typisch Deutsch: what’s typical?

One thing I’m fascinated by is how the way foreigners see the Germans is not far from how the Germans see themselves, and yet the foreign observations are complicated by the varied responses of the Germans.

Some things considered “typisch Deutsch” by Germans and foreigners that I’ve asked:

  • Punklichkeit, punctuality. Seriously? The longer I’m in this country, the more I realize how flawed this is less a fact and more a cliche. Sure, transportation is fairly punctual, but on an individual basis this varies from person to person like anywhere else in the world.
  • Ordnung, Buerokratie, Disziplin, Gruendlichkeit, Schnelligkeit: I’ve ordered these together since the ideas of orderliness, bureaucracy, efficiency, discipline, thoroughness and quickness are perhaps typical of Germans in their work, but not necessarily in their private lives (though I think the orderliness and discipline carry over into their private lives and it’s what makes them balance their private and public lives much better…
  • They are able to then produce a space for Gemuetlichkeit, this difficulty translated word that means something like coziness, acceptance, no-inhibitions necessary. I’ve been seeing the drive for this a lot lately reflected in the consumer world; stores are filled with Advent delicacies and decorations, waiting to be bought and taken into homes.
  • direkt, ernsthaft, rational, “kalt”: these adjectives describe the “typical” German character. I suppose, in contrast with the strict tact expected in U.S. and perhaps Japanese/Korean/Chinese culture, the Germans are direct. They are also serious and perhaps culturally have been trained to handle crisis more rationally than emotionally, but I don’t know if that makes them “cold.”
  • This idea of the Germans as “cold” is especially contrasted when one considers that the Germany is the birth of the “Romantik” and it’s a nation of Dichter and Denker (poets and thinkers)
  • They also like to be open (there’s the direkt again) about what bothers them: weather, lines, politics, other people. So they could be labeled as complainers. But I think this rather endears them, don’t you? They’re like the Eeyores of a winni-the-pooh world. And when things are expressed, they can be taken care of… or one can have camaraderie in deploring the weather. why keep to oneself?
  • I think the “Ernsthaftikeit” (seriousness, sincerity) of the Germans makes them more trustworthy.
  • Even if they are initially a bit stiff and seem unwilling to help, they usually are very willing. There’s just the prickly exterior one has to look through first.
We have no reason to think this little guy isn't clean as a whistle, but some hedgehogs carry salmonella.

I saw a hedgehog one one of the first evenings here. Picture from the not-so-cute Health News from NPR

So, let me end this post by writing that although people usually label each other by stereotypes, they can learn to recognize the level of truth in the stereotypes and how the lists of attributes vary on an individual basis. I think of these things when I think “typisch Deutsch,” but I also think some of them when I think “typisch Laura, Sammy” or “typisch Katharina.” This idea of “typical” is becoming more and more complicated by experiences in the real world and in the representations of this world in the literature. It’s something I’m keeping an eye on though. I’ll see how this list changes by the end of my stay here and will try to be more critical in identifying the difference layers of these characteristics.