(Gallup Poll: “Are you proud of your nationality?”
The English: 51%
The Germans: 22%)
What a conundrum it is to be German; so much to be proud of and yet so much to be ashamed. It has always been difficult for Germans to be proud of who they are. Media and self-opinion have, since the war, tended towards self-degradation to the point of shame, with the fear that any German proud to be so would be branded a Nazi, a title the world bandies around without thinking of its meaning, often not even bothering to separate German from Nazi.
But this low self-image is changing as more young people, distanced by time to their history, start to reclaim their Germanic pride. Like many other nationalities, they have to take the good with the bad, even though both have been dealt out in extreme doses.
The world knows them as industrious, bureaucratic, humourless, and cold, and funnily enough, most Germans think of themselves in the same way. The reality is strikingly different, even more so given the unfavourable stereotype and the citizens’ low self opinion.
On the whole, Germans are tolerant, hard-working, clever, cultured and enjoy the good things in life. But more than anything, and this will surprise many, the Germans included, they love to laugh. Getting a laugh is a challenge, though, but once you get it, it’s more rewarding than any fake laugh other people offer. Their sense of humour is a little strange; they like wit, smut and laugh at the mistakes and mishaps of others.
But the best thing about the Germans is that they are straight up and honest. There is no ambiguity, no superficiality, no grey area and in this fast food world of instant gratification, dishonesty, double meanings and five minute friends, such a characteristic is very refreshing. It might be criticised as directness, but it sure saves a lot of time spent beating around the bush.
It is however, dangerous to generalise. Germany is so diverse that it is difficult to cram them under one banner; indeed, some regions don’t want to be associated or grouped together with other regions. There is still the old east/west divide, with the Saxons the butt of every joke, but in terms of characteristic differences, the north/south divide is much starker.
The Northerners are considered colder, standoffish and cliquey. It can be hard to infiltrate their social groups but once you have, you’ll have friends for life. Moving apartments will be party-like events because everyone will help. The Southerners on the other hand, tend to be friendlier, if only on the surface, and also a little more conservative. They are also more influenced by central Europe, by the French and Italian cultures, and consider themselves more cultivated. With most of Germany’s powerful companies in the south, wealth lends itself to an uppity arrogance, while the Oktoberfest makes people believe that no one can drink and party like the Bavarians.
Women are treated equally, and the country now has a female Chancellor in Angela Merkel. Family is important, and don’t surprised in the villages to find extended families living under one roof. Education is highly valued, as is the educational and cultural benefits of international travel. Germans did the year abroad long before the gap year became fashionable.
The important thing when dealing with Germans is not to let to allow your judgement to be ruled by stereotypes. Take the people for what they are now and not what the world thinks them to be. They are a fun-loving people, open and tolerant, and you will find people from all over the world living in Germany. Give the Germans a chance and they will amaze you.