Monday, 23 October 2017

Don't Mention the Weather

Have you ever commented about the weather in Germany? It's tricky that - and full of potential pitfalls.

Let me explain: Say, on an ordinary October day, you remark: "Bit blustery, isn't it" or, in German, as of course you'd be politely speaking the local language: "Ganz schön windig heute".

The automatic reply you'd get would be: "Ja was denkst du??! Es ist Herbst!!" (Well, what do you think?! It's autumn after all!") Thump.You fall flat on your face and wonder what you did to engender such a strong reaction to an ordinary remark.

Whereas in Britain, you'd be getting any response from polite, distracted affirmation "Isn't it just" to spinning the conversation on "It really is . I even had to take my washing in this morning" or any other way of making  something of the opening gambit. In contrast, the German response is automatically challenging, personal, and in attack-mode - querying your sanity that you're clearly not aware that it is indeed autumn, and what else would any sane person expect, so why on earth comment? Conversational effort rebuffed, speaker called sub-intelligent and openly put in their place. End of conversation. Best to say nothing in Germany. Which of course is the German way: If it's not "meaningful", it's best to say nothing,  they argue. What could posssibly be meaningful, say arriving at the work place on a Monday morning? Angela Merkel's immigration policy?

Consequently, silence is a major part of...German conversation (1). But back to our example, as there's more to it  than the sheer rudeness of speakers.There's also a complete intercultural breakdown: People in Germany aren't aware that seasons aren't so clear-cut everywhere as they are in continental Europe: Spring: Mild - Summer: Hot - Autumn:Windy - Winter: Cold. The "4 seasons in a day" concept for example, so prevalent in Britain and Ireland is totally unknown to them. Therefore, a rather bovine attitude towards the seasons is preordained. It is as it is. No need to comment. Es ist halt Herbst! Ja. isso.

(1) I shall be wrting about silence -"Schweigen" in a separate post. It is of immense importance when understanding German society, history, and even current political events.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Why Is It So Easy to Manipulate Germans?

Yesterday on Social Media (that's how a lot of stories start nowadays!) a German chap, early 60s, a historian with a PhD was telling me off for saying German media were propagating government viewpoints. Assuming I was British and therefore (!) wouldn't know much, he prodeeded to give me a lecture about freedom of the press in Germany. How German media was founded Precisely!! in order to counteract government propaganda because of all the wonderful lessons learned from National Socialism. And so on and so on.

Why is this important and what does it tell us about Germany today?

Because it shows that Germans - highly educated and informed as they are - understand nothing of how communication works.

Few Germans know what an advertising agency is and what it does. Ask them about PR-agencies or media agencies and you will draw a total blank.

How can anybody expect a nation which can tell you everythig about the Enlightenment and what great lessons of "Mitmenschlichkeit" to draw from it (all said with a Bridget Jones style earnest nodding of the head) but knows nothing about press conferences, "Kamingespräche" between PR-agencies and journalist, the workings of ad placement by media agencies and so on and so on be expected to take a stand against what's going on in their country? They are like naive children repeating what their mummy has told them. Fully expecting to be praised because they are so learned - gut aufgepasst!

Germans are singularily badly equipped to stand up to the manipulation - by the media, by the government - that's going on under their very eyes. #sad