The German and the North American cultures are not that different – indeed there is much more of a difference between the cultures of Mexico and the United States, despite them being neighbors. Regardless, there will be quite a lot of Americans who think of the Germans as dirndl-wearing, sausages-eating, beer-drinkers with an indecipherable language. And on the German side, there are a bunch of misconceptions as well:
1. “Americans are looking at their own belly buttons”
– as you would say in German. This implies that Americans are not very interested in different cultures, countries or languages, going by their relatively little knowledge about everything outside the U.S. Maybe the Germans are slightly offended by this, but they themselves should not forget about their own (usually) poor knowledge of South American, African or Asian cultures. Also, taking into consideration that the U.S. is 25 times as big as Germany, it’s quite understandable that there is a significant amount more to get to know about their own country, before moving on to learning about other cultures. And with reference to language skills: who knows how Germans would act if one quarter of the world’s population spoke German!
2. Americans are a little bit dumb.
It’s a clichéd German thought that Americans are not the most intelligent of people. This may be connected to what I said before – they may not know too much about what is going on outside of their own country’s borders – but there might also be a connection with the German vanity of being the country of philosophers and intellectuals. Also, if one assumes that the educational requirements are not too high in the U.S., take note that German students did not perform much better in the 2012 PISA-test rankings. Personally, I cannot confirm this misconception as my sister’s husband is from San Francisco and one of the most intelligent and studied persons I have ever met!
3. Americans act exaggeratedly kind and are superficial.
It is quite logical that Germans – used to a certain amount of personal distance – will find American kindness astonishing and possibly a bit suspicious; they can’t imagine how people who don’t know each other well can act as if they were close friends. This frequently leads to the prejudice that Americans are quite superficial and that their kindness is insincere. But the intercultural problem here is probably the lack of imagination on the (narrow-minded) German side, which should try to remember their own common expression: other countries, other customs!
4. Americans are all consumerists and materialistic.
Due to Hollywood productions painting a picture of American life being full of glitter, glamor and luxury, many Germans think that the Americans rarely do anything other than going to the mall to shop. While consumerism is an American invention, all the Americans I happened to meet on my journeys were less materialistic than many Germans I know back home. And if this stereotype might have been true in recent decades, things are changing with the younger generations that are becoming more conscious of the importance of taking care of the environment and sustainability – just like young Germans.
These are probably the worst misconceptions Germans have about the States – ignoring the fact that huge parts of German pop culture, media, politics and law is (and was) inspired by the U.S., due to the influence the Americans had in Germany after the war, when they were seen as a symbol of liberty and modernism.
The Americans aren’t the only ones privy to German stereotypes – the Brits have had their fair share, too! In saying that, it might be the Germans’ turn to be put under the magnifying glass: do you know any stereotypes about Germans? Or know any other misconceptions Germans have about the U.S.?
To bridge the gap between German and English cultures (and languages!), why not contact us for information on courses in your area, or check how good your language level is at the moment, with our German and English level tests?