popular entertainment to be crass and not all that funny. Entertainment is deliberately (in most cases) aimed at the lowest common denominator. That is why is stinks quite often.

  • schoenewaelder

    (1) Germans are polite. Berliners are rude.
    (2) Germans are humourless. Berliners are funny.

    (1) More specifically middle-aged berliners. The funny thing about Berlin is that the old people are miserable and rude, but the young are polite, well educated, cosmopolitan etc.

    (2) I believe also Hamburgers, possibly northern Germans generally.

  • Ariane

    Thanks for the clarification.

  • http://findalanguageteacher.com Tom

    Very nice post. Most people I have heard saying that Germans are rude have never been in Germany, and those who said that the language was harsh never heard more than some World War II movies.

  • Fullmetalrunt

    Just a question, did your throat ever hurt trying to pronounce German as you were learning? Every time I read out loud or practice for over half an hour, my throat feels like it’s been laced with liquor and set ablaze. x____x Especially all those guttural sounds

    • David Moraes

      I’m guessing you are way past that if you kept learning German, but just to document an answer for future readers, this is normal.

      When your throat isn’t used to making a sound, it goes through some pain before it gets in shape :) I went through it when learning the guttural “ch” sound and am now going through it again because I finally stopped pronouncing the ‘ r’ like a French ‘r’ and found out how to pronounce the German ‘r’ correctly.

  • Fullmetalrunt

    Just a question, did your throat ever hurt trying to pronounce German as you were learning? Every time I read out loud or practice for over half an hour, my throat feels like it’s been laced with liquor and set ablaze. x____x Especially all those guttural sounds

  • http://www.learnweekdays.com Paolo

    Differences between different countries are always interesting. In Italy also we have some stereotypes about German, but they are just it.

  • http://www.learnweekdays.com Paolo

    Differences between different countries are always interesting. In Italy also we have some stereotypes about German, but they are just it.

  • http://godlessgirl.com godlessgirl

    I can't wait to read your German guide! I need to strap down and dedicate more regular time to learning and practicing German, and I think grasping some of those difficult concepts will increase my confidence as I learn on my own here in the States. Great post!

  • http://godlessgirl.com godlessgirl

    As an American, I heartily agree that much of our mass-produced humor is heavy-handed, simplistic, predictable, and fairly boring. Oh, I laugh if something is amusing, but European humor (we mostly get British humor over here with tv shows) is often more enjoyable because you usually need half a brain cell to catch it.

    One thing my friends and I often lament is that the American tv execs will steal a British show, re-package it for American audiences, and thus dumb it down and take much of the fun and subtle writing out of it. If there is a smart tv comedy (“Arrested Development,” for example), then it's likely that it won't last past a season or two before some inane sitcom is shoved in its place. Le sigh!

    • http://www.facebook.com/gshauger Geoffrey Shauger

      If there’s one thing I dislike more than foreigners who stereotype and over simplify American culture it’s Americans who do the same.

      Countless American shows and other products have been repackaged,repurposed and reimagined overseas with varying quality. This is normal regardless of where the source material is from. That’s like looking at American fast food and extrapolating that because Little Caesar pizza is bad than Italian food in the states is bad.

      Secondly there are countless comedies in the states that are clever. Focusing on the bad ones and solely associating them with America’s sense of humor is ignorant to be honest.

      • Bey Ship

        I disagree a bit with you in that TV networks her overwhelmingly narrowcast. I know they call it a broadcast, but that is really a misnomer in most cases. Take the CW for instance. Self-admission is that the targeted audience is 12-17 year old girls.

  • schoenewalder

    I’ve realised that in my anxiousness to counter Benny’s excessive politically-correct anti-stereotyping, I’ve really just proved his point, and outed myself as a stereotypist.

    The second point in particular is based on the slimmest anecdotal evidence and conjecture. Berliners being funny i’s 100% true. In fact their sense of humour is very similar to the English. And friendly. Much friendlier than the English. And friendlier than the French. Don’t know about the Irish, they have a reputation for being friendly, but maybe that’s just stereotyping. The rest of the conjecture is based on one Berliner telling me that Berliners are much funnier than other Germans, a Hamburger saying the same thing about Hamburg, and hearing a couple of jokes about the Swiss being a bit dull (which I used my stereotypic license to expand to meaning South Germany) and having met a handfull of Germans previously in my life who didn’t say anything very funny.

    And that generalisation of other Germans as “humourless” is incorrect. Now it’s true I have met Germans who didn’t say anything funny. But of course I’ve also met English who weren’t very funny. Lots of them. Lots of English think the funniest thing a person can do is take their trousers down and stick their arse out of the car window, which admittedly is very funny the first time you see it, but the tenth time is about as funny as hearing any joke for the tenth time. But if you say something funny to a humourless Englishman, he will probably nod and smile rigidly, implicitly acknowledging that a joke had been told and that such exchanges are an important part of our cultural heritage. Whereas if you say something funny to an humourless German he will probably politely respond something like “Could you explain why the vicar was entertaining the actress…” which from an English perspective is considered worse than nodding and smiling.

    Now I must go and hug some Germans.

  • Godlark

    I think that a good point would be writing with Germans. At writing we don’t hear their voice and we would tell that Germans are nice ;)

  • Baucis

    Hi madokat,
    I love your comment. I’m a german and I just stumbled over this site, and I love how it allows me to change the perspective and hear the voices of learners. Your comment is especially sympathetic to me, because in quite a lyrical way your own text mirrors the attributes you give the germans. It feels honest, critical, friendly, “Gemütlichkeit-appreciating” and frank.

    Our customer-service-thing – often gets me angry.

    I often wonder why I have so few Asian or African friends. I try hard to imagine I was somewhere in Central Africa and feel the physical differences when I am the exception…but my imagination fails me, I guess. I would like to sense it one day. Maybe you could see your experience as someting that isn’t easily reproduced, since it takes so many people of one type to truly feel singled out?

    Those British boys…gnah… but hell I am a 100 Percent sure we Germans produce the most embarrassing types of tourist ever, so i don’t lament stupid tourists coming here. We torture the world with some pain-in-the-ass-people, so they have every right to hit back. Seriously, we are exporting masters in this trade, both in quality and quantity :-).
    Ah, by now I’ve become a rare creature: I’m truly proud of my country, while not neglecting everything there is to hate and be ashamed for. Proud especially of things like Gemütlichkeit and ‘doch’.
    This hasn’t been they case until a few years ago. But when I lived and worked in Spain (and enjoyd it ever so moch, it really felt like finally coming hone) I saw Germany from outside, both literally and metaphorically, and I had some insights about why we do what we do. Take the public transport, i.e., the ..erm… bus system in spain made me realise that germans _actually_ are lazy people: because the more organized you are, the less energy goes into searching. And while I can rely on getting 3 things done with 3 buses in one ofternoon here, I could only hope to do one in Spain and really learned the meaning of “Plan B”.
    So we are just too lazy to worry and handle all the riff-raff that goes with changing plans. I prefer this interpretation to strict, because I have so many experiences that prove it’s closer to the truth. It makes us less creative and flexible, though.It might sound a bit autistic, but if everything (say, public transport) goes as it should it means mor free time to hang out with friends in a biergarten. The sad thing is that we have the unhealty custom to invest it in working more instead of focusing on our social contacts…..!
    Hope you continue to enjoy learning german, maybe you’ll write me some more of your favourite words? May favourite (and only) word in Hawaiian is one that’s shaked the whole world:
    :-) wiki!
    Aloa,
    Baucis

  • http://www.prolificliving.com/blog Farnoosh

    Hi Benny, I took one year of mandated German when we lived in Turkey and it was so hard for me – and let me tell you this first, I speak Farsi and had to take Arabic before that so it’s not making the sounds that’s hard – we have ALL those sounds in Farsi and then some…..The problem was that it was mandated- I HAD to learn it and I lost all desire – same with Arabic. I had to learn it….a decision made on my behalf. Now I am crazy about languages, and I do find the Germans kind and quite fluent in English – every single one that I have met in my life is proficient and our first experience in Germany was great so I did not experience the stereotype but I just don’t think I could love German like I do some other languages…..no matter, the people are super nice and I can’t wait for Berlin :)!

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  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Colleen, please use your actual name in comments, not a city name.
    The best way to get a summary of my advice, other than reading my Language Hacking Guide is by watching this video: http://fi3m.com/tbex-talk

  • Anonymous

    I found Berliners more than willing to help you learn German. They never tried to force english on me. However, when I did get in a bind with speaking in German I could easily switch to English. [Kinda nice and its a nice reminder to figure out how to say that next time]

    However, in Munich I found it very difficult to speak German only to people. I found that people would give up and switch to English.

  • Anonymous

    I found Berliners more than willing to help you learn German. They never tried to force english on me. However, when I did get in a bind with speaking in German I could easily switch to English. [Kinda nice and its a nice reminder to figure out how to say that next time]

    However, in Munich I found it very difficult to speak German only to people. I found that people would give up and switch to English.

  • Stefan Hutzfeld

    I’m german and really enjoyed reading this post! Thanks and keep it up!

  • http://www.facebook.com/arvinrm Arvin Rāj Māthūr

    I’m about to live in Germany, and so I totally agree, from what I observed from practicing my German online!

    BTW, I lol’d when you said “Thank you for Shopping at Walmart smile”, I’m an American, and after I heard about how Germans are more frank, it makes me realize how half-hearted our social culture really is…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Colman/676466890 Chris Colman

    I’m going to be heading off to Berlin myself in a few weeks. I’m studying abroad for a year there, so hopefully I will get plenty of time to really learn the language! I’ve been learning German for the last two years in college, and I have to disagree with people who think German is an ugly language. It can be really beautiful if you learn how to listen to it. Luckily, my professors at school really stressed the human, communicative aspect of German instead of just the dry grammar rules, so I don’t think German is really harder than any other language. Separable prefixes still give me trouble, though, because it is just so different from my native English. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Colman/676466890 Chris Colman

    I’m going to be heading off to Berlin myself in a few weeks. I’m studying abroad for a year there, so hopefully I will get plenty of time to really learn the language! I’ve been learning German for the last two years in college, and I have to disagree with people who think German is an ugly language. It can be really beautiful if you learn how to listen to it. Luckily, my professors at school really stressed the human, communicative aspect of German instead of just the dry grammar rules, so I don’t think German is really harder than any other language. Separable prefixes still give me trouble, though, because it is just so different from my native English. 

  • Brian

    I speak a good standard of German as my wife is originally from Berlin and we go over there every few months to visit her family. We also speak some German at home in the UK,  so I’ve had a lot of exposure to the language even though I’ve never actually lived in Germany.  I also made the effort to attend classes and learn from German books and films.
     
    As a result, I’m confident about going to Berlin and conducting my daily business solely in German. I must say, I haven’t really come across the situation where Germans immediately switch to English when addressed in their own language by a foreigner. Maybe it’s because my German is already at a level where I can converse without it being a strain on either party. Almost without fail, every German stranger I’ve met has been happy to talk in German, despite the fact that I most probably have a strange accent and undoubtedly make mistakes.
     
    We must also bear in mind that there are a lot of people in Berlin and the former East Germany who don’t speak English well, due to the Russian influence of the past. While I’m sure that the vast majority of young well-educated Germans can string sentences together in English, this level of fluency plummets when you examine the over-35s group. Many highly-paid professional people in this age bracket cannot speak anything more than rudimentary English for the simple reason that Russian was the main foreign language taught in schools.
     
    It is obviously possible to carve out an English-speaking bubble in Berlin but why would anyone want to move abroad and purposely avoid the language and – by extension – a lot of potentially interesting people? More to the point, why do the Germans allow this to happen.  Anyone from Germany attempting to speak only German in the UK would rightfully bre given the short shrift. Incomers to Britain are basically expected to learn and speak the language and I’ve simply never heard of a German person coming to our island and refusing to speak English. Yet they obviously tolerate the reverse situation over there.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Where are you from? I’d say it’s extremely likely that many people would say the same after visiting your town…

  • Pimbalee

    … and it is almost impossible that a German man invites a women for a dinner or coffee!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      … which means that when I did it they were so pleased, that I got a yes easier than I thought I would :P

  • Tobias

    Ich bin ein großer Fan von Sir Peter Ustinov. Dein Artikel erinnerte mich daran, dass er in einer BBC Radio Talkshow etwas zum Thema ‘Deutsche und Humor’ erzählte, ich habe vorher das Hörbuch ausgegraben:

    “Very often, in clubs and places like that, old gentleman come up to me with a negative shake of the head which shows already which answer they expect and say ‘But have the germans a sense of humor?’. And I must say they have an enormous sense of humor, but its very different because the german audience is more intellectual. The British audience is a wonderful one, but it wants to laugh extremly badly(…) They love laughter which is of course in their favour, but they push you towards comedy all the time(…) A german audience can come to the conclusion ‘Ah, we made a mistake – this is an extremly serious occasion’ and then when they do laugh saying ‘Oh, its a Bonus! Its a bit of both!’”

    Und er erzählt von einer kurzen Begegnung nach einem Live-Auftritt auf einer UNICEF-Gala in Berlin:

    “The Ex-President of Germany, Herr Herzog, who is a wonderful character(…) I saw him in the front row, very often ‘rocking’ as they say with laughter. After that I went out to him and said ‘Thank you very much for laughing so much Herr Bundespräsident, ist gave me enormous courage!’ And he said to me: ‘Well, you know.. I like very much to laugh. But its always easier if theres a reason for it.’ ”

    Very true. Very Deutsch ;).

  • http://twitter.com/Shidoni2311 Daniela

    I am German and I must say some Gemans can be rude as hell. It has actually become a very big problem with the youth here. They simply don’t show respect anymore. Also the bif diversity in multiculturalism is a very big problem, depending on where you go. Especially in the larger cities it can be quite a problem when it comes to rudeness. Berlin is a nice city. I haven’t met any rude people there at all up to now, but you might want to consider viting my area (Ruhrgebiet) next time. It can be a different world! Trust me.

    About the honesty-thing: they made several tests in shops and the sales clerks tend to lie into your face quite often (because they want to seel something). Many wouldn’t tell you that you might want to consider a different jeans or whatever. 

  • some1

    Germans were ranked 4th in the “rudest nations” list published recently, but in fact the survey was terribly flawed. Look for “rudest nations statistics” to find posts on the statistical flaws yourself…. germany rocks! :)

  • Konny

    Was mir hier etwas untergegangen ist, ist der Fakt, dass Deutschland natürlich in den verschiedenen Regionen stark unterschiedlich ist und auch teilweise Vorurteile herrschen. Ich möchte mal gern einen Ausländer erleben, der ohne jegliche Französischkenntnisse einen Saarländer mit seinem Akzent versteht. Ähnlich ist es da auch mit der Mentalität: Sachsen gelten als äußerst freundliche Leute, Rheinländer als ziemlich herzlich aber unehrlicher als Berliner, die wiederum eigentlich eher als unfreundlich gelten. Die Bayern mögen in Deutschland wegen ihrer murrigen Art auch eher wenige, dafür sind die Franken recht beliebt, genauso wie z.B. die Hamburger. Das ist zwar meine persönliche Sicht Deutschlands, aber ich denke sie trifft in etwa zu!

  • http://www.facebook.com/georg.schemitsch Georg Michael Schemitsch

    Hey, dann werde ich gleich mal auf Deutsch mit dir schreiben, da du’s ja vorgeschlagen hast :).

    Ich habe dieses Posting sehr genossen, ebenso wie das über die USA.

    Um anzufangen, ich bin Österreicher, studiere und lebe aber seit ca. zwei Jahren in Berlin. Ursprünglich stamme ich aus Klagenfurt, im Süden von Österreich.

    Was ich zur deutschen Kultur ergänzen würde, ist, dass Deutsche, zumindest für meine Verhältnisse, sehr, sehr stressig sind bzw. es eilig haben. Auffallend ist das z.B. im Straßenverkehr. Ich habe meinen Führerschein in Berlin gemacht und muss sagen: im Vergleich zu Österreich fahren Deutsche unglaublich aggressiv, auch über die Grenzen von Berlin hinaus. Diese Eile bemerkt man auch, wenn man z.B. einkaufen geht. Es stört mich überhaupt nicht (und ich würde behaupten, es stört die meisten Österreicher nicht), an der Kassa 5 Minuten zu warten, bis man bezahlen kann. Deutsche sind in solchen Situationen sehr schnell ungeduldig und werden unfreundlich. Alles in allem, im Vergleich zu Österreich, würde ich sie als unruhiger beschreiben.
    Das ändert natürlich nichts daran, dass ich Deutschland und auch die Deutschen wunderbar finde, sonst würde ich nicht hier wohnen und ziemlich sicher auch hier bleiben.

    Was den Punkt angeht, dass Deutsch sich, stereotyp, grauenvoll anhört, kann ich etwas sagen. Im Deutschen gibt es die sogenannte Auslautverhärtung, was grob gesagt bedeutet, dass der Konsonant am Ende des Wortes in der Regel “hart” ausgesprochen wird. Bad spricht man also BaT aus, etc.

    Was die Sache der mit dem Lernen der deutschen Sprache angeht: in meinem Studium beschäftige ich mich zu einem großen Teil auch mit Linguistik, ich studiere Germanistik und Kommunikationswissenschaften. Es ist so, dass es im Deutschen für die meisten grammatikalischen Regeln mehr Ausnahmen gibt, als die Regel an Beispielen vorgibt. Persönlich spreche ich nur Englisch und ein bischen Italienisch, ich verstehe also und erkenne es an, dass du auf diesem Gebiet der Erfahrenere bist. Nichts desto trotz muss ich dir widersprechen und sagen, dass Deutsch sehrwohl eine der schwersten Sprachen ist, was die grammatikalischen Regeln angeht. Sich in einer Sprache zu unterhalten, ist die eine Sache. Deutsche Orthographie und Grammatik aber fließend zu beherrschen ist eine andere. Das soll übrigens nicht irgendwie heißen, dass ich dir aus Prinzip widerspreche, aber gerade weil Österreich ein Vielvölkerstaat ist und viele meiner Freunde Serben, Kroaten, Rumänen sind/waren, kann ich mittlerweile glaube ich gut einschätzen, wie leicht/schwer es dem Durchschnitt fällt, Deutsch fließend zu beherrschen.

    Nochmals: ich habe das Lesen dieses Beitrages sehr genossen und werde deine Homepage weiterhin verfolgen. Vielen Dank!

    Liebe Grüße aus Berlin,
    Georg

  • Sabina Eberhardt

    love your perception, love your articles.

  • Jud

    may i ask, where this stereotype about all belgians being hairdressers come from? i am from Belgium, and this is the first time i hear it :P The one i keep on hearing, at least here i nGermany where i live, is taht we belgians eat a lot of fries and the country being famous for its sexual delinquency (Dutroux)….

    Back on the subject… Reading your article made me realise some things about German sounding rude. Personally, i think it is very beautiful, but my german boyfriend and i had quite a few misunderstandings because of the way german sounds. Sometimes, i thought he was pissed off because of the way he said something to me (or that he was saying a word but actually meaning the opposite of it with the intonation -because we do that a lot in french… for example, you can say about something “j’adooore” = “i love/like something” with a particular intonation, and it actually means that you hate it and not that you like it) , and if i asked him if he really was pissed off or making fun of me, he told me that he absolutely was not. This can still be quite misleading, even if you have been living quite a few years abroad.

  • Simon

    hey you have a wrong opinion about german, in Berlin they are not so nice, go to Düsseldorf, or Cologne , they have sens of humour, you were on a wrong place!

    • flying_fox71@yahoo.it

      Then if you move to NRW (the regione of Dusseldorf and Cologne) you will have serious problems to find people who can fluently speak English.
      I live myself in NRW for 5 years now (in Dusseldorf) and I have to admit that the average level of English which can be found here is very poor….
      Berlin is different, after all the Americans have been there for so long, and generally the city is way more international than NRW.
      NRW is just a place for workers, landscape is terrible (flat land with factory chimneys all over which spit smoke 24 hours per day….) and the air on the street is terrible too.
      It is estimated that up to 70% of Germans in this area are smokers and they do it all the time on the street (believe me they do, one sigarette after the other in an obsessive way!).
      So the stink in the air is terrible wherever you go, whenever you stop to wait for a bus or at a traffic light to cross the street, or even to just walk by.
      On top of this, there is no protection for no-smokers anywhere.
      Although there is a law especially for this, they invented this “Raucherclub” non-sense (all pubs and bars smaller than 75 sm can exceptionally admit smoking).
      I still found many clubs which are bigger than 75 sm where people smoke all the time and I reported it to the police.
      All my reports have been systematically ignored…
      And that says a lot about the respect for minorities that these people have.

      So you’d better stay in Berlin rather than moving to Dusseldorf or Cologne, if you can….
      And I also heard from colleagues who lived both here and there that also Munich is much more civilized than NRW…

      • apc79

        are you serious? are you aware that you are in a country that speaks German not English? You complain about smokers on the street? You don’t own the fuckin street regardless of your wage. I’d imagine they find you equally repulsive as you find them my friend, I really hope you’re a troll because otherwise I have no pity for an idiot such as yourself, machs gut

        • apc79

          and I must add, if you hate it so much, why don’t you fuck off to somewhere that makes you less miserable?

        • flying_fox71@yahoo.it

          Actually my remark was related to the part of the article which says “they all speak English”.
          This is absolutely not the case in NRW, the average German is pretty ignorant here. And you are just a confirmation.
          You think that using expressions like “fucking street” makes you cool.
          Very likely you never lived in any other place than NRW, and if you did you learnt nothing.
          Otherwise you would know that this kind of language is absolutely not used (nor tolerated) in English speaking countries.
          Beside this, when did I ask for your pity? Your comment is absolutely irrelevant…. :-)
          One last remark, if somebody is telling the truth about your region he/she is not necessarily a troll.
          I suggest you to spend your time reading books rather than smoking and drinking all the time on your beloved “fucking street”.
          Maybe this way if you ever go abroad you won’t make your fellow citizens feel ashamed for you…. enjoy! :-)

  • John bopper

    Great people the Germans, being English I was a bit apprehensive, when working there, all I can say is most really like the English, I wish our tabloids would lay off trying to cause friction between our nations, i found them quite similar to English people (maybe something to do with the Anglo Saxon blood line?) I think things have changed in the last decade between our nations and long may it continue.

  • Eleyse Gottman

    My other half is German, and he’s helpful, honest, efficient, basically, how you described above. And so I agree with your experiences.

  • Sally

    The bus stops do that in the uk :-$. Also i had never heard of the preconception that germans were rude. I am actually in germany now for the first time and have noticed it myself (so i googled to see if others had too). I do not get offended at all easily and havent really had the chance to be. Nobody has been ‘too honest’ – people do not say please, thank you, sorry or excuse me in restaurants or if they bump into you on the street and whwn i say it clearly and politely even though it was me that was just hit in the face with an umbrella. The odd waiter or shop assistant was very helpful but largely nobody seemed to care and any questions seemed to annoy and were met with such a bad attitude i nearly walked out a couple of times. Manners.cost nothing germany! & they make people feel nice!

    • apc79

      should probably get your stereotypes somewhere other than the sun, only taking the piss. Where are you in Germany?

  • Jojo

    Toller Artikel , das einzige was du wie ich finde zu wenig beleuchtet hast sind die großen Unterschiede zwischen den Bundesländern – So würde ich als Bayer mit Berliner Mutter definitiv zustimmen das die Berliner eine besondere Art des Humors haben . Als ich als Bayer in Berlin war fühlte ich mich Humoristisch auch wie im Ausland – In noch keinem Land das ich bisher besucht habe habe ich einen größeren Unterschied zwischen Land und Stadt Bevölkerung merken können -genauso wie jedes Bundesland mit seinen eigenen Vorurteilen zu kämpfen hat .

    Klasse gemacht :) !

  • sultana

    going to berlin on monday thanks for the insight

  • apc79

    hi jenny, i lived in two different places in Germany for a year at a time, can speak German quite well and if someone goes and tries to learn the language without stereotypes and with an open mind, it does not sound aggressive and I found the Germans to be quite welcoming and helpful in my efforts to learn the language, made many friends and also believe they are more polite than most in social situations, far from rude, this comes from an Irishman!, who are believed to be extremely friendly! another stereotype I’m afraid, although most of us are!

  • apc79

    are you from Amazonia?

  • http://www.facebook.com/junyan.d.yang 杨俊彦

    hi, I am a person who come from China . I want to go to Germany to travel, but I searched the information about there and it says that they don’t like foreigners. Is that true? I just wonder it. Because I really like Germany this country, I like their products with very high qualities. I hope someone can answer my question and let me know how there looks like, and I can prepare my trip to there! Thanks!

    • Hister

      说实在的,我建议你首先在英语语法方面狠下点功夫(先别谈德语)

    • Regina

      Hy I believe it is no more dangerous for foreigner in germany than in every other european country. And as you can read in my reply- not all germans ( i am german) can write or talk english very best, though all germans learn english several years at school.
      And it is true that there is a north -south gradient in europe of warmth in the behavior. But is outsideof soul not into- there is it war. If you knew the people the differences between the nationalities become smaller. So come and visit germany.

    • Buzz Yip

      Don´t worry. My GF is chinese – living here since 10 years and told me that she never experienced any racism…have fun

  • I_Never_Jever

    Whilst I really like Germany, and prefer it to be home country mosty, I think for me, as an Englishman, the “honesty” thing is the hardest to swallow. It’s all very well, but it’s hard to swallow when no attempt whatsoever is made to soften it. Taking your dancing example, someone from almost any other country might say you smell and could do with a shower, but then laugh and say that they don’t mind though as they like you. I don’t know what happened in your situation, but Germans I have met would often say stuff like that WITHOUT the all important “sugar coating”. Now I don’t mind lack of sugar coating when it comes to whether I should clean the kitchen or not, but regarding more personal things it is just too much.

    A good example from my personal experience is the following. I am a pretty quiet person. The only country where I have had the direct question “why are you so quiet?” however, is in Germany. Several times. What is one supposed to answer to a question like that anyway? Maybe I am just not German enough, and they really would like to hear a serious, matter-of-fact psychological analysis? Or maybe one is supposed to retort with some equally blunt question? The nearest in Britain was “you’re a nice guy, you’re interesting. Why don’t you get more involved?”. It was so well phrased that I actually felt good about myself. Most non-Germans I have met either don’t bring it up, or actually make some effort to talk to me, rather than simply asking why I am quiet.

  • Yves

    Hey Benny,

    it has been a pleasure to read you side of view. I laughed a lot and meant it so ;-)

    As a german by birth I have to say you really got it.

    And I had to think about myself… is it rude of me when I don’t correct someone speaking wrong words in german, or is it polite if I just “run” into english to make it easier for him. Hmmm. What do you think?

  • Martin Hohenberg

    > (I personally consider the red man asuggestion rather than a rule; it’s a good suggestion only if cars are actually on the road).

    That’s how you loose your drivers license over here – even if you are caught on foot.

  • Emily Wilkerson

    Based on the comments it looks like this is a pretty old post, but I wanted to say that a friend just showed your blog and I really enjoy it. I really like your Germany posts in particular because I’m enrolling in a German university next year with only intermediate German and never having visited Europe aside from a brief vacation to England. It will be my first real immersion experience after years of learning languages (Spanish, Latin, German, Swedish) in a classroom setting and I’m so excited – but I’ve been worried about all of the bad stereotypes people attach to Germans.

    Most of the German people I’ve met in the US have been lovely. Very concerned with rules and maybe a bit less inclined to slapstick humor than Americans, but still very funny and open (at least younger people, I’ve noticed that older Germans tend to be quite reserved). I was worried though that this wouldn’t be true when I arrived in Germany and I’m glad to see that you have a similar impression of Germans. Thanks!

  • Daniel Brockert

    There’s a flip side to the smiling issue that I’ve dealt with as an American in Turkey where smiling is less common among both Turks and Germans- people think you are being fake/not genuine. I think that’s the inverse problem. But you’re not being fake if you really mean what you’re trying to mean. Now in Turkey when dealing with Turks and German expats I’m working hard on “face control” using smiles judiciously- but it’s a difficult adjustment.

  • mariaaaa

    omg this is all false,it’s not true that germans is a rude :( my dad,friends,especialsome1 is german so i know not all times they are that rude, and to learn german easier than mandarin, and germans love to teach you thier own language for your information

  • Claudia

    Great great blog, Benny. I love languages and I think really, the best concept to get to know a country and the mind of the people is by learning (at least a bit) of the language. You mentioned humor also, for me humor stuff is always the most difficult to grab, you will easily get along understanding the news, but humor takes more time for double meanings and background – some things just get lost when they are translated. I hope you know one of our greatest – Loriot – who has died unfortunately some time ago. What are your favorite ones in German speaking countries?

  • Mara

    As for the german perception abroad:
    I’m German, and have lived abroad for over eight years in the middle east. Because the ME is such a multicultural place, I’ve interacted with people from a hundred nationalities. Usually, their perception of Germans was extremely negative. Granted, I only interacted with teenagers, but their stance to Germany tells a lot about the attitudes at home. Things their parents would never openly say to a German, they would obviously communicate to their kids (who simply didn’t censor their conversation with me).
    I’ve encountered millions of Nazi jokes and salutes. Granted, they were well meant, but none of them were even remotely funny, simply because they were unimaginative.
    Then again, many Arabs love the Germans because of their history with Jews. That, too, leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
    As a little anecdote: I’ve also been to South Africa on a humanitarian quest. I visited a South African high school, and was one of the only white people they had ever seen. During a Q&A, I was coldly asked “How many Jews did Hitler kill?”.

  • bluesborn

    I lived in Germany for 3 years as a kid on a military base much like the previous poster.Although I too was never actually fully immersed in the language I never found it particularly hard to learn and certainly didn’t find anything ugly or repellent about its sound.Over all I found Germans to be very much like Americans or Canadians(where I’m from) in that they liked to eat and drink and yuk it up and listen to music and dance etc etc. just like everyone else.It’s unfortunate that todays Germans must continue to carry the awful burden of the stigma created by “the sins of the fathers” so to speak,but carry it they must.The crimes of the Nazis must never be forgotten although at the same time we must realize that young Germans have become some of the most enlightened people on earth regarding matters of racism, anti war,etc.I would love to visit germany again before I get too old to travel and visiting your site may have lit a flame of inspiration under my lazy rear end.Thanks!

  • bluesborn

    I lived in Germany for 3 years as a kid on a military base much like the previous poster.Although I too was never actually fully immersed in the language I never found it particularly hard to learn and certainly didn’t find anything ugly or repellent about its sound.Over all I found Germans to be very much like Americans or Canadians(where I’m from) in that they liked to eat and drink and yuk it up and listen to music and dance etc etc. just like everyone else.It’s unfortunate that todays Germans must continue to carry the awful burden of the stigma created by “the sins of the fathers” so to speak,but carry it they must.The crimes of the Nazis must never be forgotten although at the same time we must realize that young Germans have become some of the most enlightened people on earth regarding matters of racism, anti war,etc.I would love to visit germany again before I get too old to travel and visiting your site may have lit a flame of inspiration under my lazy rear end.Thanks!

  • Anondragon

    At the end of the day it all comes down to cultural ignorance and differences.
    I say this as a guy who has lived a length of time in the following countries: UK, France, Germany, and USA.
    The thing is…And this might sound pejorative…Often in my experience, people from UK, France, and USA for example, have what I call a “superpower complex”.
    What is that? It means that they have a tunnel vision in terms of their behavior, and when going abroad they believe everything somehow should run and happen the same as at home.
    This inevitably creates problems.
    But for example, take a very open (in terms of behavior) nation: The Japanese.
    Japanese can go ANYWHERE in the world and not offend locals, in my honest opinion.
    I know Japanese…Who immigrated to Germany…In about 3-4 years they were relatively fluent in German. I even know a Japanese DOCTOR who now practices in Germany and is respected by the local German community and fully integrated.
    It’s all about respect, and having the kind of mind that is not only open, but open for completely different ways of acting/being. Unfortunately its not something you can change easily, its something that happens through a certain schooling while very young, both at school and with parents.
    Germans and Japanese, are not educated that their country is the best in the world, that their language is the best in the world, etc. They are constantly grown as being part of a global community with a large array of cultures. This is hugely different in creating different types of behaviors.

  • uhlthomas27

    I lived in Germany two years and I really didn’t connect with the place, the people…. they’re “nice” but so cold, so blaaaaahhhh…. recently I was visiting NYC and while riding the staten island ferry, I couldn’t help but notice how americans would come take pictures of the skyline and then move to another part of the ferry in order to make space for others willing to take pictures of NYC. Of course there was a group of Aholes standing there, they took over the best part of the boat and just sat there taking pictures for the entire trip….. they even made sure they had enough space and wouldn’t allow anyone to come and take pictures because they wouldn’t move after taking at least 50 pics….. (guess what nationality they were? GERMANS)…. something inside me told me, AAAAH I KNEW IT!!! I am not even an American and english is not my first language…. I am Colombian!!!! Maybe I am too different from them? I don’t know, but I often find myself not really liking or connecting with western Europeans (minus the Irish, the portuguese and the belgians)… a lot of western Europeans I meet, always come across as obnoxious, cliquey, new money, almighty and with the ridiculous idea that they for some reason know it all!!! With Eastern Europeans I connect easier, I can also make lasting deep connections with North Americans… but Western europeans I just can’t….. don’t even get me started on the Swedish I’ve met.

  • jew

    i hate germans

  • jew

    they are monsters…………….killers of innocent Jews………….

  • Lunar

    I moved to Germany from the UK and never looked back. I understand now why people might find them ‘rude’, but now when I go back to the UK I just see everyone tripping over everyone else with apologies and ‘niceities’. Even I tend to look at them now thinking…’you didn’t burn my house down, relax!!’ As for German’s having no sense of humour. Never really found this. You find individuals that don’t….as you do in any country. English speakers also forget that we use a lot of jargon and phrases specific only to us….they don’t laugh because many times they didn’t really understand what was said in the correct context. That is just ignorance on our part mostly. I speak fluent German now and all in all….go for it. Very expressive language and the country is just lovely.

  • Hemlal Mainaly

    Germans are the most cruelty and barbaric human beings of the world.They are not less tje wild beasts.They are selfish, recists, arrogant idiot.