Tuesday, 21 February 2012

No Talking, Please! Germans on Twitter

I've written about the differences in intercultural social media usage before (interculturalmusings.blogspot.com/2011/09/intercultural-differences-in-social.html) but a recent news headline that Twitter is growing exponentially in Germany leads me to dwell on the subject a bit more.

So after years and years of saying "Twitter - clearly overrated" and "That won't last" (their favourite standard put-downs to any new development) they've finally tagged onto the (somewhat spurious) idea that being on Twitter gives you social kudos, makes your "trändy", and lets you show off amongst your peer group.

I've been observing German twitterers for quite some time now - and my verdict is stark: They just don't know to to deal with Social Media. They excell at Foursquare, they try any trick in the book to up their Klout score, they like having masses of followers (and never mind that they're all trade related or want to sell an e-book). It's numbers and facts that count in Germany. My Klout score is..., I ousted xx as mayor... I bought a new iphoen XS2YZ -that's the Social Media currency that Gemans understand.

What they fundamentally do not see and get is the obvious (another characteristic of Germans in my experience - not seeing the wood for the trees), namely that Social Media is about communication.

Communication/conversation is a dark hole in German culture. For Germans, talking first and foremost means conveying information. And from that starting point, it isn't very far to "showing off with information which I 've got and you haven't". Conversation as a bonding agent in any form of interpersonal encounter is literally a non-starter in Germany. (If you've ever been to an awkward German office party where people have no problem with facing one another without saying a word for, oooh half an hour, you'll kow what I mean.)

Even the word "Konversation" has an entirely negative connotation in German, meaning "talking for the sake of it, not genuine". Talking, exchanging ideas, witty, light-hearted conversation is just simply not their forte.

At the moment, all kinds of articles on "The Purpose of Twitter", "Twitter to Up your Career Prospects", "Should Politicians be on Twitter" etc. abound - but the simple insight that Social Media means linking up to people conversationally, I fear, will for ever escape Germans.

For more information on the Art of Conversation, have a look at my book: Animated Conversations. Pfaffenweiler 1992.


  1. That's actually quite close to my own expereince when I first arrived in DE. I come from a culture where everybody talks...constantly. My first day as a trainee I asked lots of questions and tried to make a good impression, but all my efforts were met with this stony silence. Well, maybe people were just puzzled and thought why does she talk so much :> I got used to it all in the end, and now I'm probably as taciturn as the Germans. (Not true).

  2. > Even the word "Konversation" has an entirely negative connotation in German, meaning "talking for the sake of it, not genuine".

    That's wrong, it doesn't have that meaning at all. Even if it did, Konversation is a relatively uncommon, high-brow word for what one would usually call Gespräch or Unterhaltung.

  3. Dear Anonymous, you seem to have fallen in love with my post, sending in comment after comment. Sadly, you seem to be a bit of a coward, not daring to let us know who you are. I think we can guess, though. As you are obviously a trifle bored, here are 2 suggestions: A. Read my book on Coversation. You will benefit enormously! B. Get an English language primer and start learning English, as your knowledge of that language is deplorably bad. Good luck with your endeavours!