No more beating around the bush

Before I went to Germany I heard many anecdotes about how Germans are very direct. Sometimes this was praise for their famous efficiency, sometimes this was veiled criticism of their rudeness. Although, funnily enough, I had also heard similar stories from Germans about Swiss people.

Judging from those stories one could get the impression that Swiss people would rather invent incredible excuses than simply say “no”. In a way I was complicit in that behaviour. I cannot count the many times I met an old acquaintance and suggested we text or meet again soon without actually acting on these suggestions. I never perceived this as rude but rather as a protocol of sorts. It was assumed by both parties that there is no pressure to actually do something, and if one did it was a pleasant surprise. So when I came to Germany I thought I was prepared. 

However, when I first made contact with a German student sitting next to me in a course I was caught on the wrong foot. Our conversation was friendly and easy-going until she suggested we exchange phone numbers to meet up at a later time. For me this came too soon, I had maybe spent thirty minutes with that person. Unconsciously I did the Swiss thing: I smiled, agreed, gave her my number and then never texted or called her. Looking back, I don’t understand why I didn’t and for the first time I actually felt I had been rude. In a turn of events I was then invited by another student to bake Christmas biscuits, which I accepted gladly, only to find that the student I never got back to also lived in that shared flat. I was so relieved when she didn’t bring it up and we instead spent a very nice afternoon baking, talking and laughing. Around that time I prepared a presentation with another German student for one of my courses and while we were both serious I felt that she had no issue voicing her disagreements with me, whereas I was constantly thinking about how I could put my opinions without offending her in any way. In the end it worked out just fine, but it left me thinking or even doubting myself. Yes, I am a naturally shy person but I am also an adult who will speak up when necessary. What was it about those two encounters with German students that left me so speechless?  

Ultimately, I still don’t understand the German need to be so direct, but I have learned to appreciate it. They get their point across and don’t waste any time beating around the bush, yet this doesn’t appear to hinder discussions about their varying opinions. Knowing that they generally don’t mean to make their statements sound like verbal attacks makes it easier to filter the essential message. Having experienced this I now have gained another perspective on Germans in Switzerland who say that they find it hard to integrate and make friends in their new environment. Instead of only experiencing their cultural differences again and again both Swiss and German people would be able to profit greatly from learning about those differences. Of course, rude people will be rude, that is true for any country on this earth, but personally, I now listen more closely and focus on the actual message, and not on how it was delivered. And as for my future dealings with fellow Swiss people? I think it will be refreshing to be more direct for a change, when the opportunity presents itself. I’ll try to stop beating around the bush when actually I can just face things head on. Who knows how often I have missed out on great things simply because of this non-committal culture I grew up in? It’s time to change that.

Carla Fischer

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