For this post, I did some research. I wanted to make sure I am not the only one who thinks that this is one of the biggest differences. I checked Youtube and watched videos from Americans living in Germany. They also noticed quickly that the Germans don’t seem to have the American concept of small talk.
When you enter a store in America you always get asked: “Hello, how is it going today?”. In the first few months, my brain was too slow to 1) realize that they were talking to me, 2) understand what they are saying and 3) respond quickly. After I understood they are talking to me and they asking how am I doing, I answered them honestly how I feel: “It was a long day, I am tired…” I did not know that this is just another way of saying “hello”. The German “Wie gets dir?” is the same question but it is not a greeting. You really want to know how someone feels. Or at least you need to be ready that this person will tell you how they feel, regardless if they are doing well or not.
Another real-life story experience with small talk: I wanted to order food in a drive-thru. After repeating the order three times and I still got an ” I am sorry honey, I don’t know what you are saying” I got asked to drive to the second window. After I successfully ordered my pulled pork and a burger the girl asked me if I am German. She turned around to her co-workers that they need to come “she is from Germany!”. “That’s so amazing, what brought you to the US?” There I was, on a Sunday afternoon sitting in my car in a drive-thru telling my life/love story to three strangers. They listened to me with big eyes and waved goodbye later. Something like this would have never happened in Germany. Even it caught me a little off guard it was a nice and funny experience.
I feel like small talk is everywhere, in the office, in the grocery store, in the restaurant. After observing this communication behavior it seems like dancing to me. “The small talk dance” There are some standard dances you can learn. “How are you?” – “I am doing well how are you?” The main rule is that is a positive answer. It is a friendly conversation starter a greeting or just an avoiding of uncomfortable silence.
Germans usually don’t talk a lot to strangers. Small talk is seen as superficial. We open up to our friends but not to strangers. This cultural difference can cause a lot of misunderstandings. The perfect description of this difference is found in the peach and coconut metaphor. Which I have explained in my very first blog post.
If you have experienced this cultural difference as well please share your story in the comments. 🙂
Hope everyone had a nice weekend!
Gruesse aus Charleston!