Thursday, March 02, 2006

Do Germans smile enough?

I have read about this on other blogs before, but I've been thinking a lot about it lately because everywhere I look in Duesseldorf there are billboards asking Germans to put their best face forward during the World Cup. Here's one of those billboards I passed on my way to the supermarket yesterday (click to enlarge):

I am not trying to be judgemental or berate Germany or Germans*** in any way, however, I have to agree, Germans rarely smile in public. It seems to me like they are all pissed off at the world or very, very sad. Of course, I am comparing my experiences in Germany to my life in America. Americans smile more. Yes, granted, they may be fake smiles, but I have to say it makes me feel better. I don't really expect to see more smiles on the faces of those around me during the World Cup either. It is what it is....

I found a story on Spiegel online about the subject. Here is an excerpt (click the excerpt to go to the main story) :

Germany's reputation is hardly that of a world leader -- neither in friendliness nor in customer service. Indeed, Germans themselves often refer to the country as a "service desert." But with the World Cup offering Germany a once-in-a-generation opportunity to turn on the charm for the world, the German tourism industry is desperate not to pass it up. Indeed, with the launching of several "friendliness initiatives," the World Cup has already become a powerful excuse to get Germans, and especially the dour-faced Berliners, smiling early and often.

***Disclaimer: I know there are exceptions to every rule. The love of my life is German. I am just saying that in general, on the street, Germans appear to be very mad or sad.


Blogger kaltenborn said...

You absolutely crack me up.

I linked to your blog from the German/American yahoo group post today. I really enjoyed reading about your adventures/observations.

I'm in Philly, married a German cabinetmaker. He moved here for 10 years and now we are moving back in May with 2 kids in tow to a farm in NRW.

As I read your blog, I hear myself 11 years ago first arriving in Dusseldorf, and going back and forth every year for the past decade, picking up tid-bits along the way. Your story about the washing machine was so ME! It is even the same machine at our farm! Crazy.

Congrats on your recent nuptials.

Looking forward to reading more of your abenteur!


9:44 PM  
Blogger alala said...

I wonder about that too. The love of my life is also German, and that doesn't stop me from noticing that they do seem to be a surly bunch. Except, of course, for our friends and family. So maybe that's just the face they present to strangers?

I just love how you notice so much that I've come to take for granted in eleven years. It really wakes me up to how fortunate I am to be here.

10:10 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

I think it must be a city thing. Too many people piled up in too small a space. Too many likes and dislikes clashing. Everyone compromising for the general good and no one really getting what they want, what would satisfy them.

I can complain about this country with the best of them I've so much practice, in private thoughts and otherwise. Sadly I've become quite good at it. But the core fact remains: I love this country and the life it's given me, and I don't want to leave it. After all this time, when people ask me why I'm here I reply "I'm here because here is better." And this is the honest truth. And when I think about it, here isn't better out of some cosmic fluke. The German people made this nation what it is so I have great respect for them, frowning or not. :)

(Sorry, got carried away there. I'm a little too passionate these days.)

11:45 PM  
Blogger Nyana said...

Well, I'm going to have to agree with you on that one. It seems like Germans agree with us as well, otherwise they wouldn't have launched this campaign.
The good thing is that they have noticed their shortcoming and perhaps this will push people to do a bit better.
This is definitely a step in the right direction, providing that they keep it up!

2:01 AM  
Blogger Kim/Thomas said...

hahaha, this cracked me up! I am half german, and honestly when I have just a regular face on, I have that surly, german look, people will say, whats wrong, you look like you're going to kill someone!
I think that we as americans do what americans do, we smile, even if we are thinking, you stupid idiot, or dumbass, we put on a smile, like everything is just hunky dorey.
Like you, we mostly know it is a fake smile. Its funny if you think about it, here we are wondering why the rest of the world is not smiling, and the rest of the worl is wondering why every single american is grinning ear to ear!
James, i love your posts, you remind me so much of my best friend in chicago, I lost touch with him, but we had sooo much fun!
take care!
tchuess, kim

2:16 AM  
Anonymous Tim said...

I'm German and I agree with you completely. My worst experiences with our German unfriendliness and sadness took place every time I was returning from one of my several trips to the US: German customs officers welcoming you with a facial expression somewhat like "Please kill me, life's terrible here, I wish I was dead." Grinning and smiling really isn't a common thing in Germany. Moreover, Germans who once visited the US often complain about the fake smiles of Americans - as far as I'm concerned, I appreciate a fake smile rather than a honestly moody face... :-)

10:35 AM  
Blogger alala said...

Hi James, thanks for playing along with the meme. I know what you mean, coming up with seven people to tag is a lot harder than coming up with seven songs. But I don't know any of those songs, so I'll go check them out. I do love Xavier Naidoo's voice.

10:09 PM  
Blogger hintermberg said...

Don't be disappointed if the only thing you see more of during the World Cup is barf on the sidewalk. The love of my life is German too, but as she tends to smile more...I am the one that is usually stopped when someone wants directions.

10:12 AM  
Blogger jen said...

are american smiles fake? I hear that all the time, but i think its the meaning behind the smile that is a little fuzzy.

When i walk into a shop to buy something, i don't believe its all sweetness and light. I don't think that because someone smiles at me, they're happy. Its just that I don't need to share in their misery as they don't need to share in mine.

There's a dichotomy here in Germany that took me a long time to figure out. Germans are more private in some ways. Like making appointments to see people rather than just dropping by or the standing in the doorway thing. But then just ask how a german is doing and you hear all about his hemorrhoid problem and his wife's snoring issues and how that affected the marriage bed and thus she found a swiss swinging couple who liked it and the affair revamped their sex life/scat fetish and now the swiss couple lives upstairs.

In america, you ask how someone is doing and the response is 90% of the time "Good". That's all I need to know to buy sheets, food, a washing machine. Its a greeting, not a therapy session.

Once this ritual is done, we can conduct business.

For me a smile is more of a symbol of civility.

And truthfully, smiles/frowns are memes in themselves. When I deal with a friendly person, I tend to be friendlier. When I deal with a sour faced person who is just as helpful yet lacks the warmth of the friendly person, I tend to be sour as well.

and just for the record, i am not Mary Sunshine. I am a sarcastic, mean spirited agoraphobe who tends to dislike people in general. However, you'd never know that if you walked up to me to ask directions?

Superficial or polite?

9:56 AM  
Blogger Schwelmo said...

I am German myself and moved from the beautiful city of Duesseldorf to Aotearoa (NZ). In my Opinion Duesseldorf is one of more friendly cities and if you go to Koeln there are even more smiles on the street ( I shouldnt say this about Cologne).
However, moving down here I was seriously disturbed that on every cash out I was asked "how are you?" As this is not a phrase in German I always answered it (I am fine, I am tired....) and was left even more disturbed noticing that they don't care. I got used to it and answer now with the right phrase. I think it is nice in a way but it is just phrase. When a german asked you you know they usually want to know how you are. And you should be prepared to get a serious answer like " I am pretty crab, my girlfriend left me...blah blah."
But you are right people should smile more in germany. I am a bit afraid going back for a while after not been in Ger for 3 years. In NZ people are more friendly + happier with less. But also less interested in the rest of the world. But maybe Germans take themselve too seriusly and make every problem their own.
I like to read your blog to get a bit of another view of the city I left years ago

1:04 AM  
Blogger Tongue in Cheek Antiques said...

Intersting I didn't know that? I thought only the French had that market! Maybe it is something they were taught as children? In France smiling means something is funny or smiles are shared personally. To smile just to smile is to make a face without a reason. That is what they believe. ...Whatever the reasons, it sounds like the image is trying to break from its mold!
I enjoy your blog!

11:30 AM  
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11:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Iam from Norway, visited Bremen, wooow it was very coolplace comparing to were iam from, it was a bit frustrating as very many of them couldnt speak english when i needed some direction for places or buying some from the shopkeepers was crazy to. but actualy germans who i met who speak english were very funny and smilling than Norwegians.

12:14 AM  

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