(Title and style in honor of Bill Lyons, venerable Philly sportswriter.)
I’ve been to Germany with SAP about five or six times now, and I expect to make a few more trips over the next several months. I’ve got some photos from the trip I took this past week, and I’ll get those posted up in the next several days. For now, a couple of reflections on travel to the land of 75% of my ancestry.
Language: Sprechen sie Englisch? If there’s one go-to phrase in Germany, this is the one, and 99% of the time it works. German kids are learning English starting roughly in first grade. If I’m required to keep going in German, I can say hello, good morning, thank you, and ‘still water, please’, because I learned on my first couple trips that if you just ask for water to drink, you’re going to get the fizzy stuff. I can count and tell time, and I know left and right. Traveling in a language you’ve never formally studied really puts you back to your five-year-old days.
Driving: People eiher dream of the autobahn or they fear it. The dreamers will find less wide-open driving than they hoped, and the fearful will see a lot of similarities to American interstate highways. Most of the time, your speed on the autobahn is either limited by posted signs, or effectively limited by traffic. It’s true that there are people driving 200+ km/h (120+ mph) on the autobahn in the unrestricted sections, but if you stay in the right lane, you can poke along at whatever speed you like. Besides, cars are really expensive in Germany, and people aren’t keen to crash. The average car on a German highway is much more likely to be a lovingly maintained 1982 VW Rabbit than a sleek brand-new Mercedes land cruiser.
Music: I often end up associating songs with trips… something we always referred to as “trip music” when I was growing up. Because I end up listening to pop music stations in the car in Germany, my trip music from business trips to Germany runs toward the kind of music you hear on Q-102 here in Philly, a station I almost never tune in at home. Case in point: Trip songs from this year include “Rude Boy” by Rihanna, and this time, “We R Who We R” by Ke$ha.
Office culture: German colleagues are always referred to as ‘colleagues’ in English, as opposed to co-workers or some other term, because ‘colleagues’ is a good cognate with the German kollegen und kolleginnen. The colleagues have an attitude about alcohol at work that might seem a little unusual coming from the US. You might have wine with lunch, a beer at the end of the day out of the office fridge, or champagne (in the morning!) for a colleague’s birthday. It feels a bit like an episode of Mad Men – the so-called good old days when you could drink at work.
The concept of the team at work is pervasive in Germany, from the airport cleaning staff to the management of professional businesses. My German friends at work like to make fun of how American waiters and waitresses always introduce themselves by name, but in Germany you always know that you’re receiving service from such-and-such team. That team is also likely to have ISO 9001 quality certification, even if it’s the staff in the hotel. Certifications and credentials are more formal and more popular than in US business culture.
General culture: The modern state of Germany has an abiding faith in automation. Speeding tickets, boarding passes, recycling deposit returns on bottles – if you can conceivably do it with a machine or a computer, preferably both, that’s how it will be done in Germany. Curiously, though, I haven’t seen much in the way of self-checkout at retail stores, the way we’ve been seeing in recent years in the US.
Enough cultural observations for now. Pictures return tomorrow. Tchuss!