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Some things change, others stay the same

Day 4 in Germany...from Frankfurt back to Bonn

rain 50 °F

When I'm traveling, I'm conditioned to look for differences. Its fun to spot the ways in which German culture is different than back home. Thats part of the fun of traveling. And while there have been several cultural differences, I've also been struck by a few things that seem to be universal.

For starters, boys will be boys, although I appreciate the German pragmatism here.

Corporate Branding/Propoganda looks pretty much the same and is plastered everywhere...
Here's Nestle's Leadership Framework (unfortunately it's in German, because I would love to see what it includes).

There are, of course, differences as well:

First, their elevators are long and thin. This wasn't the case at the hotel, so it's hard to say if this is a German thing or just unique to Nestle, but it creates a strange arrangement where people have their backs to the walls on either side and face each other.
As a side note, you can see the unique placement of the buttons on the left wall. Not a great idea when people tend to stand right in front of there, blocking people from pressing buttons and also being at the perfect height for someone to lean back and butt press a few extra floors (this happened twice...but it wasn't me!)

Also, the Sheraton showers were intentionally created without curtains. Privacy wasn't the issue, but as you might expect, it was impossible to keep the bathroom floor from getting wet, especially when the shower head was one of those that you hold in your hand.

Then again, it turns out the Chase Corporate Challenge is universal...
(Look out for the Corporate Challenge on Mars in 2050)

This one really surprised me. In talking with Bernd about German vs. American politics, I really didn't expect to see this. I wonder if you need a background check or mental health evaluation for one of these bad boys...

Anyways, I woke up this morning and noticed a pretty nice decent view of Frankfurt as the sun came up. I'm assuming that this was their football stadium in the distance.
Despite having looked forward to the prospect of running along the Main, I decided to go to the hotel gym instead. There would be plenty of opportunities for running on this trip, but probably not very many chances to use weights and gym equipment. After a disastrous, curtain-less shower, I headed down the block to the training facility. I neglected to mention yesterday that when I picked up a guest security badge, I was first given a copy of the building safety information...gotta love all those German rules!

Day 2 of Training went well. Everyone continued discussions during breaks about adjusting to German business culture. For example, several people commented on the no-nonsense German approach. Whereas in Brazil, Barcelona and several other places, they had been expected to make extensive small talk before getting to business or asking for updates on projects. Clearly more efficient, but also lacking a human touch. Some liked the efficiency, others thought that it was taken much too far and that it was difficult to get over the abruptness that would be considered quite rude in their home countries.

At lunch, Luthar talked about the "hippie" work of his youth when he was involved with an organization called Action Reconciliation. It was started by young Germans who believed that they weren't being educated enough or doing enough to repay for the atrocities of the Holocaust and WWII. Luthar helped recruit students to go to places like Auschwitz to help preserve and maintain these historical sights. It was based upon the notion that covering up and erasing this history was a dangerous invitation for it to happen again. Coincidentally, I had been looking into Auschwitz last night to see if I might visit, but it was much farther than I expected. Luthar went on to explain how when he was going to school in Germany, their history textbooks stopped at Napoleon, then picked back up at the end of WWII, without making any mention of the time in between. He said that young people were a huge part of the movement in the late 60s and early 70s to start asking their parents and grandparents tough questions and bringing this history to light. Maryna from Ukraine talked about how she grew up under similar circumstances, where it was an unwritten rule to never mention the wars. She also talked about the current divisions in Ukraine, where some are trying to be independent and others speak Russian are still fiercely loyal to the former Soviet Union. In regards to Russia, she also talked about how isolated it was, and that outside of Moscow being an international city where many speak English, the rest of the country is largely shut to outside influence. Isabella from Brazil talked about the strange adjustment of learning about war history. While she grew up hearing about gun and gang violence, Brazil has been largely isolated from any such wars.

After lunch, Luthar talked a bit about how the main difference between Germans and Anglo-Saxons is the Germans' low tolerance for uncertainty. Because of this, they take the time to cover every possible situation so that they have a plan for everything and there are no surprises. Coincidentally, just yesterday one of the newsletters I subscribe to had a link to a Gallup article titled "Germany Has a Serious Management Problem."

The main point that they make is as follows:

"A key problem is that German management education pays little attention to actually managing people. The 'master of business administration' degree reflects that the educational emphasis is on managing finances and administrating processes. But good management also requires a focus on people, something that German companies currently lack. In far too many businesses, employees with the longest tenure or who have the greatest subject matter expertise are moved into management, regardless of whether they have an aptitude for managing people."

(While I'm quoting things, I would like to note that when Germans quote things, the opening quotation mark is down low, sort of like the upside-down question mark in Spanish.)

Between this conversation and the morning's conversation on differing small talk standards, I couldn't help but think of how clearly many of these cultural norms fit into different DISC styles. I would love to take a look at some of TTI's research on how D, I, S and C are distributed across populations of different countries.

When we got to the body language portion of the facilitation training, Luthar interpreted the body language of a few of the people in the room. One of the Indian men had crossed arms, which in the Western world translates to "closed body, closed mind." It opened up to a discussion about how even body language varies by culture, since he said that in India, it is a very common to cross your arms when you are concentrating or deep in thought. Obviously, there are also different cultural norms for hand gestures and physical space kept between one another. Luthar explained research by Paul Ekman that while facial expressions are culturally based, there are 5 expressions that represent "primary emotions" and are universal. They are anger, disgust, content, joy and surprise.

When I was telling folks about my wanderings the previous night and the open plaza I had found, I thought about how my favorite single thing about Europe is the communal spaces. Every town has at least one (but often more) large plazas lined with restaurants where people congregate at night (and often at lunch as well). There are several parks as well, such as the hoards of people that were out by the river enjoying the sunset last night. The sense of community that it fosters is incredible. At home, we lack these communal spaces and even when we have them, most people prefer the privacy of their homes and back yards.

After the training was over, I hitched a ride with Luthar to the train station. It had been pouring since lunch, but I had an hour to kill, and the only sight I had failed to see last night was Geothe House, where Johann Wolfgang van Goethe grew up. I have to admit that while there was name recognition, I couldn't tell you a thing about the guy, but Frankfurters seemed to be quite proud of it. Unfortunately, the walk took longer than expected didn't have time to go inside. The outside itself was nothing special...

On the way back, I saw a Wall Street school of English which I thought was some amusing branding...

I had been considering flying out of Frankfurt to go somewhere for the weekend, but after looking at flights out of Cologne for next weekend, they weren't that much more expensive. Plus I had spoken with Bernd and I was going to get a chance to tag along for their weekend rituals of dinner with friends in Bad Honnef on Friday nights and breakfasts and shopping around Bonn on Saturday mornings. I couldn't pass up the chance to see the city from the eyes of locals. The train back to Bonn went in excess of 225kph (about 130mph) and Bernd had recommended walking to the front of the train to watch the tracks coming at you. The picture is awful and doesn't do it justice, but it was pretty surreal to watch.

Bernd picked me up in Bonn and we went right to Bad Honneff to meet up with Elke and their friends, two brothers, Gunthar and (oops!). Bernd and Elke don't see each other much during the week because their traveling all over Germany to give trainings, but they rarely miss a Friday night with their friends at this cute little Italian restaurant (or a Saturday morning breakfast in Bonn). The restaurant was really cute, but I didn't realize that the picture I took didn't come out well. The bar was made to look like it was under a pergola, which I of course loved. It was still pouring and I was amused by the umbrella rack? receptacle? at the door.
The food was incredible too. I had salmon with capers and sun-dried tomatoes. Not exactly authentic German food, but it was spectacular.


Tomorrow we'll be driving separately into Bonn because Bernd and Elke are coming back in the afternoon, then going to dinner with friends about an hour away. They offered to let me take one of their cars so that I could have GPS and explore Bonn and hopefully Cologne tomorrow. I just spent some time on the internet looking up the must see attractions and I'm excited to see the Old City Hall in Bonn (it was the capital of Germany from 1949-1999, its ok, I didn't know either until about two weeks ago). It's got to be a strange dynamic being an ex-capital. Bernd told me a little bit about the negotiations that Bonn went through to get some concessions from the government when the capital moved to Berlin. For example, all the German UN offices moved into the old federal buildings. Bernd said that overall, Bonn came out pretty well from the deal, but Bad Honnef lost a bit of its flair, because it used to be the small nearby city where many politicians lived, and when the politicians left, so did many of the high-end restaurants and boutiques. I'm going to wake up early and test my luck with a run as well. Squeezed every ounce out of the day...time for bed!

Posted by atbrady 15:45 Archived in Germany Tagged germany capital frankfurt auschwitz cultural bonn compare action contrast comparison reconciliation act berlin/bonn

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