Friday, 10 February 2017

First Gear

I currently live in Bristol with my English wife and two young daughters. I just celebrated my 50th birthday in Berlin with an eclectic mix of German and English friends. I don’t feel German anymore and not yet British. I fell European. Some might say that the UK is not really the best place for me now but, as most of us know by now, the grass is always greener on the other side. I have somehow amassed a very colourful CV, from growing up in the woods and meadows of a very small village in Hessen in Germany, to releasing records in Japan in the 90s, to raising a family, working at the digital front lines for Google and other FTSE companies. When I didn’t know what to do next after my band dissolved after 10 years of musical mayhem, I became a media designer and copy writer but quickly hated the pretentious coke-fuelled world of Berlin advertising, so I decided to follow a life-long dream, sold most of my possessions and directed my version of The Great Escape.

UK/DE Value Orientations 
Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck designed a system to analyse cultural patterns. These patterns are defined as “value orientations”, explaining what is important and also offer guidance for living to members of different cultures. These five questions make up Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s system:
  • What is the character of human nature?
  • What is the relation of humankind to nature?
  • What is the orientation toward time?
  • What is the value placed on activity?
  • What is the relationship of people to each other?
Human Nature Orientation
Germany’s culture is one in which people are considered to be good. German beliefs can easily be seen in the economic society where traditional values influence the way things operate. Germans are unified in what they do and believe that people know what is considered to be the correct way to live and operate in their society. If someone does act in an evil manner, the ramifications will be very harsh.

The same could be said about the British culture. But the Brits seem to draw their ‘goodness’, unlike the Germans, from a historic heritage of ‘winning’. That these official ‘wins’ were of course ultimately achieved through great human tragedy and the occasional genocide is merely a dirty secret and bringing it up makes you look like an unpatriotic spoilsport.

Churchill will always be seen as a great hero by most Brits, regardless of his real track record of getting lots of people killed. Figures like Tony Blair, wo bathed themselves in blood, can go on to have lucrative careers in industry and politics, raking in the money, before returning to UK politics in praise of the EU.

This wouldn’t really happen in German politics. Germans can nowadays spot a war criminal from a mile away. But on the other hand, that’s not holding back most Germans to look the other way when the government is exporting weapons into conflict zones.

Person- Nature Orientations

Germany is a country where humans and nature operate harmoniously. Relations with the environment are invested in only to better nature and the person at the same time. The majority of things done in Germany are done the old-fashioned way, in order to keep nature and humans in a state where they work together rather than people trying to constantly control and change their surroundings. Germans believe that everything that happens to them is a consequence of their actions as well.

The Brits have a very confusing view on nature preservation. On one hand organisations like the National Trust and English Heritage spend lots of money and funds to safe and maintain historic places and buildings for the public to visit and admire, on the other hand there is a strong resistance against clean energy sources like wind turbines, wave hubs and solar panels. Basically everything that “destroys” the beautiful look of the countryside is condemned as ‘visually unacceptable’. The implications for day-to-day life are for example are that on one hand there are excruciatingly complicated rules for renovating a historic building/old house but on the other hand landlords are allowed to rent a non-isolated shed with single-glazed windows. The Brits love to pretend that they care about nature, when in reality lots of people rather care about the financial bottom-line.

The British Green Party is currently, compared to Germany, merely a political side note with their members mostly being looked at as deluded crusty tree huggers – which of course some of them are. The UK Green Party still has to go through their German equivalent’s soul-searching real-world mutation/transformation. The German Greens had to learn the hard way during the 80s and 90s that, if you don’t just want to be a force of opposition and actually get into power, you must abandon extreme fringe positions and get used to the frustrating world of compromise: Rather than not getting anything implemented, you compromise and at least get something implemented. Looking at the last 10 years of Conservative politics in the UK, it’s sad to see David Cameron abandoning step by step all initial environmental promises. I can’t pretend that I was surprised but it was of course a cynical demonstration of where the actual power and priorities are with: The economy and therefore big business.

Time Orientation

Germany is a future oriented culture. There is a high emphasis on the future, that it will be better than the present. Germans would never consider making or building something without considering the impact it might have on the future and the consequences that may occur. These beliefs allow Germany to have an optimistic culture. To Germans, time is money, which explains why they place such importance on punctuality and thinking before one acts. The Germans also have not that much to look back at. Their track record of starting and losing two world wars just in the last century has left a massive dark mark on the German psyche that might never be eradicated. The Nazis have entered the world’s conscience as The Master Evil, and the Germans will forever know their place.

Quite the opposite can be said about the Brits. They just love to look back. Back to Britpop, back to Swinging London, back to the Battle of Britain.. and of course they love to look back through starry eyes at The Empire and The Raj.. downing a never ending stream of gin tonics on verandas of an upper-class town houses. The more confusing global modern life gets, the more the Brits look for the consoling warm embrace of the past, a thing that is solidly woven in the fabric of everyday life. There is not a day without a Spitfire flyby, Union Jack bunting and tea and Victoria sponge. Shows like Antiques Roadshow, The Great British Bake-off and The British Sowing Bee celebrate an often rose-tinted British history and values. Anything to do with the military is usually being referred to as something heroic and positive, even the Falklands war which was merely a disastrous piece of influencing UK public opinion via poor foreign policy is seen as another victorious skirmish to add to the long list of armed conflict. Britain has been at war with nearly all countries in the world over the years while still managing to uphold a pretty picture of honour and sacrifice. In Germany it would be unthinkable to have TV ads depicting cool special forces actions with a voiceover straight from a Medal of Honour video game. A British soldier will always be a hero, almost regardless of his or her actions. The officer that was caught on video shooting dead a captured, wounded Taliban and then declaring into the camera that he had just broken the Geneva convention just had his original conviction crushed and was said to be looking forward spending Christmas with his family. The right-wing press was running front pages that read along the lines of ‘How dare these filthy human rights lawyers trying to tarnish our heroes!’. You wouldn’t have stuff like that in Germany. Too much, too soon.

Another very British war-related source of idiotic behaviour is the poppy. Originally a simple paper flower, sold during November with the proceedings going to the British Legion to help soldiers and maintain graves, and worn on your sleeve, it’s now an annual source of pathetic dispute. There are of course ‘poppy Nazis’ who name and shame every person in the public eye who is, for whatever reasons, not wearing one. There are people on TV wearing idiotic bling fashion poppies on Strictly Come Dancing. There are all sorts of nationalist groups and parties that try to instrumentalise the whole poppy thing and make out like only them are true British patriots. It really is ridiculous and on one hand I am happy that I am German and therefore not part of the poppy club anyway but on the other hand that means that I can be in a group of people were everybody is wearing a poppy except from me and they, not knowing that I’m German, that I hate to remember the fallen heroes of two world wars. But hey, looking at the bigger picture, that’s probably one of my least important issues.

One my most hated cultural Brit icons is the essence of Britishness: The ‘KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON’ poster. Don’t rock the boat, don’t ask big questions, keep your head down and keep doing whatever they say above. You could give it a positive spin and compare it to the classic ‘Blitz Spirit’. Don’t let them break you and keep pushing. I do like that a bit more. The other thing that I can’t stand is a thing that is usually used in combination with Churchill and that’s ‘British bulldog spirit’. You can see that as a long procession of shit tattoos on Nazi hooligan shoulders and forearms alongside sketchy ‘English rose’ tattoos on female shoulders. There’s nothing that spells working class better than an English rose tattoo with a pack of fags and a bottle of alcopops. And before you start a petition to get me deported, be assured that I am solid working class and have a long-standing, self-critical love-hate relationship with my contemporaries. I am not snotty, but I am also realistic.

Activity Orientation

Germany is a doing culture because people measure their accomplishments by external factors. This emphasis on doing gives Germans a desire to be work-oriented and focused on the task at hand. It is common to have a business-meeting end with a decision no matter where they stand at that point. Germans concentrate on just one thing at a time and make sure they keep their commitments.

The UK is a being culture, focused on multitasking and short term orientated. The Brits do prioritise a life/work balance, which can be seen nicely on a Friday around lunch time, when thousands of office workers descend to the pub to knock off at least a couple of ‘cheeky pints’ and bottles of white wine. Not taking part in this ritual makes you quickly look like a boring weirdo, so there is a certain pressure on immigrants that don’t see getting hammered on a Friday midday as the highlight of the week.

Relational Orientation

Germany is, for the most part, individualistic except when it comes to the business world, in which they are focused on the group. A person’s identity in Germany is based on the individual only and their status is based only on their own actions. However, in the business world, Germans look down upon privileges and status and attempt to minimize inequalities.

Right.. next time we'll get going properly. 

No comments:

Post a Comment