Understanding Germany in one pic, part 1

Pic of Deichmann shoe shop in Germany

There’s certainly much more to a society than one picture could ever express, but this one here – a snapshop of a shoe shop in Hamburg – already says a lot to me and it is also somehow typical of the business-to-customers relationship in Germany.

Most shops close at 8pm, and this snapshot was taken a few minutes before 8pm. Sales people are tired, they want to go home – there a lot of valid reasons for closing in time. Others, however, do not really understand this business attitude. “Why do your shops close at 8pm?”, the Chinese Taiwanese intern asked me the other day. “Because of a strong labour union”, I replied. – “You know, shops in Taiwan are open for 24h”.

Now, the interesting part is that they indicate their punctual closure by narrowing the entrance to a tight channel where customers can get out, but won’t get in that easily. It’s a typical sign of non-verbal communication.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is what Germany is all about: living in a society which is based on perfectionism and abstract levels of communication where such non-verbal procedures are accepted as the norm – instead of e.g. giving in and closing the shop only when the last customer has left the building.

It’s their sign of saying “Dear customers, please get out. Now!”. It’s a closed door that tells me how people apparently prefer to communicate – with rules and guidelines that every observant visitor will need to notice. It’s a non-verbal sign instead of a rude sales person who will ask you in a non-friendly tone to leave the shop asap. Which leaves me with the question: is this – the half-closed door – an improvement to the unfriendly sales staff we were used to?

(there are so many examples for non-verbal communication in Germany where I often think: “Ha! I understand this, but what about everyone else? And are these non-verbal methods really reliable enough in getting the point across, especially when you are dealing with foreigners who are used to verbal communication? Or who don’t know what you and the rest of society expect from an unknowing individual, who doesn’t notice these signals?”)

The culture code thing

culturecodeFollowing an article in a German magazine about the French “marketing specialist” Clotaire Rapaille, I’ve recently written a longer blog post on my sanitation-related blog and openely wondered if there is any toilet code in a culture, and if so, how it will be triggered.

Clotaire Rapaille, who runs a company that tries to explore the “hot button” in each culture, also published a book called “The Culture Code – An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Do”.

The idea of having someone actually trying to make a connection between consumer behaviour and how a particular society / swarm acts because “it’s in their culture” triggered my interest and actually made me buy this book – and this although Rapaille received a lot of hatred and anger over his remarks on the “code” of the City of Québec in Canada.

I was reminded of this culture code thing today when I openely tweeted about the many demand media and rss-feed link farms from India vs. original content and tried to explain – with Rapaille’s words! – that “Indians are at root a practical people”, which is why they wouldn’t waste time on reinventing stuff.

Now, India of course isn’t about copying foreign works and I truly believe that a lot of innovations and understanding in today’s “civilized” world actually hail from the Indian continent, BUT this “are practical people” somehow stuck with me because I believe it to be very true.

And that’s exactly my reason for today’s blog post: like my post on “The Africans” the other day, there’s always this danger of making such public statements. “Germans, Indians, Kenyans, Spaniards – they are all so and so”. You’ll instantly be hated by your readers if you make such general statements because in most cases they’ll reply with a “WTF?!” and will start arguing with you.

Of course we’re not all the same, and I myself am probably a good example of why such phrases don’t make sense, but despite all our differences, I think there’s still this culture code thing, the hot button as Rapaille calls it, which defines a common nature within a given culture. Something from deep down within, something from the “reptilian brain”.

It may not be the ultimate code that will explain all actions in a society (of course not), but if one of these identified culture codes could help to fix some of the problems we’re currently having out there in this world (e.g. wrong management that will lead to famines, exploitation of natural resources, wrong priorities, injustice, wars, etc.), then I am all for these codes.

Which gets me back to my sanitation-related blog post and the question, if there is any culture code in toilets. Well, is there? How come that in Japan consumers spend ~ 2500 EUR on a computerized toilet while in other, poorer societies, a toilet is at the very end of the wish list? And this while the toilet thing affects all humans on this planet?

A question which – according to Rapaille (or Freud? :-) – makes me think we should seat our kids on 2000 EUR toilets only to trigger such a demand at a very early age.

“the Africans”


Why are there books (like the selection pictured above) & online publications on post & neo-coloniaslim in Africa as well as important recent developments on the African continent on one hand IF on the other hand I am still terribly at unease writing about “the Africans”?

It’s not just the term “the Africans”, but also my arrogance to write about a third party.

I just found myself deleting an e-mail I had written to a client explainig the use of social media platforms by “the Africans”, because: who am I to explain e.g. what motivates “the Africans” in using social media tools (unless we are talking about Facebook Zero and other free stuff / communities)?

Would my reader be prepared enough to spot the difference between the stuff I know (facts), I assume (observations) and define as a conclusion?

Could the term “the Africans” only be possible when we’re also using “the Europeans”? Are these terms only used outside their initial territory?

My passport says I am German and I often also act that way, but to be honest: I know more about “the Africans” than about “the Europeans”. Does this qualify me to write an e-mail about “the Africans” – if instead I am maybe only talking about a certain age group from a region or about common user behaviour that’s rooted deep down in a historical context (like the lack of Intellectual Property Rights as argued by J.Shikwati & others)?

And: is this self-criticism a typical German thing?