How Learning German Can Change Your Life: Part 2

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Assertiveness, old German ladies, and "gut."

how German change your life part 2 assertiveness old German ladies gut

Do you hail from the middle of the country? Nothing kicks the Midwest out of you like German, as Laura F. wrote in response to last week's post:

Growing up in the Midwest, one of the principles I absorbed was that it is terrible to hurt other people's feelings. In my early adulthood, I was really too agreeable for my own good. In Germany, living in their culture and using their language, I learned to be more assertive. It was in German that I first told people things like, "No, I'm not going to give you money," or "Leave me alone."

These are incredibly valuable lessons, especially for women who were not taught to make a fuss when they need to make a fuss. It's like those boundaries are simply clearer and they come through the German culture.

I once witnessed a woman put a very rude man in his place and she did it just like a German--calmly, rationally, specifically, and completely. He was so rude he even said "du" to her, even though they were strangers to one another, and she looked him straight in the eye and said:

"Mich dürfen Sie siezen." (You must say "Sie" to me.)

It was epic. You can learn a lot from watching this kind of interaction!

This applies to many situations, like people smoking in train stations where they aren't allowed to smoke. A passenger will actually say "Hey, you're not allowed to smoke here." And usually the smoker will move. In the US, you'd probably get the finger, a swear word, or worse. Can you imagine that smoker actually moving? To the designated smoking area? It's incredible.

Directness can change your dealing with a lot of other people. Laura's discovery of being direct was obviously helpful for her in everyday situations, but, it turns out, it helped her at work, too.

I also learned to have a thick skin about feedback at work (or feedback from old ladies who notice that you are on the wrong part of the sidewalk.)

Oh yes, the old German ladies.

Deal with the old German ladies more effectively.

Yes. Can you imagine stopping to admire a shop window and a little old lady who needs to dispense her daily dose of disapproval tells you you're on the wrong part of the widewalk?! Geesh!

This is only one in a string of stories people will tell you about old ladies in German cities in particular. A friend of mine in Köln was handed a dose of disapproval when she needed room on the bus for her child's stroller. Yes, she needed room, and instead of helping her, the old ladies clicked their tongues in disapproval.

Wie, bitte? Yes. These are the same women who helped rebuild their country, their churches, their schools quite literally brick-by-brick after WWII. Go figure.

I don't know what it is with the old ladies in Germany--so many of them pushed their Einkaufswagen into my heels in the check-out line that I learned techniques to avoid it. (I was not as assertive then as Laura was. Keine Sorgen, I've made up for it since.) One old lady tried to budge in front of me at a customer service counter when I was obviously the first person in line. Another, middle-aged woman smiled and indicated that I had been first in line and looked at me knowingly. It was like a secret code. Against the pushy old lady.

You need a thick skin to deal with these old ladies. Grow one: learn German.

 "Gut" actually means good. As in good.

Laura explains:

In line with what you said about Extreme Fatigue, it also made me think about the true value of words. In job performance reviews, "kompetent" was considered high praise. If someone at an American company describes an employee as merely "competent" with no modifiers, it's like saying, "Well, he can dress himself..." For it to be a compliment, he has to "outstandingly competent" or something. In America, "good" = "meh", in Germany it really means good.

Do you remember when you were a kid and your teacher wrote "Good!" on your paper? (At least, I hope you do. If not, imagine it.) You might have thought "Hey, I did a good job!" That feels really good inside. You might feel content, you might have really pleasant feelings.

That's good.

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Read all the articles in the series "How Learning German Can Change Your Life" by clicking on the tag "German Changed My Life" (below).

Sie sind dran! Your turn!

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