Chat with Chad - Englisch Folge 4

Differences in American and German thinking

Though I have celebrated many birthdays here in Germany, and on several of those occasions have been sung the German birthday song, “Wie schön, dass du geboren bist,” I had never really paid attention to the lyrics of the song.


However, today I finally looked up the text and was left speechless. Why? Because of how greatly different “Wie schön, dass du geboren bist” is from the American birthday song, “Happy Birthday to You,” and how much this difference in content reveals about the two cultures.


First, though, let’s have a look at “Wie schön, dass du geboren bist,” or at least the part of it that usually gets sung at parties:


Heute kann es regnen,

stürmen oder schnei'n,

denn du strahlst ja selber

wie der Sonnenschein.

Heut ist dein Geburtstag,

darum feiern wir,

alle deine Freunde,

freuen sich mit dir.


Wow! This birthday song is about 10,000 times more sophisticated than “Happy Birthday to You.”


First of all, “Wie schön, dass du geboren bist” begins on something of a negative note: “Today it could rain, it could storm, it could snow.” This type of idea, I think, is already very complicated, especially considering that little children are the ones who will be singing this song.


The rest of the verse goes on to say that even if it does rain, storm or snow, it doesn’t matter because you, birthday child, will still beam like the sun.


That is absolutely beautiful. Heck, “Wie schön, dass du geboren bist” is filled with poignancy (“Melancholie”). After all, there’s a lot in the song to consider. I mean, bad weather adds enough complication because one doesn’t usually associate bad weather with birthdays, but there’s also all that metaphorical meaning attached to the words, too.


All things considered, “Wie schön, dass du geboren bist” is a complicated piece of work.


“Happy Birthday to You,” on the other hand, shoots directly to the point and is ridiculously easy: “Happy birthday to you/Happy birthday to you/Happy birthday dear...” In America, we waste no time and get right into it.


And that’s the main point here. Germans, I think, relish (“mögen”) complication. Also, Germans are quicker to acknowledge that bad things can and really do happen in life. Today it very well may rain, yes.


Americans, conversely, just like things to be simple, straightforward, with little complication. Tell me clearly; don’t waste my time. Also, Americans just want to hear the positive sometimes, or at least we feel as though we must put a positive spin on things, which can be difficult for Germans to accept.


So I think the real takeaway message from all this is, especially if you’re a German businessman doing business with an American or vice versa, you need to really do your homework on your counterpart (“Gegenüber”).


How does your counterpart react to certain stimulus? Why does he react that way? Is there something in his culture that might lead to his having a predilection (“Vorliebe”) for patience?


In the German language, for example, one must sometimes wait, literally wait, for the verb to arrive before one knows what the sentence is all about. Maybe that is something I should think about if I’m an American doing business with a German. Maybe I don’t need to dive right into the point, as I would with an American.


If I’m a German, maybe I can learn to think more like an American. So instead of saying that something is purely bad, maybe I can try to be a little more positive, or at least put the patina of positivity on my comments for the sake of my American counterpart. “Well, Mike, I like how you tried hard, but I wasn’t satisfied with the result. Maybe we can think of a better solution together?”


Cultures are different, as the birthday songs illustrate. But if we take the time to understand and appreciate these differences -- and maybe even laugh at them -- we will be better off in all our interactions.



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