As part of my expat assignment, I went through cultural training last week. This meant I went through a 6 hour presentation with a German culture expert. Then we reviewed a personality test I had completed the week before and compared it with the averages results of Germans and Americans who had passed the test.
It was interesting. I think I'm in the best place to have taken the course: I have three months' worth of experience living and working here, I know the Germans I will be working with fairly well, and I just started my year, so the training came at a very useful time. I can make the most if it and all that jazz!
Things I learned:
- German history. Germany is a relatively young country, becoming the nation it is today in 1871. What does surprise me is the frankness the country addressed World War I and World War II. It's something that is commonly discussed. There are several measures in place to ensure that anything approaching the Third Reich does not happen again. Any symbols of Nazism are strictly banned. Visiting the Dachau concentration camp last year, I was impressed at how the country has done a good job of acknowledging what had happened, honoring those who had suffered and died, but also being respectful and honest. German reunification came in 1990, though East/West differences still exist. And in a 2013 poll from BBC, Germany was named the most popular country in the world. So it's come a long way...
- German politics. Basically, everything is to the left of the United States. There are two major parties, but a handful of small parties are much more influential than the smaller parties in the United States. The involvement in the EU is a big topic for the various factions. The country as a whole is extremely environmental. I actually turn in my glass and plastic bottles for money at the store! In Indy it was the other way around. My cultural trainer said there wasn't really anything like the Republicans... They're uniquely American!
- German sentiment. Overall, there is more of a 'save' than 'spend' mentality. Hopefully that rubs off a little while I'm here. We did a comparison of the average German and the average American. The US is much more individualistic, while Germans tend to consider the community when making decisions. Both Germany and the US are considered a 'masculine' country, whatever that means. We both like rules and believe in one truth, one reality. Probably the biggest difference was short tern versus long term - Germans tend to be long-term oriented. We Americans like our instant gratification.
- German facts. Germany is the most populated country in the EU, primarily German with a large Turkish population, though that is changing with the refugees. German is the third most foreign country in the world, after the US and Russia.
- Interesting thoughts on culture overall. There are various levels of culture - the obvious, visible stuff (clothing, language), the visible, less obvious stuff (body language, politics, law, religion), and the under the hood stuff (values, beliefs, space, time, money). And being in a new culture, there are levels of comfort, starting with denial (there's no difference) and leading to minimization (the differences are minor) then acceptance and integration. I'm probably somewhere between minimization and acceptance, which my cultural trainer assured me was pretty average for an expat at the beginning of their assignment.
- Expat expectations. Apparently there is a honeymoon period, followed by a dramatic decrease in enjoyment, then things level off. I also saw statistics for the expat partner - much more dramatic and much less happy in the end than the expat. I don't know if I'm still in the honeymoon period of not. I haven't cried or went to the local Pizza Hut yet, so I'm probably still in the honeymoon period.
It definitely helped with the point of view and understanding the values of the people I will be interacting with. I just need to make sure I keep these things in mind, keep revisiting them, throughout the year.