Have things returned to normal? Yes, they have.

by Volker Weber

Ed commented two days ago:

It sure didn't take long for things to return to normal, sigh.

Indeed, they have. And I think I should explain, what normal is, and why it is that way. That is going to be one long story.

While I was at Lotusphere, I was looking at the stream of updates coming in from Twitter.com. And I saw something that I could not see at home. A lot of those messages coming in from my German contacts looked negative. I do not see that from here. Only from there. The difference is, that while I am in the US, I think in the American language. While I am here, I think German.

From my own experience, Americans focus more on the positive things than Germans do. They try to find the good in everything. You will often hear words like outstanding, best in class, award winning, awesome and so on. If you do that in German, your messages will effectively be filtered. Germans in contrast often focus on the deficiencies. You can't solve a problem without identifying it first. :-)

It often comes as a surprise to a German that an American does not really want to know how you are doing when he asks you. There is only one possible answer, you are just doing great. Americans are equally surprised to hear about all the issues Germans seem to currently have.

Case in point was the Twitter stream. My German contacts were diligently taking note of all the things that were not supposed to happen. Trains being late, connections were lost, computers would not work, etc. etc. Americans in contrast were just having an outstanding meal, bought a best in class appliance, were looking at an award winning product, and found the new whizbang thing awesome.

I tend to think that this positive thinking is good for your health. And then again, how many of my friends ever had to visit a shrink?

In conclusion: I may be writing in your language, but I am thinking in mine.

Update: Wolfgang agrees:

Having worked in the U.S. for several years and working now back in Germany, however, on a multi-national team, I can confirm this observation literally on a daily basis.

Wolfgang has worked for both IBM and Microsoft and is now at SAP.

Comments

Being Irish, I am generally classed with the "upbeat depression" that comes with people from these lands (British are usually in the same boat).

The contrast between Germans/Central Europeans and Americans is stark, but as per these websites in the community, I find them quite complimentary. I think you need the upbeat approach, and I like the upbeat approach, but a dose of reality is always a good thing.

Keep doing what you are doing Volker. I very much respect it. On the other hand, I also very much respect Ed et al for what they do in their realm.

Paul Mooney, 2008-01-29

You hit the nail on the head. Your statement about the German mindset can easily be extended to Europeans I think. (The French for sure).

I know plenty of French expat kids (mine included) who have experienced this 1st hand. (moving back to a European school can take some adjusting).

Joel Demay, 2008-01-29

Hear, hear. As someone who’s lived and worked both sides of the pond, whilst I love many things about my American chums—not least the splendid hospitality and infectious enthusiasm—I really wish they wouldn’t take it so personally when I choose to be a cynical ole’ bastard :o)

The differing attitudes are often best represented at technical conferences. I still remember the shock on American presenters’ faces when the crowd at Lotusphere Berlin 2000 didn’t whoop during the keynote!

Ben Poole, 2008-01-29

@Volker:
It often comes as a surprise to a German that an American does not really want to know how you are doing when he asks you. There is only one possible answer, you are just doing great.

Are you saying a German casually saying "Wie geht's?" really wants to know wie es mir geht? Is a "negative" answer possible?

I would say "nein" on both accounts.

PS: I am neither German nor American, but have lived in both countries long enough to understand the Kleinigkeiten.

Yury Kats, 2008-01-29

First, thank you for posting that. As an upbeat American, the difference in perspective can be very hard to understand, figure out, or even handle (depending on the message and messenger).

That being said, I think it is fair to say that some of us over here can be very focused on what is wrong, and how to solve it. I get lots of crap for being a public mouthpiece for Lotus. I ripped Lotus a new one in both the Quickr and Connections Business Partner round tables. Suzanne Minassian told me "you never have anything good to say about us." How many people think the opposite of me? And I just posted about 20 issues with 8.0.1 Beta 2 and was pretty hard on the beta.

We all have our own ways of communicating. None of them are wrong. Maybe the way forward is for all of us to accept we all communicate differently :-)

John Head, 2008-01-29

I find you get these kinds of cultural differences already within Europe.

The largest difference, I would argue, is that Europeans, generally, have met many foreigners and have been repeatedly confronted with shocking cultural differences - and Americans get less contact with foreigners (for simple geographical reasons).

I don't think there are cultural aspects that are superior to others. Try explaining to a Spaniard that punctuality is important. Try telling a Finn that you should leave embarrassing silences in your conversations. All a matter of local values.

What is important, however, is to understand that even if you share a common language with the guy in front of you, you don't necessarily share the same values, or the same way of thinking. Ideally, you know the way they work and make the necessary adjustments. If a german is glaringly direct to me, he is rude if I have my "english" ears, but he is being honest and truthful if I have my "german" ears.

You have to go through another "cultural" translation in your head, just like Volker mentioned.

What grates me about the behaviour of some Americans I met is that I get the feeling that they assume that everyone, worldwide, shares the same values and way of expressing things.

There is an acceptance of differences, yes, but that tolerance often comes hand in hand with the assumption that everyone, when it comes down to it, is vying for the american way of life and haven't - quite - made it yet.


Andrew Magerman, 2008-01-29

Germans in contrast often focus on the deficiencies. The key word being often.

You know I have spent many years coming to Germany several times a year, and that I have experienced first-hand the critical commentary at events like DNUG. I read other blogs by Germans in the Note/Domino field and see positive, or at least neutral, as well as negative.

It is not always negative discourse. My original comment was to indicate that, with the exception of the "real" Volker showing up to Lotusphere, who is the guy I am friends with, "vowe" has been increasingly a drumbeat of negativity in the last many months. You have even admitted that it is your role, almost your mission, to do so. You have lost respect from some of your readers, executives in my organization in fact, people who have known you a long time and know that your writing here was not always this negative.

Part of what I love about my job is how much I get to learn about other cultures. I know that some segments of the American population are not as open-minded. On the other hand, none of us write weblogs for just one audience -- if you did, for example, you'd be writing auf Deutsch 100%.

Ed Brill, 2008-01-30

Lest we forget, that "America" and "Americans" is a very broad spectrum as well. Punctuality, overt politeness, "say what they want to hear" etc, have significantly varied importance depending if you are the North East, the South, the deep South, the Pacific North West, etc.

Glen Salmon, 2008-01-30

Volker, we had a conversation a little bit like this not long ago. I come from a family with a German Jewish heritage. In my family, no idea has any merit if it can't be argued. We argue everything. My wife's family is classic New England Protestant types. They don't do conflict at all. Ever. It has take us years to understand the difference.

Andrew Pollack, 2008-01-30

Language and cultural differences are always interesting to observe - "the stream of twits" - means a whole different thing in England - and maybe the UK.

twit: "insignificant, foolish or annoying person"

Sometimes you get those days where indeed you come across a "stream of twits".

Steve Castledine, 2008-01-30

@Yury Kats: Well, I am German and when I ask someone "Wie geht's" I really want to know about his wellbeing. If I expect to get some upbeat lie, then why should I bother asking?
When someone asks my, I also usually say how I really feel.
Funny thing on that, for a while there was a Turkish guy living in my dorm who has been raised in Germany and therefore spoke the language quite well. He was very upbeat, to a point where he was getting on my nerve. Well, everytime he met me in the hall, he asked me how I am. I could tell him every kind of answer, from 'Great, thanks' to 'I feel terrible and want to die', the answer would usually be something among the lines of 'Hey, that's great'.
When I realized that I started resenting his automatic questions.
Never told him though, as he was only staying a few weeks.

Daniel Haferkorn, 2008-01-30

@Yuri: Yes I really want to know whats up with the buddy if the answer is negative: I really care about the people they have a negative answer to "How are You today?" because I try to understand the situation and may be I have a advise for them.

Have a magical day.

cheers marco

Marco Foellmer, 2008-01-30

Ed, readership on vowe.net is up. Double digit growth, for 26 consecutive quarters. ;-) I understand that some people would prefer to hear the good news. I remember how some IBM executives were pissed about this shirt:

One of them happened to be your boss. Well, it didnotworkplace.

It's not my mission to focus on the bad Lotus news. I invite you to read all of my writing, including this. If you still maintain I am not painting a balanced picture, then we indeed have a problem.

Volker Weber, 2008-01-30

@Yuri:

I am Swiss and I find "Oh, I'm feeling awful today" to be a completely valid answer. The sun isn't always shining and there must be room for talking about it as well.

When I ask somebody how he/she is doing, I expect an honest answer so I can show my empathy in the following discussion, However, I have stopped being completely honest with people who hardly know me as I have observed them getting irritated if one answers with anything different from "Thanks, just fine".

BTW, I made an interesting observation between the US an Switzerland and wonder, if others can confirm this: when I asked an American how he/she's doing and got "I'm okay" as an answer, it meant that things aren't great, but still rather good and the present problems can be coped with. If you answer "I'm okay" in Switzerland, people are rather shocked and ask, what terrible thing has happened to you.

Philipp Sury, 2008-01-30

Linking to your articles on Heise and c't (which I sometimes muddle through or am provided translations) completely proves my point.

You are absolutely able to provide a balanced view. You just choose to expose that balance only to those who can read German. To those who don't, whose only interaction with your writing is vowe.net, your perspective on Lotus appears consistently negative, while you seem to have very good things to say about Sonos, Nokia phones, and other topics.

Ed Brill, 2008-01-30

Ed, I hear you. But I also hear other IBMers. This one came in yesterday:

Just wanted to once again extend a very sincere Thank You for at least posting the honest truth ... In any case - your site is excellent - I love it!!! ... Please keep up your excellent work.

Volker Weber, 2008-01-30

Ed, i think you are right.

Volker, even without this discussion i was suprised about your posting from Lotusphere. They sounded different from your "normal" comments on Lotus products - not so negative. Obviously this is a typical behavior of people at Lotusphere...

This is no request to change your style and content, it is just an observation. "Please keep up your excellent work".

BTW: Sonos plays crap MP3 and Nokia seems to have lost their good reputation by fooling how many german people...

Hubertus Amann, 2008-01-30

Hubertus, Sonos plays MP3, WMA, AAC (including Apple Lossless), FLAC, AIFF, OGG, Audible Format 4 (.AA), and WAV file formats. Yes, Nokia has fallen from grace for closing a factory in Germany. They still have some excellent devices.

Volker Weber, 2008-01-30

it's funny that it seems hard for people to mix up both sides of the story: think positive as long as the overall balance of the part of life you're looking on is positive. critizise if there's something to - and change it if you can.
and keep smiling about the people that hardly can follow your continously changing behaviour. ;)

Steffen Pelz, 2008-01-30

I would think that what Ed and other perceive as negative is pretty much what Volker has described.

We continental europeans have a certain attitude to be quite challenging to people from the US (and partly UK as well) as we tend to say clearly when we have expected more. This is not negative as such, but can be perceived so - but maybe is a part of our Klingon dialect :-)

I personally like much more to be challenged instead of receiving feedback that is constantly over-euphoric (with terrific, outstanding and even 'paramount' as attributes). But YMMV...

Aside, all c't articles from Volker that I remember have been well balanced for the target audience, here - with quite a few people with stronger exposure to IBM/Lotus following - I enjoy the more pointed articles that challenge - and the colourful debates that follow.

Armin Auth, 2008-01-31

I refer to "Bambi" (yes), from Walt Disney:

If you can't say something nice... don't say nothing at all.

Thomas Jungbluth, 2008-02-01

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