Cross-Culture Communication

One advantage to being in Germany, as opposed to countries like Spain and France, is that so many people here know English I can often carry conversations with them without hindrance of not knowing how to describe something. All of my co-workers’ language skills are exemplary, so I can always understand the words that they are saying. Even when I am in situations where the person I am trying to communicate with doesn’t really English all too well, like at the local grocery store on the corner of where I work. I can usually get away by just pointing at what I want to purchase and then looking at the cash register to see how much I owe. However, this is not a question on if I can understand the words coming out of the German people that I interact with mouths, but rather do I understand the subtly of their body language or cues. Before the end of the semester, Steph took us through a PowerPoint of the different cultural aspects that we should expect when coming to Berlin as first-time travelers. One of the slides was the high vs. low context communication cultures. High context cultures require communication beyond just words, like with body signals or context within the situation, while low context communication on the other hand, is more straight forward, mean what you say sort of thing. Both the United States and Germany are on the low context end of the communication context scale, so they are relatively similar; however, Germany is slightly less low context (higher context) than the United States, so there is some room for difference in interpretation. This means that there are subtleties that I have to pick up on more than I have to when I am working in the United States. Over the past seven weeks, I have started to pick up on some of these cues while at work that helps me better understand what my manager and co-workers are to trying to communicate to me, though I would still say that there is room for improvement. One of the major ones that I have noticed is that when I am presenting a project that I have completed, my one German co-worker will start to fiddle in his chair. This to me indicates that it is time to wrap it up because he is nervous about being late to another meeting that he has to hop on. One thing I have noticed here is that German people absolutely hate being late to things, so the uncomfortableness that I bring my co-worker when I start to push into his other requirements makes me know that it is time to wrap up my presentation. Other than the first time this happened, I wouldn’t say there have been too many miscommunication issues because of the difference in communication contexts between the two cultures. Most of my miscommunication happens when I do a project one way and my manager, who has a ton more experience in the industry than I do, wants it done a different way. Luckily the difference in context isn’t an incredibly difficult mountain to climb.

This past week was certainly interesting, as I was able to see a different side of Berlin culture that I haven’t been able to see before. On Saturday night, I went to a battle of the bands type concert in this small venue. It was really cool because it was all punk rock bands, something that I would think I would be a fan of, being that my preferred taste in music has never once steered even remotely close to this genre. The singing was all in German (obviously), but the sound was still there, and I liked it a lot. It kind of fit the stereotype that I had in my head before coming to Berlin of how many Berliners are hardcore and like their music the same way. I saw this as a reminiscent of East Berlin youth counterculture continuing into the modern capitalist era. There were young people there, but definitely still people that would have been children in the 1970-80’s, so it felt like this kind of music is a way for the generations to connect with each other. Similar to how music is in the United States, as I connected with my dad when I was younger over Bruce Springsteen songs. I also went to the lake beach on Sunday, where I saw a child have to be airlifted away in a EMS helicopter because he hit his head on something. I do hope he’s okay, but I guess I will never figure out what happened to him.

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