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.“
There exist a lot of etiquettes for modern communication like e-mail, instant-messaging, chatting and so on. Especially in business live it is important to stick to certain communication rules. But also in private communication it may help you to improve your style and understanding of the receiver by using appropriate communication etiquette.
Just check a web search engine for keywords like „netiquette“, „email etiquette“, or „chatiquette“ and you will find hundreds of websites dealing with that issue. Basically these websites have a lot in common but may differ in some certain rules.
However, unfortunately these rules just describe how to behave within a specific medium. They don’t deal with the interdependencies of different communication channels. But nowadays a lot of people are online in different media at the same time. Just like me in this moment I am online with cell phone, SMS, Email, ICQ and MSN. But do I really need to stick to the communication channel where I started conversation? – No, not for sure. When knowing this some people tend to switch conversation channel, for example from Email to ICQ or from ICQ to telephone or the other way around. Others spread the same message via multiposting to different channels to reduce the risk of receiver’s inattention to almost 0%. But is this appropriate behaviour? Don’t we need etiquette for channel switching, too? – Yes, we do.
That’s why I want to state some important rules when using different ways of communication.
At the beginning I need to point at an important dimension of communication: immediateness.
The most immediate communication is face-to-face communication of course. Even live video chat is not as immediate as face-to-face communication. Even if there would be no information loss in video chat due to limited data rate, it would still be less immediate because of processing and transmission of the message. For electronic communication I can find the following order in immediateness (descending order):
- Video chat/ video telephone
- Normal telephone
- Instant messaging/ chat
- SMS/ voice mailbox
- Online guestbook owned by receiver/ discussion board/ weblog of receiver
- Online guestbook or weblog owned by other users
Please note that the distances in immediateness between the different channels are not equal.
Now, please think about the following rules:
- Use only one communication channel for your conversation. Don’t spread the same message to multiple channels. If you have an important message, use the most immediate channel you can use. It is annoying when getting an identically message via ICQ, email and SMS just because the sender does not want to spend money for a telephone call. You may have saved money because you were using the time and the goodwill of the receiver. At the end the receiver will have more effort to delete the redundant messages. This is not nice. In case you will have to switch the channel anyway, mention this switching in all channels you are going to use. For example: you have an important message but only voicemail entered by calling the receiver. In this case tell the voice mailbox, that you will send that message also in a different channel (maybe email) and mention in the new channel, that you dropped a similar message at his/her voice mailbox.
- Always use the most immediate communication channel which fits your communication goal best. It makes no sense to put a note at the fridge that the staircase is recently cleaned and slippery (put it at the staircase instead) as well it makes no sense to write in the receivers online guestbook that he/she will get visitors in one hour. If you have a very important message and you directly need response, it is the best to call by telephone. Just if the receiver does not pick up the phone you should switch to less immediate channels while hoping the message will be received anyway.
- Don’t switch the channel without telling your conversation partner in the initial channel. For example: you got a SMS and you want to answer by email because the answer will be longer than comfortable with SMS: write a quick SMS that you will answer by email. Usually people expect an answer in the channel they initiated. That’s why you need to tell them your will for switching the channel. Otherwise they may wait for your reply for a long time…
I know, sometimes it is not easy to follow these rules, but it will make your way of communication more successful and more professional
Some examples for etiquette websites: