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Germany and the United States
January 13, 2006 8:48 AM   Subscribe

A subjective comparison of Germany and the United States. A sober and interesting look at some of the differences between the two countries, written by a man who grew up in Germany and now lives and teaches in the United States. (via @rgumente)
posted by Ljubljana (62 comments total)

 
Some people at the right end of the American Republican party are so radical that they would probably be under surveillance in Germany.

I wish he'd elaborated on this.
posted by alumshubby at 9:08 AM on January 13, 2006


It's much much harder to start a business in Germany than it is in the United States -- he doesn't really touch on this, but that's understandable given his (entirely academic) background.
posted by Slothrup at 9:17 AM on January 13, 2006


I'm only up to the 4th point. It's quite an essay. Good post.
I'm Dutch and have never been to the US but all my preconceptions seem to be true.
To pick one: it seems strange to me that one can be fired on the spot. That sounds so... frivolous. I think european employment law tends to over restrictive but an employment is the basis of a mortgage, tuition fees for a family etc. It seems to me that a transition period to get alternative employment would be much more... civilized and acceptable to all parties.
But then, I'm European.
posted by jouke at 9:18 AM on January 13, 2006


Great, jouke, now we're Canada.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:28 AM on January 13, 2006


He didn't mention gender role differences. I found these more pronounced in Germany. At the academic level I got the impression that it was common for female graduate students to rely on almost being provocatively sexy (looks, clothing, makup, attention to superiors) as a way of getting ahead.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 9:30 AM on January 13, 2006


He does not point out the differences so much as just offer a counterpoint to his judgements of America.

I am no 'rah rah' patriotic nationalist, but this article is just an excuse to talk trash about the USA.

Would have been interesting if it were at all balanced.
posted by eas98 at 9:33 AM on January 13, 2006


As a German transplant myself, I'm disappointed that he doesn't mention yogurt. The availability of quality dairy products still strikes me as a major difference. Kefir? Quark? Linksdrehender Biogurt?

Otherwise, as with any list like this, there are many points I agree with, plenty that I don't, and many that seem entirely too generalized to be verifiable.
posted by muckster at 9:38 AM on January 13, 2006


It's a very good article. I lurved the line alumshubby quoted.
posted by teece at 9:38 AM on January 13, 2006


So we're Canada goodnews? Well that's not so bad. I can relate to that.

Another strange point that the writer mentions is the nationalism. I always imagined that the flag waving, pledge vowing, anthem singing etc. were just something in the media which private americans would find just as distasteful as most Europeans would. Not so apparently.
posted by jouke at 9:38 AM on January 13, 2006


Ok, eas98 I'll keep you're remark in mind. Maybe the article is unbalanced.
I'd be interested in an example of a (supposed) difference that's unevenly treated in the article.
posted by jouke at 9:44 AM on January 13, 2006


As I'm sure you're aware, quite a bit of the nationalistic observations vary by regions.

I know very few people who fit the 'patriotic, nationalistic American sterotype'.
posted by lyam at 9:45 AM on January 13, 2006


eas98: did you read the article? It's just a series of observations, few of which rule conclusively about good or bad.
posted by Firas at 9:45 AM on January 13, 2006


American jelly donuts contain a lot more jelly than German ones.

Ich bin ein Berliner!
posted by candyland at 9:52 AM on January 13, 2006


The guy doesn't know much about US, he wasn't living long enough and probably in a single town.

And I have plenty of Kefir in my local store, living in NYC has a lot of priviliges to be exposed to food from around the world :-)

Also he's comparing "cheap" colleges, I am sure MIT is superior to any german IT college.
posted by Darkbird at 9:58 AM on January 13, 2006


but this article is just an excuse to talk trash about the USA

I've only glanced so far, but the second I looked at was full of "this really annoys me in Germany, but it doesn't happen in the US" stuff -- on the strength of that glace, I'd say it's pro-US and anti-Germany.

Perhaps we should both read the article fully, eh?
posted by davejay at 10:00 AM on January 13, 2006


Dammit, candyland beat me to remarking about the jelly donut gap!
posted by AccordionGuy at 10:00 AM on January 13, 2006


"second" should have been "section". Eh.
posted by davejay at 10:00 AM on January 13, 2006


I too thought that was more or less balanced. I think the point about “naïve optimism” versus “deliberate, hesitant pessimism” sums up the US/UK difference as well. Though I occasionally wonder if UK pessimism is at all hesitant. I love this armchair anthropology stuff!
posted by anglophiliated at 10:02 AM on January 13, 2006


The role of government within each society and the nature of the relationship between government and industry in the two countries would have made for interesting comparisons. I have to admit to finding his observations a little unsophisticated.
posted by biffa at 10:03 AM on January 13, 2006


The gang style dress code (gold chains, baggy pants, sneakers, bandannas) is quite common among male black teenagers in the US; in Germany, nobody dresses like this

Obviously he hasn't spent much time at hiphop shows or parties in Germany. Rap and rap style (gang style?!) is quite popular among German youth.
posted by cell divide at 10:03 AM on January 13, 2006


It's funny, because, as far as stereotypes go, I always thought that Germans were sort of the Americans of Europe.
posted by chococat at 10:06 AM on January 13, 2006


Of course the gang style isn't popular in Germany. How could you wear that with lederhosen?

Another difference: We don't usually drink beer from steins while listening to oompha oompah music.

All right, we do in Minnesota, but we're something like 60 percent German.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:06 AM on January 13, 2006


Darkbird, I'm in NYC too, and believe me, we're not exposed to nearly the same amount of wacky dairy products as even a provincial German supermarket.
posted by muckster at 10:12 AM on January 13, 2006


muckster:

haha try some russian international food stores. Plenty of wack dairy products, including german, swiss, french products :-)
posted by Darkbird at 10:14 AM on January 13, 2006


Right, and I make my own kefir and the Greek specialty stores here in Astoria have a mad assortment of quark. You can always find an exception. My general point stands nonetheless.
posted by muckster at 10:20 AM on January 13, 2006


...But American health insurance policies contain only minimal coverage for mental diseases. There are virtually no treatment options for uninsured people with long-term mental health problems short of Social Security disability benefits.

My experience here in the States has been that mental illness is still heavily stigmatized -- I wonder how it's viewed in Germany?
posted by alumshubby at 10:25 AM on January 13, 2006


Why the assumption that I did not read the article? Because I do not agree with you?
posted by eas98 at 11:07 AM on January 13, 2006


Many houses in the US, even here in Minneapolis where temperatures reach negative 40 degrees in winter, still have windows with wooden frames that are opened and closed simply by sliding up and down. These offer only minimal insulation. Germans know these windows only from old American movies. The majority of new American homes are built with a wooden frame and little insulation in a couple of weeks. German homes are made from brick, have a basement and very good insulation.

Yes, but we have screens in the US. They keep the flies out. Every home in Germany is made of brick, has a basement and is well insulated? Please.
posted by fixedgear at 11:09 AM on January 13, 2006


Thanks Ljubljana. I venture to suggest that many of the contrasts would hold true in general for the majority of western countries -vs- USA. But it wasn't meant to be a sophisticated thesis, just a write-up to help people from both countries see outside of themselves for a moment. It's of course not definitive but it was thought provoking and interesting.
posted by peacay at 11:13 AM on January 13, 2006


fixedgear: Yes, but we have screens in the US. They keep the flies out. Every home in Germany is made of brick, has a basement and is well insulated? Please.

Well, maybe not every home in Germany, but I live here and I'd say that at least 90% or even 95% are made of brick and are well insulated (including windows). Basements may be a bit less common, but of all the homes I've visited in my 30 years I remember only one not having a basement.
However, two differences between Germany and some areas of the US are that it's much colder here and earthquakes are much rarer (and less severe) than in, say, California.
posted by amf at 11:21 AM on January 13, 2006


Ich bin ein Metafilterianite.
posted by sour cream at 11:26 AM on January 13, 2006


Every home in Germany is made of brick, has a basement and is well insulated? Please.

That is actually pretty much true yeah.
posted by sebas at 11:35 AM on January 13, 2006


...still have windows with wooden frames that are opened and closed simply by sliding up and down.

So what are windows like in Germany if they don't go up and down? Side to side? Casement? Louvers? Fixed?
posted by octothorpe at 11:50 AM on January 13, 2006


This article really felt off to me.
posted by Falconetti at 11:56 AM on January 13, 2006


octothorpe: Usually houses in Germany have casement windows, often linked ones with two or even three panes of glass for better insulation. Many houses also have sliding glass doors in the living room, for example, that lead onto the patio. Skylights (often called Velux windows) are often used as well.
posted by amf at 12:03 PM on January 13, 2006


T-shirts with funny texts printed on are much more common in the US.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I love America.
posted by schroedinger at 12:04 PM on January 13, 2006


eas98: I am no 'rah rah' patriotic nationalist, but this article is just an excuse to talk trash about the USA.

I dunno, he seemed to offer a good many positive points about the US in comparison to the bad ones. And his criticisms of US culture were very much ideological.
posted by schroedinger at 12:07 PM on January 13, 2006


this article is just an excuse to talk trash about the USA.
It seemed to me more negative of Germany than the US. He makes Germany sound like sort of rude and grumpy and rules-obsessed.
posted by octothorpe at 12:19 PM on January 13, 2006


German windows are really cool - they have a clever hinging system that allows them to either lean out like half a 'V' or open like a door. But, yeah, no screens - things must have really sucked back in the old country for people to have left a non-bug continent to go to a bug continent. Also, they tend to have shutters (either the old-fashioned, swinging door type or some sort of hideous retractable metal screen), which I really miss back home - it's almost impossible to get it really dark at night when all you have is a shade.

"Traffic is much more relaxed in the states, very unlike the all-out war going on on German streets and highways, with tail gating and drivers cutting you off."

I call bullshit on this one. In my experience, German traffic is much more concerned about getting where they need to go - as opposed to all the passive aggressive crap that takes place on the roads in the US. The traffic moves, and they get pissed if you get in their way, but they don't pull stunts like accelerating just to keep you from merging in front of them. I always find driving in Europe to be a joy (with the exception of the Autobahn, which is extremely stressful).
posted by bonecrusher at 12:25 PM on January 13, 2006


with the exception of the Autobahn, which is extremely stressful

I thought the Autobahn was fantastic. Drive right, pass left. Although that's the theory in the US, in practice there is always some dick doing 55 in the left lane. It was a pleasure to drive the Autobahn, but when I drive something like the NY State Thruway I want to start shooting people.

And the zipper. The enlightened merge. We all win, since we just take turns and then everybody can fucking merge and traffic does not have to come to a complete stop unlike here in the US where it's 'I think I'll just speed up enough and not let this putz in.'
posted by fixedgear at 12:39 PM on January 13, 2006


Good enough article. Plenty of truths, plenty of complete falsehoods and generalizations, which is to be expected. Some of the material seemed dated as well. My favorite line:

"but most of this is just rhetoric by politicians who need to pacify the nut cases on the religious right (who nobody really takes seriously but who unfortunately like to go out to vote a lot)"
posted by toomuch at 12:58 PM on January 13, 2006


The traffic moves, and they get pissed if you get in their way, but they don't pull stunts like accelerating just to keep you from merging in front of them.

Maybe I cannot picture what you are saying, but if someone can thwart your merge by accelerating, you probably should not be merging. No one ever leaves enough stopping distance anymore.
posted by thirteen at 1:45 PM on January 13, 2006


I love this kind of comparison articles and this is by far one the most detailed, interesting ones I have ever seen.

While Americans definitely work more, they are very much focused on making money. By contrast, in Germany you have a work ethic where many people take pride in producing quality, which I think is sometimes absent in the US. However, I received a message from an American project manager who has lived in Germany for 9 years and claims that the pride in workmanship and the quality of work is decreasing rapidly.

That almost made me scream in horror, if nobody is left doing quality job we're all going back to chinese accuracy ?

Both Europe and Us can forget competition on brute numbers with Asia. We need to outtech them constantly and giving less and worse education to masses , less importance to quality and more to time-to-market is very short sighted and almost idiotic.
posted by elpapacito at 1:50 PM on January 13, 2006


Most everything in this review is spot on -- and Germans, I have found, are more anti-German when in the US and more anti-US when in German. And traffic on the autobahn is totally cut throat. Get in the way of a big beemer or mercedes? Honking, flashing lights, tailgating at 100 mph (typical low speeds). It's a zoo out there!
posted by bluesky43 at 2:19 PM on January 13, 2006


One more thing - Germans don't have any screens in their windows (which are very cool) because they think they don't have any flying, biting bugs (the places I have lived in the Netherlands were the same). They are wrong, very very wrong (or maybe the flying, biting bugs only bit non-Germans).
posted by bluesky43 at 2:22 PM on January 13, 2006


Last time I was in Germany, I went over to the supermarket next door. Feeling affable and aimless, I bellied up to the cheese counter. A couple of omas (little old ladies) were ahead of me. As they got served, more showed up. After two omas who had not been there got served ahead of me, I raised my finger and got as far as "Uhh..." when they all turned to me in unison and said, "You've got to get in line!"

Evidently, wherever two or more Germans gather in the name of whatever, they form a line. I don't know how it is in England, but in the States, we expect the guy behind the counter to keep sort of loose tabs on who got there first. I'm not saying it's wrong, but it sure is different.
posted by atchafalaya at 2:28 PM on January 13, 2006


bluesky43: Get in the way of a big beemer or mercedes? Honking, flashing lights, tailgating at 100 mph (typical low speeds). It's a zoo out there!

Drove about 3-4000Km in Germany..only one time was I honked and flashed..and it was another italian like me :)
posted by elpapacito at 2:38 PM on January 13, 2006


When exactly do Germans shop if the stores are closed nights and weekends?
posted by gfrobe at 2:56 PM on January 13, 2006


I really enjoyed reading this, thanks for the link.

I lived in Germany for a while back in the day, and most of his observations are quite accurate (or mirror my own, at least). Some of the information seems dated though, I think a number of his specific facts don't apply anymore, as Germany has loosened up some of the regulations he talks about.
posted by TunnelArmr at 3:15 PM on January 13, 2006


I always imagined that the flag waving, pledge vowing, anthem singing etc. were just something in the media which private americans would find just as distasteful as most Europeans would.

Ha! Rah-rah nationalism is not constrained to certain countries, but (in my experience) is greatly constrained to one's class. Don't believe me? Go to one of the most middle-class places on Earth--Denmark--and take a look how the flags abound.

in the States, we expect the guy behind the counter to keep sort of loose tabs on who got there first

Yeah, but you could have just been loafing around, or looking for something, or deciding what else you needed to get. Anyway, this isn't nearly as annoying as people who don't get the multiple cash registers: single line concept, which is the most fair system of cueing.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:30 PM on January 13, 2006


in Germany, every piece on the Internet has to be signed with the author's true name

Is that for real? I guess it would explain why there seem to be very few German people on metafilter.
posted by sfenders at 5:35 PM on January 13, 2006


Sorry civil_disobedient, it's not a question of class I think. There seems to be hardly a country that exclaims so much of 'God this is a Great Country' etc as the United States. Just face it. There's hardly a country that is so much full of itself as the United States.
Still I'm open to the suggestion that the US is more nuanced as this article represents. In effect I'd suggest that it is infinitely more nuanced: for every generalised statement I'd make about the US there's some nuance, some counter claim.
Unless we agree that it is not possible to say anything about differences in way of living, values etc. between countries this is a pretty good article.

Btw: I guess it would explain why there seem to be very few German people on metafilter.
I'll consider myself a German for the moment. The US centredness of mefi sometimes is grotesque: all the posts about Bush, Cheney, Delay, etc. But then mefi probably is American.

I'd be interested in a European mefi. But then there's no such thing.
posted by jouke at 6:33 PM on January 13, 2006


Thanks for the post! That was fun and interesting reading.
posted by Kloryne at 7:10 PM on January 13, 2006


Started out very interesting but then fell off the cliff when he started talking about technology and so forth. Completely off base, I don't even know where to start. So I'll just comment on two things:

1. His criticism about the phone system (original AMPS cellular system, the NANP area code system, and ISDN penetration) indicate he has no understanding of how the US differs from nearly every other country on the planet: A) sheer physical size and B) belief in individual rights and distrust of any government regulation, no matter how well intentioned. Things like the "stupid" phone system attributes he describes all flow from that.

2. In his commentary about "The Rich", he notes that "the rich are not particularly well-liked in Germany", but doesn't notice the history of the aristocratic class (and inheritance laws) in first world Europe. To be rich in the US has usually meant that you had created that wealth yourself. Recent estate tax changes in the US now mean that we will see, over the next few decades, a creation of an aristocratic class full of people who have had the wealth handed done generation to generation, much like in Europe (and don't think that the US has one now -- you have no idea).

Disclosure: American, half-German but more than half "identified" with being German, lived in Germany for a couple years; generally agree with the guy but it's just not very insightful. Sigh.
posted by intermod at 7:33 PM on January 13, 2006


There seems to be hardly a country that exclaims so much of 'God this is a Great Country' etc as the United States. Just face it.

Spoken like someone who has no idea what they're talking about. Have you ever even been to Denmark? Methinks you're talking out your ass. Just face it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:42 PM on January 13, 2006


"in Germany, every piece on the Internet has to be signed with the author's true name"

Is that for real?


He probably refers to the imprints required for web sites. All non-temporary web sites have to disclose a contact address (name, real world address, email address). It does not mean that anyone using the internet or another web site has to use his real name. This does not differ much from the records available in WHOIS from the domain registration.

When exactly do Germans shop if the stores are closed nights and weekends?

Shops are normally open 08:00-20:00 on weekdays and Saturday. So, after work or on Saturday.
posted by ltl at 11:50 PM on January 13, 2006


All that matters is their inevitable futures.

Germany is a EuroArabic Islamist state,
US is an Hispanic Catholic Democratic Republic
posted by HTuttle at 12:17 AM on January 14, 2006


Being a European who has lived in the USA, I enjoyed this article. One thing that I have always noticed in USA is the number of US flags - the're everywhere.
Is it some sign of insecurity?
posted by adamvasco at 1:48 AM on January 14, 2006


Fascinating. Much was spot-on, although many things also were evidence of limited time in the US, or of the datedness of the piece in some respects. He called out things in the US that have largely changed since it was written (for instance, now it is much more possible to do things like "check by phone") and others that were very recent US developments (like sumptuous bookstores with coffeeshops). It's observational, so it's bound to be imperfect. I didn't find him overall preferring one country over the other -- it was almost like he was writing for a German audience as well, explaining the US to them.
posted by dhartung at 2:07 AM on January 14, 2006


Shops are normally open 08:00-20:00 on weekdays and Saturday.

Twenty o'clock!? You Europeans never cease to amaze me.

</kidding>
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:01 AM on January 14, 2006


Let me assure all Americans: Shopping in Germany is a HORROR! Well, for me, who rather dislikes crowds. Everyone goes shopping on Saturday. Both my partner and I have low tolerance for crowded shops.

NATIONALISM:
I have a strong suspicion about American nationalism. I think it has some roots in the fact that nationalism was historically encouraged as a uniting force amongst states. In Europe, nationalism is seen as a divisive, war-causing force between nations.

There are things I like a lot about Germany. There are things I didn't like. But I'm from a rather German part of the States, and in many ways I found Germany reminded me more of home from my childhood than home does, today.

And the dairy issue: Please do not attempt to site NYC as an example of what is available in "America". You know better.
posted by Goofyy at 9:05 AM on January 14, 2006


The article is surely about 5 years out of date?
posted by A189Nut at 11:48 AM on January 14, 2006


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