Why ‘Germans Are Rude’ Part 2 Posted by Constanze on Nov 18, 2015 in Culture, Language
I recently wrote a post called Why ‘Germans Are Rude’, which was inspired by an article on how different cultures give criticism. Firstly, I want to thank everybody who commented on it. It seems that this is a topic everybody has something to say about, which is great! The Germans are arguably one of the most stereotyped nationalities in the world, and while it is good to challenge those stereotypes, it is also interesting to see where they might come from. I hope you agree!
In my last post, I talked about how the structure of the German language in relation to UK English could be the reason why Germans come across as rude to British people. The German language is, on the whole, a lot more direct than English, after all. We saw this in the example ‘Gibst du mir die Kassette?’, which is a lot more direct (‘Will you give me the cassette tape?’) than its English counterpart would be (‘Would you mind giving me the cassette tape, please?’ – or ‘Würdest du, wenn es dir nichts ausmacht, mir die Kassette bitte geben?’ if you want the German equivalent!).
Gibst du mir die Kassette?
Würdest du, wenn es dir nichts ausmacht, mir die Kassette bitte geben?
One reader made another excellent contribution with the example:
‘Kauf doch einen neuen Boiler!’
Meaning in German: Why don’t you buy a new boiler?
How it might sound if directly translated into English: Buy a new boiler!
What gets lost in translation in this example is the word doch, which is the part of the sentence that makes this a suggestion rather than a command. Without it, the sentence does come across as bossy and direct.
Kauf einen neuen Boiler! – Buy a new boiler!
Kauf doch einen neuen Boiler! – Why don’t you buy a new boiler?
So, when confronted with a bossy-sounding German, take a moment to consider that it could be a case of words being lost in translation, rather than abrupt rudeness – and we all know how many German words get lost in translation!
This leads me on to another thing I wanted to touch on: the lack of words and phrases in German that we use all the time in UK English (and probably in US English, too) which, to put it bluntly, don’t really mean anything. Take the following:
Hi! You alright?
Have a good day/morning/afternoon
Have a safe journey home
Have a safe flight
Take care of yourself
It’s nice to meet you
These are all, when you strip them down, ways of saying hello and goodbye in English. When an English person greets someone with ‘You alright?’ they don’t actually want to know if that person is alright, nor do they expect an answer. They’re just saying hello. Similarly, when people say “It’s nice to meet you”, they don’t necessarily mean that it’s brightened their day to meet this person. It is just a way of saying hello or goodbye to someone they have just met.
The Germans, on the other hand, tend to leave out phrases such as these, as they see them as a waste of time. It is uncommon for a cashier, for instance, to tell you ‘Schönen Tag noch’ (‘Have a nice day’) . They’re much more likely to say a simple ‘Auf wiedersehen’ (‘Goodbye’). How would this come across to a Brit? Probably a bit rude when compared to English customer service, right? But it’s not. These kinds of phrases just aren’t very common to the German language, because the Germans don’t believe they add anything to a conversation.
It’s the same with phrases like “Have a safe flight” and “Have a safe journey home”. I had a German couple stay at my parents’ house over the summer. It was the night before they were due to fly back home, so upon my Abschied (farewell) to them I said (in English) “Have a safe flight”, to which the girl replied, “Well, that is up to the pilot.” It was the oddest response I’ve ever had to that phrase, but it actually made me feel a bit silly for having said it, because she’s right… her safety on the flight was, of course, up to the pilot!
Don’t expect to make the same small talk in Germany that you’d make in the UK or the US.
One last thing I’d like to add is that Germans tend to keep their personal and professional lives separate, and that language plays a huge part in creating distance between individuals at the workplace. I have touched on this in my post ‘The etiquette of Sie and du at the workplace’.
With these posts, I hope I’ve shown how the differences between the English and German languages can lead people to believe that Germans are rude or cold, and why this is often not the case. The first part is here, for those who haven’t read it. And again, any comments are more than welcome!
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I come from Hannover, Germany, and there we would say “Kannst du mir bitte die Kassette geben”. We usually say “bitte”.
@Edith Rode Thanks for your comment, Edith! Of course, I am not saying that the only way to ask for things is to say, for instance, ‘Gibst du mir die Kassette?’, only that this phrasing exists in German and isn’t regarded as rude, whereas if translated directly into English (even with a ‘please’), it would sound abrupt.
Re. Have a safe flight: would it be possible that your guest was alluding to the Lufthansa flight that was deliberately crashed! Or am I too far in my presumption.
@Tom Hahah! You mean the Germanwings one? Could be! But she was looking at me like I’d said something really daft. 😉
So true! Very well written, I have started learning German language and I went through the same, I thought they were rude but it’s just the language.
In Deutschland you will often hear just ‘Morgen’ or ‘Moin’ when one arrives at work. Once when I lived in the US, my boss always said something like ‘let us all feel great’ and told me I was negative just saying ‘morning’. I responded I do not do well when others tell me how I should feel or think.
But I do disagree, at least here in Berlin every cashier wishes a good day or evening.
@Patricia ‘Let us all feel great’… Oh dear! That’s cool if you disagree. I think it’s becoming more common for cashiers etc. to wish people a good day/good morning. The point I was trying to make is that people shouldn’t feel offended if they don’t. I work in customer service in the UK and if we don’t wish people a great day it’s seen as rudeness! That’s how normal this phrase is here. It’s not the same the world over. Thanks for your comment. 🙂
I feel like I hear <> from cashiers all the time. Maybe it’s a regional thing? (ftw, I’m in the Rheinland.) Not that I’m saying the Rheinland is friendly … I once had a bus driver call my wife a “fat cow” for dropping some coins, among many other examples of rude behavior.
@Doug A Oh God, now that is rude!! As I said to Patricia, the point I was trying to make is that people shouldn’t feel offended if they don’t hear ‘Schoenen Tag noch’ (etc.) everywhere they go. I work in customer service in the UK and if we don’t wish people a great day it’s seen as rudeness! That’s how ‘important’ this phrase is here! But it’s not the same the world over. 🙂
That was supposed to say, I hear “Schönen Tag noch” all the time…
As a native German living in Germany but being around Americans for the past 28 years and having lived in the US for 15 years, and seeing both . I do have to agree with you that Germans are rude. I don’t think it is the language that make them rude, its the way they do things. I lived in the US for 15 years and it was custom there, if somebody walked out of a Store to hold the door open for you to walk in, not in Germany, Germans slam the door right into your face, they constantly invade your Personal Space especially when you are shopping, they don’t keep that safe distance, they get right back up under your butt, at a Restaurant they will stare you down, if they try to get by, they don’t say excuse me, just shuff you out of the way, and look at you weird if you say excuse me.
To the have a nice day, its not true. I had plenty of Cashiers tell me, have a nice day or nice weekend after I told them. My parents had a small german bakery, and we would always tell our customers, have a nice day, have a nice weekend, merry xmas, i think it just depends on the individual.
I can’t say I’ve experienced the seeming rudeness of German speech. Personally, I appreciate its directness and also the conciseness of not saying something that doesn’t need to be said. I prefer to see certain kinds of directness as humorous verging on caricature. Z.b. “Hans, I love you!” “Of course you do. You could not help yourself!” Often, when I would leave for college far away, I would ask my father whether I should call to let my parents know I’d arrived safely. First, that would have cost money for a long distance call; and, second, if I did not arrive safely, my parents would know soon enough. Economy in both pocketbook and speech.