lessons from the Germans

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Travelling is no doubt the greatest teacher, as long as one is willing to observe and learn. While travelling through Deutchland, I saw many characteristics about the Germans which I felt are worth emulating. My inferences may be based on limited experiences and may not be accurate. They are just some of my thoughts, and are in no way comprehensive. They focus mainly on the positive points, and are based on my visits to Dusseldorf, a city in the north-western part of Germany. Many of the points are applicable to many other countries too, including our own, and I don’t mean to compare too much.

To start with, the sense of discipline of the Germans is their most prominent characteristic. This can be seen for example while driving on the roads. If you drive from a neighbouring country like Belgium and enter Germany, you can see a marked difference in the way the rules are followed. This discipline extends to various aspects of their life. Their sense of health-conciousness is very impressive. It is uncommon to see people overweight; people of all ages are generally in good shape. They are careful about their eating habits and watch what they eat. They generally eat a good breakfast and lunch, and have a very light dinner – sometimes just a little bread.

Their respect for other people’s time is uncanny. I think the height of this was when one day, a friend was to pick me up along with some others from my room at 22:00 to go to some party, he called me at 21:45 to tell me he would be 10 minutes late.

There are no set conventions, no matters of prestige and status to uphold. Even the richest people don’t hesitate to to take out their own trash, or ride a bicycle if they feel it more convinient than a car. Even when they visit someones home, they help the host clean up after dinner or take something like groceries for the host along with them. There are a lot of things I have learnt to appreciate about India which I just used to take for granted earlier, and our great sense of hospitability is one of them. But this duty of the guest to not impose on the host esp. for long two or three day visits was a real eye-opener. I have seen this being done here too but only limited to close family-friends.

They have a great sense of pride and possessiveness for their own language, city, and country. An amazing incident was when I saw a lady who was sitting in a bus, got up and cleaned a dirty spot on the seat next to hers when she noticed it. On the other hand, there are always exceptions… for instance some unused bus or train terminals are dirty with broken bottles and at times, even the stench of urine. But the ratio of civic minded people far exceeds these ‘exceptional’ people – mostly drunkards since beer is available cheaper than water.

They seem to be more or less self-content, not craving for more and more in life… happy with whatever they have. I wouldnt really go as far as to say they are all happy people, judging by the silent morose expressions I used to see on their faces in the trams, on the way back to my hotel room in the evenings.

They have a lot of value for other people’s ‘personal space’. For example, while I was working there, anyone who came to talk to me usually conciously made sure they were facing away from my monitor when they approached me, so
that it was made clear to me that it didnt matter to them if I had some mails open or the Developer studio at that point in time. And they would first ask me if they could interrupt, and then go on to start talking.

They have a lot of respect for even total strangers; while commuting, they are very much aware of people around them. For example, even in places like shopping malls they usually hold on to the door for a second more after they
entered so that it wouldnt close in the face of the person coming behind them.

When a tram is about to leave from a station, and they see some person running to catch it from a distance, I have often observed someone press the button to open the door, even though they dont intend to board the tram… its just that
they’re so observant and care about others.

They are not workaholics and value their life too much to waste late evenings in the office. At the same time, their effectiveness at work during work hours is truly inspiring. The most ideal person I know came in the morning around 8:30 AM, and finished so many tasks by 6 PM that it would have taken any average person two days to finish the same number of tasks! They dont waste too much time for at coffeebreaks, etc. After work, their life begins, and different people have different hobbies which they do regularly more than just an occasional past time. One friend was a member of a rock band and composed and played music and had a well established garage studio! I had the priviledge of being invited to one of his rehearsals, and he gave me a CD that he had made of his bands latest album. People are not very addicted to television.

Travelling is a popular hobby, and they love to see the world ‘as it is’. I judge this based on the observation that they travel with minimum baggage, sometimes just a rucksack, and are they are more likely to go around by walk or whatever local public transport available than in a rented car – this way they get a real ‘feel’ of the place than just see the place. They generally take atleast two really long vacations a year, to any of the neighbouring European countries, the more adventurous go further visiting Asia and America too.

I think the aspect I liked the most about Germany was the greenery coexisting with the concrete jungle. They have a high regard for the environment and there are many parks where one can walk endlessly amidst nature, right in the middle of the city.

I think a lot of civic amenties could easily be implemented here without much cost, the simplest one being maps of the city put up at various places. Or seperate bins for recycling and a good process in place.

Last but not the least, when I visited a doctor there, I had an opportunity to witness a lot of beautiful ideas. While I was waiting at the opthamologist center, there was a section in the waiting room just for kids. There was a playpen with a lot of toys, paper and crayons, comic books, etc. There were a lot of posters on the wall having cartoons about eyes and the eye-doctor as seen from kids’ point of view. There was one interesting cartoon in which a kid’s vision has gotten a bit blurry, and his mom gets him to the eye-doctor, and the kid talks about how nervous he is. Then the process that the kid goes through at the hospital is clearly explained from a kid’s perspective, and at the end he is seen smiling happily having made a the eye-doctor as his new friend.

Incidentally, as I was sitting in the waiting room, I heard the receptionist calling for a Harmuth again and again… was he deaf or what he didnt seem to hear though she called so many times. Names like Andreas, Harmuth, Stefan, etc are very common in Germany. If you were to go to a crowded market and make an announcement for a Harmuth, there would be a long queue at the announcement center. When my mind drifted back to the waiting room, this particular Harmuthad still not appeared. Maybe he had gone home tired of the indefinite waiting. Since I had nothing else to do I started thinking … Herr is ‘Mr.’ in German, and my last name was Mutt and then it flashed… they might be calling me Herr. Mutt (Mr. Mutt) since my full name is Sanjay Mysore Mutt (I had always called myself Sanjay M all my life till I went abroad and now I was usually confused about which to give for which part of the name) And it did turn out to be me she was looking for, and she asked me something in German which under the circumstances might have been something like where the %$%@# were you all this time? But luckily the doctor could speak English.

One nice thing about the waiting room was that every time a new patient joined the waiting room, h
e would greet everyone else as soon as he entered, and others would greet him back. Ocassionally this seemed to be just for formality’s sake, when the greeting would end up being just an incoherent grunt, but apart from that, it was cheerful most of the time.

Germany is not just an ‘advanced’ country, it is continuosly advancing. On every visit to the city, one can see something new, some new models of trams, or some new touch-sensitive interactive train reservation terminal replacing the earlier mouse wheel and button based interactive train reservation terminal.

5 Responses to “lessons from the Germans”

  1. bellur ramakrishna Says:

    sanjay, mane mundhe board haakirodhu nodidhini:
    MARKETING PEOPLE AND SALES PERSONS DO NOT DISTURB antha. illoo barakke shuru maadbitraa guru ivru? karmakanda!

  2. msanjay Says:

    adh bari spam ashte, maths puzzle haakirodrinda bari yavaaglo ond barthave, ildidre innu saviraaru bandirthaidvu!

  3. bellur ramakrishna Says:

    yes, i knew it was spam and was expecting you to delete it….but sumne thamashege comment maad-dhe.

  4. Andreas Harmuth Says:

    Hi Sanjay,

    I found your article while researching my name on the web. Nice read, I must say!
    Just a quick note on the name “Harmuth”: it’s my last name and quite rare (maybe 5 families in Duesseldorf), but there is a similar first name: “Hartmut”. But my first name is quite common, that’s true.
    Regards from Germany,


  5. msanjay Says:

    Guten Tag Andreas! 🙂 Great to hear from you, thanks – glad you liked it. Well I’d come across quite a few Harmuths (never Hartmut) in emails etc so I’d generalised it to be a common name… so you’re a rare species then! 8) Vielen Danke for dropping by!

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