This last part of the three-part-series on cultural differences in the US and Germany explains a way for people visiting and learning about other cultures that makes understanding them much easier.
Now that we know that there are visible and invisible parts of every culture (check out the Iceberg-article) and that those parts of a culture are deeply ingrained into the core of every person (for more info check out the cultural onion), we will now discuss what we can do with that information.
The Cultural Iceberg - USA and Germany
This article explains Hofstede's Cultural Onion and using this, lists differences between the US American and the German culture using cars and driving as an example.
This can be warriors or peace-makers, poets or musicians, politicians or models, anyone that influences or represents the way of life in a certain culture. in short: visible people.
The next layer before getting to the core is that of the rituals. Those can range from kinds of greetings or handshakes to clothes to negotiating sales, different ways of speaking or expressing oneself, any visible action of people.
The last - or the first - layer we look at is the center of the onion, the thing that remains when everything else is peeled off. The core that cannot be changed. Values. Everything else, rituals, heroes and symbols are just expressions of those core values. Those are usually influenced by historic events, centuries of behaviors and ways of life that have become so natural that people don't even know they exist. These are the invisible core values.
The values of a culture remain constant while all other layers can shift over time. Derived from the core values, observable actions, people and things form the practices of a culture.
Cars and Driving, USA vs. Germany
While we share many symbols with our American friends, we do have our own brands and preferences as well. This first layer probably is the most difficult to show the subtle differences between the two cultures. A few examples do however exist:
Americans as well as Germans love the German car manufacturers BMW, Audi and Mercedes Benz. The companies produce high quality cars that are reliable and fun to drive. This is where we can agree.
Our heroes are quite different as well. Going again by our cars, we can see one very large difference right away: Bumper Stickers. "Support our troops" can be seen on many of them.
US American heroes seem to be very military-focussed.
This is a huge difference to the way the German military is perceived by the public. After WWII, Germany has become an extremely peace-loving country and views its military with more suspicion than glory. Thus, a German bumper stickers (if there even is one) might show you the outline of an island that people like to visit like Sylt, or a small flower representing the mountains, but you won't find any military-related material.
Germans are in love with their cars. Thus, stereotypically, every saturday, or on a different day each week, the father of the family goes out to the car wash and gets his car to shine. It used to be that people were allowed to wash their cars in front of their houses, but due to the vast amounts of motor oil that were washing into the sewer systems each weekend, it was made illegal a few decades ago.
Going to work is also a bit different. While in the US one can say a 9 to 5 job would be the norm, in Germany it would be an 8 to 4, or even an 8 to 16 job (in Germany there is no am/pm, but a 24h-system in place). Thus, driving from and to work, the rush hours are all an hour earlier than you would expect from an American standpoint. This can be valuable information for radio advertisement for example.
The car production of course is dependent on the gas prices, but those gas prices are heavily influenced by the government, which in turn is heavily influenced by the core values of the German people.
Efficiency, quality, punctuality and correctness are very important factors for the German people in general, while flashiness, patriotism, size, and space/freedom are more American in nature.
Thus, even just observing cars in Germany and the USA one can explain all different kinds of Hofstede's Cultural Onion.
Knowing about this can already help a lot with figuring out what to do about a business or product, where to place it, when and how to advertise it and what things there are that need to be kept in mind when deciding on an expansion to Germany, or any other country for that matter.
To find out how your business fits into the layers of the German market, please send us an email.
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