The Germans, Part XI : The “Sachlichkeit”

Kennt ihr „How to be an alien?“ Wir hatten die Aufgabe, einen ähnlich satiristischen Text über den deutsch-französischen Kontext zu schreiben.

In this episode we will learn:

  • how Germans behave in a traffic jam,
  • how they celebrate not being at work (“Feierabend”, literally: celebration evening) and

  • even discover a secret wish of a German woman.

Germans are known for being “sachlich”. What does this mean? The idea is simple: they are able to stay neutral, behaving in a rational way, in spite of circumstances that may provoke or even threaten.

Yet what does this look like in real life? Let’s look at an example: the just-normal worker Jams. (By the way, how did he come to his name? The nurse couldn’t speak english too well, that’s why she forgot to write the E … and there is no way of correcting an error made by german bureaucracy, don’t even try.)

So, Jams leaves home at 7.45 – quite a normal time – in his car, as always he is late. And on his 30 km-drive, at the last quarter he is blocked by a typical traffic jam. Perfect circumstances to stay sachlich, one might think … not exactly, or as Germans would put it, Fehlanzeige. Jams starts to honk the horn, opens his window, starts to yell words we are not willing to translate at this point, …. in short: he’s furious. So here we have the big exception of German Sachlichkeit : not in a traffic jam, and also similarly: at red lights, being overtaken or simply being bored by the radio’s music.

8.30, Jams arrives. However his boss, Mr. Butter, is already awaiting him in his office. “Mister Baker”, he yells at him and continues in a perfectly calm way, “Second Official Warning: If you continue like this, you will have to look for another job.” Oh yes, I will, Jams thought, didn’t the competition … “I’m so sorry”, Jams said in a really neutral way, “but I was stuck in a traffic jam!” – “Peanuts”, remarked Mr. Butter, whose full name is by the way Mr. Peanut Butter, “you’ll just have to leave earlier …” Here Jams is about to leave his level of neutrality: “But …” – “Thank you for your understanding”, the boss interrupts and leaves the room.

18.15, Jams returns home, after having mastered just another normal traffic jam. “Hi Jams”, he is met by his wife’s greeting. He passes by straight to the fridge, helps himself to a beer and sits down before turning on television. His wife sympathetically takes her seats besides him. “Work was hard again?”, she asked, hoping for just a bit of normal conversation. Not a muscle in the face of Jams twitches. She tries again: “How is it going at work?” Mr. Baker stays neutral, but after her third try, he explodes: “Shut up! I’m watchin’ television!”

That’s where his wife thought: if only he were a bit more sachlich. There is no such thing, my dear

Next episode will be: The Germans, Part XII : Communication is a lifestyle. Stay tuned!

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