Thursday, March 23, 2006

The day I woke as pro-American, part III

It's really, really time to come up with the third part of this story. I hope, getting this of my chest will allow me to be able to blog on a regular basis here.

When I headed back to Germany from China, I was looking for news sources to keep me up to date on China related issues. Since the German media outlets and blogs have little to nothing to add to that issue, the only way to keep myself informed was to turn to the Anglo-american China blogosphere, which is actually large and has lots of participants (check out the China Bloglist, if you don't believe me).

I began to read American blogs on a daily basis - and I found out, that no matter on which side of the aisle in terms of politics they were, they shared a lot of viewpoints as it came to China - from Richard of Peking Duck to Gordon of The Horse's Mouth (to name only two), all of them seemed to be cheerleader for democracy and freedom in China. And they actually did (and still do, of course) something to promote those issues, from taking on certain topics to speaking out against certain meassures of the Chinese government (like blocking blogs or incarcerating bloggers) to providing useful information for China based bloggers on how to circumvent the "Great Chinese Firewall". And even at blogs which weren't dealing with political issues in the first place, like Danwei or Sinosplice , I experienced an attitude I regard as being typical American: service driven, seeing readers and commenters as customers, caring about their opinions and being thankful for the feedback they get from their audience. All of them provided (and still do so, of course) so much useful information, hints, background etc. and they tried to really connect people and wanted to share views and experiences - I was taken aback ones more.

Well, from the very special world of China blogging, it was only a small step to the real American blogosphere, since it virtually lies around the corner (as on the internet, the whole world is only one click away; that's why I love it so much).

As a result, I got deep into the American blogosphere, from Daily Kos to Town Hall, so to say. And every day I happened to find new kinds of blogs: econblogs like Economist's view, Brad Setser, Brad DeLong ; Academia blogger like Gary Becker and Richard Posner or Daniel Drezner, PR blogger like Seth Godin, blogs dealing only with ecology or human rights or...you name it. Great, simply great! And I realized the huge differences between the German and the American blogosphere: the American bloggers were more talkative, more interactive, friendlier (on average, that is), they shared their knowlegde, the entries were much, much longer and there were more comments providing more insight.

And again, as the two times I mentioned before, I asked myself: Why, oh why do most people in Germany regard Americans as no-brain superficial junk food consumers in the first place? Then again, I told myself: Okay, you haven't been to the U.S. so far. It still is possible, that the Americans a.) produce a lot of articles - and no one actually reads them b.) print a lot of papers, magazines etc. - and ordinary Americans buy them only to have something to wrap their sandwiches in and c.) the American blogosphere consists of only three or five people pretending that there were millions just to fool the rest of the world about the intellectual capacity of American citizenry. Then again, those explanations didn't satify me, to be honest with you.

Well, came end of August 2005 and the Katrina Hurricane - and THAT really pushed me over the edge, talking about being Pro-american. I'll leave that to the next part...(yes, it's a cliff hanger ;-).

part I, part II

Submitted to Carnival of German-American Relations

17 comments:

joe said...

Dear Marian (Mark)

I very much enjoyed your posts on becoming pro-American. I find your writing style, sense of humor and observations to be refreshing.

I look forward to the next part..

Have a wonderful week.

Again thank you.

joe

Derek Lowe said...

Ganz interessant! I'm very much looking forward to your next installment. I did my postdoctoral work in Germany (at the TH-Darmstadt), and sometimes had an interesting time navigating the German attitudes towards Americans.

There was also my attitude to contend with, too as this old post from my blog details, near the end.

Don said...

@Marian,

the American bloggers were more talkative, more interactive, friendlier (on average, that is), they shared their knowlegde

There is a catchphrase which was coined in the US (I believe) which summarizes why people behave this way: Win - Win.

The phrase was coined as an opposite to more traditional ways to look at the outcome of a bargain Win - Lose, and is meant to cover the most optimum kind of human interaction - one where both or all parties come out better than before.

Fairly frequently you will hear an American tell a short story about something and conclude it by saying "win-win". The story Derek told about using the fish pump was a 'win-win' because he succeeded in his experiment quickly and the grad student didn't have to go through the trouble of ordering the pump. The lab saved money also.

People behave this way in every country I've ever lived in or visited - and the US has it's share of people who won't do it. But in the US it's regarded more positively than in some other places, I think.

I have a story from when I worked in Stuttgart a few years ago. I was there for a small Canadian software firm contributing to a project being run by an enormous and reputable European telecoms equipment supplier.

For some reason I could not dial out on my office telephone and it was going to take DT months to change the line. So the German manager told me to walk over and use the line on the centralized fax machine. That did not work correctly either, so I had to use my hotel phone which was both inconvenient and enormously expensive. I informed the manager and he told me it was 'impossible'. I must be lying.

Well. I was bothered by the expense even though the Germans were paying for it. So I asked around the shop for the name and location of a computer store with a good reputation, and went there.

The fellow there (a real win-win German chap) sold me a piece of kit which allowed me to dial out of my office phone, an investment which paid for itself in about 3 days.

When I expensed the kit it was turned down and I was called called into the manager's office for a denouncing. This was both verboten and unethical! I ended up paying for it myself as I didn't wish to ask my employer to do it.

I didn't get it then and still don't. I saved money for the Germans and didn't violate any laws (or ethics the way I understand the term). I've worked in several other European countries and in Canada, and I don't think there would have been a problem anywhere else. The Dutch and Begians might not have understood why I went through the trouble they would have paid for the cheaper solution. In Italy the Americans had a LOT or latitude because we were considered 'experts'.

Don said...

BTW, I was dialing out for internet access to my company's intranet account - an absolute necessity for work purposes. I wasn't web-surfing or doing anything private. But this way I could look up information and download documentation in real-time from my laptop. As opposed to waiting untile the evening. It made me about 30% more productive.

Doug said...

Thanks for sharing your experience to this point, it's made for an interesting and engaging read. It seems that you've done something that I've been wondering for years now why more Germans (and, more broadly, Europeans in general) don't do more often - questioned what you're told, and independantly tried to verify it.

Not long ago, a French woman had to visit the U.S. for a short stay and was immensely relieved to discover that she would be able to eat more than just hamburgers - I don't understand the process that would lead someone to believe that she wouldn't.

If you have any insight into why so many people seem to be content to buy into popular stereotypes rather than subject them to simple tests of observation, I'd love to see it included in the conclusion. This really does avoid my efforts to understand it.

Rayson said...

@Don

I don't think stupid corporate behavior is unique German. It is always very seducing but wrong as well to take a certain experience for a general rule.

I could talk about strange situations within American companies also but I am quite certain that this wouldn't help me to find out anything reliable about "the Americans" in total.

@Doug

Come on, this comical picture the French woman had about the U.S. is ashaming enough. I know that many Europeans only can think of the U.S. in the clich├ęs that seem to be too attractive for many journalists but believe me - all this is easily topped by American views of, let's say, Germany. I don't blame them because for 99% of the Americans any knowledge about this small country far away would be nothing but useless.

So I always have lived with questions like "do you have trees in Germany" or "do you know Adidas in Germany" - it's normal. One thing that bothers me a little bit now is that similar observations are taken as proofs for strange conspiration theories. One general rule for all sides: Whenever you feel superior just because of your nationality something is wrong in this picture.

Jenny said...

Rayson said ... all this is easily topped by American views of, let's say, Germany. I don't blame them because for 99% of the Americans any knowledge about this small country far away would be nothing but useless.

*******

Just an example of the crap Europeans believe that is totally false. I'll bet you a million dollars Americans know more about Europe than vice versa. We're not as stupid and less-travelled as your communist minded, anti-American media try to make you believe we are.

That's why Mark's posts are so refreshing. Altho, he did have to go to China to find out. :)

Rayson said...

@jenny

"I'll bet you a million dollars Americans know more about Europe than vice versa."

Great! Bet accepted! Now let's agree on a way to measure it. My proposal: Percentage of Europeans who know the name of POTUS against percentage of Americans who know the name of ANY Prime Minister in Europe. Fair enough?

By the way: "Mark" is called "Marian". Never mind.

Don said...

"Not long ago, a French woman had to visit the U.S. for a short stay and was immensely relieved to discover that she would be able to eat more than just hamburgers"

Perhaps it is because the Michelin Red Guide marks the boundary of civilization and until recently Michelin hasn't seen fit to publish a Red Guide for anywhere outside Europe. There is now a Red Guide for New York City, so at least Europeans can be assured that New York is OK.

I believe the Austrian Red Guide is of recent vintage also - so that probably shows that Austria has become civilized also. Or at least shows some potential....

Don said...

@rayson

"I don't think stupid corporate behavior is unique German."

I don't either - and did not argue that. I have a single data point - that organization. But I've had Germans tell me that I was wrong to 'solve' the problem against the manager's wishes.

I'm not even certain that the behavior was stupid considered from the manger's POV. There was a difference of opinion about the size and duration of the project. The Czech customer thought it whould be shorter and cheaper while the Germans thought it should be longer and more expensive. They wished to exhaustively engineer the system. My sympathies were with the customer, which was a smaller 'upstart' telco rather than one of the national ex-monopolies. I tried to finess that as much as possible but apparently didn't succeed.

I don't understand that at all - and until I do you won't see me working in Germany again.

Don said...

Are you OK, Marian? I get worried when I don't see traffic for a month or so.....

Marian said...

Don,

yes, I'm quite okay. Thank you for asking. And I'll be back blogging. But right now, I'm too busy to concentrate on blogging in English. And since I saw WALK THE LINE, I have a new hobby: searching for videos featuring Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash on youtube.com.

Sorry for the disappointment.

Rayson said...

I don't understand that at all

This is probably just the reaction of a sane brain...

and until I do you won't see me working in Germany again.

... but there I still miss the point. Either you generalize your only example or you don't.

Don said...

@Marian,

Glad to hear you're OK. Johnny Cash? Isn't he a bit - exotic for a German? ;)

I've been on a Cash kick of my own since seeing 'Walk the Line'. I bought both of the live prison albums (from Folsom and San Quentin prisons), and read a biography.

Right now I'm listening to another album named 'American Recordings' which I think is the best yet. It is an album of folk songs sung with acoustical guitar he recorded in 1994 after he was cut loose by the Mercury record label. I'll probably buy the next album he cut ('Unchained') next week because it's supposed to be as good. I HIGHLY recommend 'American Recordings' if you love things American.....

'Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir. I have tried in my way to be free....'

Don said...

@rayson,

What I was trying to say is that I got into some pretty deep political crap in that German gig and I don't understand how it happened or what I did wrong.

It's not just being a naive Yank - I've worked in several European countries (and the US and Canada) solving problems more or less that way and never seen anything like that reaction. 'It's easier to get forgiveness than permission'. Except in Germany where you get neither?

So until I understand the Deutsch psyche better than I do now I'm unlikely to have another go unless I feel I know the manager(s) fairly well. I might try a small company if such a thing comes up - but not a German large company.

Rayson said...

@don

And what I am trying to say is that fortunately the attitudes in some very big companies don't say much about "German Psyche". Similarly, I don't judge Brits or Americans based on my experience in their bigger companies. But anyway, this part of the world is a free one, and everybody has the right to make wrong decisions :-)

Bruce said...

Marian, very interesting and entertaining posts on your discovery of America! These kinds of journeys are, I think, the best way to get people to start working together instead of finding excuses to get mad at each other. And it's a great shot of excitement to boot!