The cultures that is Europe

by on April 29, 2012 at 3:05 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Many of the Spaniards say the work environment in Germany takes getting used to, with Germans far more direct than Spanish people and much quieter. No one makes personal calls during business hours, for instance. But the work day is much shorter.

They were surprised that they were expected to greet co-workers each morning with formal handshakes and to call colleagues “Herr” and “Frau” (Mr. and Ms.). Impromptu hallway conversations over work issues were cut off by Germans suggesting it would be more appropriate to schedule a formal meeting.

The German fondness for order, often joked about, has proved true, said Carlos Baixeras, 30, an engineer who started working near Frankfurt 18 months ago. “There are rules for everything,” he said. “There’s a trash police.”

There is also this demographic point:

Last year, though, even while deaths once again exceeded births, the German population grew for the first time since 2002, thanks to a net immigration of 240,000 people, nearly double the 128,000 net gain in 2010. Countries like Poland and Romania sent the most, but German government statistics showed thousands more coming from the crisis-stricken southern nations.

The full story is here.

Note that highly productive economic activity seems to be concentrating itself in the United States, in a smaller number of locations.  Perhaps the same is happening in Europe too.  That’s hardly Spain’s biggest problem right now, and migration can in some ways be a blessing for an economy with high unemployment.  Still, when the debt overhang is so high, this is troubling news too.

Mark Thorson April 29, 2012 at 3:15 pm

I know someone who spent some time living in Japan. He said that once you llearn to read Japanese, you realize there are signs everywhere telling you the rules about what you can and cannot do.

Peter April 29, 2012 at 3:57 pm

It won’t be long until some blogospherians see the part about immigration to Germany and claim that it’s being overrun by fundamentalist Turks.

Andreas Moser May 1, 2012 at 10:51 am

Not only the blogosphere, even some members of government in Germany openly incite racism: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/german-minister-incites-racism/

Eugen-Richter-Institut April 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm

As a German, I would like to say “bienvenidos.” Doing away with internal borders is at least one plus with the EU.

And to put this in perspective: they landed in a part of Germany that has a reputation for being extremely orderly, even with other Germans.

DK April 30, 2012 at 1:18 am

Is the bit about hallway conversations being cut off in favor of a formal meeting really true? That sounds pretty scary.

David Wright April 30, 2012 at 2:49 am

I worked in Germany for many years, and I believe that particular annecdote to be exagerated, atypical, or flat-out wrong. But some of the other stuff is spot-on. Workplace relationships tend to be more formal and people tend not to mince words when saying “no”. Compared to Americans, Germans tend not to play at work and not to bring work home; as an American, that’s not my style, but sometimes I wish it were.

Someone from the other side April 30, 2012 at 5:22 am

Having worked in Germany and with a lot of Germans abroad, I would say this is largely bollocks. It might happen when the other person thinks that either this deserves more time than he can devote to it right now or that other people should be included in the discussion, but otherwise I do not believe that Germans in general call meetings just for the sake of it anymore than any other nationality (the phenomenon is way too common all over the world)

affenkopf April 29, 2012 at 4:29 pm

But the work day is much shorter.

And that’s why statistics about average work hours are meaningless.

Rahul April 30, 2012 at 1:53 am

How so? Won’t the shorter work day be reflected in those stats too? Why are average hours worked irrelevant? I’d agree they are incomplete without productivity stats.

jpa April 30, 2012 at 7:18 am

I think his point was you can’t compare german to spain work hours directly, because Spaniards spend time at work doing personal things.

Graham Watson April 29, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Piece in the Economist about Spaniards migrating to Argentina this week; makes more sense given language. Feel for Spaniards landing in Germany: entirely different work culture. Germans probably waking up about the time that some Spaniards get in for the night.

Alex Godofsky April 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Impromptu hallway conversations over work issues were cut off by Germans suggesting it would be more appropriate to schedule a formal meeting.

That’s insane. How do they get anything done?

david April 29, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Efficient and hierarchical meetings, perhaps. Americans spend a lot of meeting-time negotiating consensus, but this is not the case in a lot of other cultures.

Chris R April 30, 2012 at 4:09 am

Efficient? I don’t think so. Bureaucratic and verbose? Absolutely. Then again this is the quasi-academic sector that I’m referring to.

Eugen-Richter-Institut April 29, 2012 at 5:23 pm

>> Impromptu hallway conversations over work issues were cut off by Germans suggesting it would be more appropriate to schedule a formal meeting.

> That’s insane. How do they get anything done?

I can’t speak for other companies, but, in my experience, this would have to be an outlier. Have never seen this in more than a decade of working in German companies.

genauer April 29, 2012 at 6:33 pm

I worked for a couple of years in an IBM / Toshiba / Siemens Collaboration.
The running gag was, if you need something from a Japanese, meet him in the smoking corner (outside the building), from the Germans at the (non-vendor) coffee machine corner, and with Americans, you call a meeting.

The article just references one new guy in one small company.

Working habits are really not that different between the nations I mentioned. Often it is just the style , but not the substance, which looks different outsiders.

Daniel April 29, 2012 at 6:50 pm

That final paragraph needs to revisit new economic geography 101.

TallDave April 29, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Successful cultures expand.

CBBB April 29, 2012 at 8:10 pm

“Impromptu hallway conversations over work issues were cut off by Germans suggesting it would be more appropriate to schedule a formal meeting.”

That actually doesn’t sound like a very good culture. Are formal meetings really where good ideas happen?

Euripides April 29, 2012 at 9:11 pm

I have a German co-author and he sure is organized and extremely efficient. Very good to work with, but sure would not want to have to fight a war against him and his kin.

Vanya April 30, 2012 at 6:13 am

Ironically the Germans lost two World Wars because they were neither particularly well organized nor efficient. In fact their leader in the second effort was well known for his poor personal work habits, his habit of getting hung up on tangential side issues, his decision making by gut instinct, his lack of clear direction to subordinates and his tendency to set unrealistic, unachievable goals (but he was born in Austria…)

Methinks April 30, 2012 at 12:16 pm

The Kaiser was a sad piece of work in the first effort as well.

JWatts April 30, 2012 at 4:13 pm

“Ironically the Germans lost two World Wars because they were neither particularly well organized nor efficient.”

LOL, read more history. The Wehrmacht was renowned for organization and efficiency. What they had a problem with was appropriate Goal Setting by upper management.

Vanya April 30, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Maybe you should read history instead of propaganda. Many organizations are “renowned” for characteristics that aren’t really true. Start with Adam Tooze.

Kaganovich May 1, 2012 at 12:53 am

They were the only game in town until the Soviets built up their forces, and that myth was built pre-Stalingrad. They didn’t even have winter-clothing when invading Russia. Quite efficient at suicide, perhaps. And German weaponry was often focused on quality rather than quantity or efficiency like the Americans and Russians, and achieved neither. The German armed forces were, however, masters at low-level small-unit improvisation.

Jermaine May 1, 2012 at 12:14 pm

The Germans died at a lower rate in battle than any of their enemies, eventhough they were massively outnumbered; that’s too large a data point to ignore.

Andreas Moser May 1, 2012 at 10:56 am

Germany lost two World Wars because the Good always prevails.
I am still happy every day about my grandfather’s generation having “lost” that war, and thankful to the liberators!

Jermaine May 1, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Perhaps, in hindsight this is true. However, if you were in eastern Germany near the end of Second World War, you weren’t looking forward to the arrival of the Soviets I don’t care how anti-Nazi you were.

TGGP May 1, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Yes, the Good always prevails. That’s why those sympathetic starving Biafrans came out ahead.

Vanya May 2, 2012 at 4:24 am

If “good” prevailed Germany would not have lost the first World War. Or maybe better said, if good prevailed there would have been no war at all. It is hard to see the British or French Empires in 1914 as particularly “good”, especially if you were Irish, Boer, Zulu, Indian, Vietnamese, Algerian, etc. Arguably the Habsburg state was the most tolerant of any of the major combatants and they suffered more than anyone other than Russia (who was far and away the biggest loser of WWI).

Lokanski May 3, 2012 at 2:30 am

“If “good” prevailed Germany would not have lost the first World War. Or maybe better said, if good prevailed there would have been no war at all”
A authoriatarian military regime which would engage in ethnic cleansing of 3 million Poles and Jews per “Polish border strip plan” was hardly good. And neither was the apartheid state of things before the war towards Poles in German Empire.

Andreas Moser May 1, 2012 at 10:54 am

Don’t worry! We are not in the war business anymore.

Rahul April 30, 2012 at 2:06 am

Another German trait is an extreme deference to rule and procedures. They don’t do so well in the absence of external formal structure.

Jermaine April 30, 2012 at 10:52 am

It’s quite ironic then that the German capital, Berlin, is probably the most libertine large city on the planet.

Rahul April 30, 2012 at 1:13 pm

True. Berlin is an outlier. It isn’t anywhere close to the rest of the nation.

Andreas Moser May 1, 2012 at 10:57 am

I am a German and a lawyer and I hate rules and deference. No wonder I emigrated.

ccz April 30, 2012 at 3:03 am

Dear Tyler,

About European cultures, France socialist nightmare has lots of wonders to show us how a socialist country does not work. Please look a this http://www.gestiondelapaie.com/flux-paie/images/entier.gif

An image speaks louder than words

Tim Worstall April 30, 2012 at 3:55 am

I’m currently working in Germany (having worked in the US, Russia and UK) and that working environment thing being very different is true.

I wouldn’t want to try and claim that every detail of the above is entirely true all over the country: but there’s most certainly a much more rigid distinction between work and social life here than there is anywhere else I’ve lived or worked.

Formal meetings do actually decide things as well: a bit of a shock.

diderot April 30, 2012 at 4:30 am

So, we have learned blog and a learned group of commentators, and still the majority wants to draw large claims from one newspaper article. Germany has changed and is changing. That thing about an absolute deference to rules and regulations as definitely coming apart.
What seems to be true, though, are the working hours. It would be a great natural experiment to take a bunch of Germans and plant them in an office in Barcelona instead of Düsseldorf. How long does it take for them to adjust to local business hours??

Slugger April 30, 2012 at 10:52 am

There may also be regional differences inside Germany. A Catholic Bavarian may have a different cultural set than a Lutheran from Leipzig. I lived in Berlin till I was ten and recently had a discussion regarding “du”, the informal second person pronoun, with a Berliner who was an executive for a large automobile firm. He used the informal pronoun much more often than the other officers of the firm who came from southern Germany. He thought that they regarded this an example of the ” Berliner Schnauze ” , the loudmouth which characterizes Berliners to Germans as a loudmouth might stereotype New Yorkers among Americans.

Urso April 30, 2012 at 11:10 am

The Continental analogue of “youse guys”

Floccina May 1, 2012 at 2:07 pm

migration can in some ways be a blessing for an economy with high unemployment.

If your population is falling fast enough that, though per capita growth is maintained, GDP growth is very slow or negative, Government default can be the best option. Government default means Government cannot borrow but if economic growth is slow Government borrowing is all negative.

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