The German online newsmagazine “Spiegel Online” describes prejudices against Germans interacting with foreigners – stories about the xenophobia of Germany initiated by a lampoon by David Crossland. The story continues with letters of readers incited by the polemics of Crossland. But the ambivalence of different experiences by the readers of Spiegel Online points to the complexity of intercultural communication. In fact they are not mentioning prejudices against Germans exclusively they are describing prejudices which could be in the mind of every human being, regardless of which cultural background.
Yes, I think the history of integration of foreigners in Germany is different to UK and France and of course USA – and what about the history of integration in Romania, Russia, India, China, Brazil and so on? Of course it is different too. These differences don’t explain enough – they give some hints, but don’t cover the full complexity.
I would like to consider some more aspects of intercultural communication within Germany – based on own experiences, sometimes.
- Why do so many Germany wonder about foreign looking people talking perfect German? – This is not a sign of racism or xenophobia. It is just an indicator of language reality. In fact there are not many foreign looking persons who talk fluent German – that’s why they are surprised (A lot of Germans think their language is considered to be unsexy and difficult, nobody wants to learn it). If you are a foreigner who got asked about your perfect German: take this question as a compliment. If you are a German who just looks foreign: don’t take it personal – you might be one of the first foreign looking Germans the other person has met.
- Why is it s hard for some foreigners to get German friends? – Besides some other aspects, there is one important answer to this question: they are not able to adapt to the German way of making friends. This answer is hard, but it is true. You can’t expect your host (in this case the Germans) to adapt to the way you will make friends, so you have to adapt. But this leads to some common misunderstandings in intercultural communications. Especially Asians tend to laugh in situations when they feel uncomfortable. Germans also laugh when they feel uncomfortable sometimes, but they laugh different. Most Germans recognize the “uncomfortable laugh” of other Germans because it has a special stress. But this stress is different to the “uncomfortable laugh” of Asians – their laughing sounds more real, more like a normal laughing, as it would be funny. So Germans think he/she takes it easy or thinks it’s funny. Because this impression is different to the real feeling Asians have, of course it leads to more misunderstandings in later interaction… But now to the initial question: If you want to get German friends do it as a German would do. Don’t act as a maverick, otherwise you will be treated like a maverick.
- Why do some foreigners don’t adapt to the German culture? – The answer to this questions a lot of Germans would give: Because the have an arrogant attitude which leads them to think they would not need to adapt because their culture is better. If this is not the reason, show them your reasons! Show them why you are not able to adapt!
- Why are some Germans xenophobic? – Because they just don’t know better. Show them that they don’t need to be xenophobic!
I don’t want to ignore the reality of stupid people bashing foreigners and other people who don’t fit in their narrow world view – we have to fight energeticly against this, in every part of the world. I don’t want to ignore the reality of rigid and unfriendly German administration workers – also Germans meet them in their offices. I don’t want to ignore the reality of strict and sometimes inhuman laws for foreigner integration – we have to change this. And I don’t want to ignore the reality of discrimination of foreigners, but also women, homosexuals or handicapped people are often discriminated – this problem doesn’t only occur for foreigners.
But I also don’t want to ignore the reality that foreigners don’t have more rights then anybody else. We are all humans and we should treat everybody as an individual!
I am a German, so in Germany I will treat a foreigner like a German – maybe with a little more pardon.
Let me put it with the words of one of the readers of Spiegel Online: “I think in order to be fair we should see all aspects. Germany is not perfect, nor are you or myself.”