Monday, 17 December 2012

Germany's Love-Hate Relationship With Technology

I've often said it - and it's true: Germany is a funny country. Take for example people's attitude towards technology.

On the one hand you wouldn't find a country where people are more in love with technology than Germany. The latest models/brands/make/ USP's of any car are bandied about on a regular basis. Oh - you don't know the difference between a Bosch electric drill and a cheap one from Aldi?? Pah! Minute details like tyre grip speed, or GPS systems' benefits are discussed as if they were essential to people's daily lives.

And don't even mention the most recent iphone model. The prevalence of those sort of topics is one of the biggest drawbacks of living in Germany. So you'd rightly assume that this is a society eagerly embracing digital technology as well, right?

Far from it! Here, you can still score intellectual brownie points if you say things like "The Internet is the future! All that print stuff is doomed." People will nod, and gaze impressedly, calling you a "guru". Much as they love their "ei-fohn", they don't really find much use for it, as communication is an underdeveloped skill in this country. For more details on this see:

Consequently, people are very very suspicious of social media usage.(amongst the EU-5 countries, Germany has the lowest rate of social media usage*) Their main concern is internet security - the country is awash with legislation protecting internet users. The overwhelming majority of social media users do so under an assumed name. (Even on Facebook, which specifies you have to use your actual name.) Bizarrely, the trend is to go for "sweet" childish names (Krümel, Flocke, Mausi etc.). So the ease and comfort with which they use cars, electric drills, and other straightforward tools does not translate into "The Internet" which is still very much perceived as a threatening, intransparent medium of  "anonymous technology".

They are also strangely ignorant and uninformed about any digital progress.  Ask a German whether they've ever heard of, say, Pinterest, Prezi, or what a Personal Cloud is - and the answer will be a resounding: "DUH??"  How do I know that? Because I asked them.

Having also done my own research into WHY people are so suspicious of the Internet and its various services (e-commerce, social media etc.) the answers were as follows:

- fear of one's private sphere being invaded
- being totally transparent
- opening oneself up to unwanted commercial attention

Makes you wonder why Germany is the second largest market for online dating then. As I say, Gemany is a funny country.


Thursday, 6 December 2012

Winter Coats

So I'm showing this photo of the Christmas Market to an English friend. "Oh, it looks so cold", she says. I go "Duh? How can you see cold?" "Well, they're all wearing coats and hats!" - Ahhh, yes - so they are.

Germany and France are very much alike in winter: Everybody wears the full Monty: Wintercoats, boots, gloves, bobble hats, scarves (of which more later). Accessorize to the hilts! Even if it isn't very cold, it's an opportunity to show off your newly bought winter wardrobe.

And now picture the scene in Britain - how different it looks. People very rarely wear any form of coat. Instead of boots they wear wellies. I'm always flabbergasted when I hear "Ohh it's snowing, get those wellies out!" For what could be more terrible than wellies in the snow? They're slippery and cold. (And look awful, especially the novelty ones with patterns...)

But this isn't about what I like in fashion - it's intercultural insights we're after. And I think that in Britain, people really refuse to be blackmailed by the weather. They wear what is there, and don't compromise. Just think of the eponymous Midland girls in their micro-minis and high-heeled sandals on a Friday night. And in Edinburgh I once saw a man wearing flip-flops even though we had 3 inches of snow on the ground. I also noticed threre is quite an ageist attitude to the cold in Britain - wrapping up warm is for oldies.  Nothing could be less true here on the continent - young women wear the chicest winter outfits which would keep them warm even in -20 degrees.

Britain's attitude is much more utilititarian - if it is too cold to go out in a t-shirt, they just put a fleece jacket on top. I can always spot an English tourist here in Munich as they're the only ones to wear fleeces. And trainers. And never a scarf. ( I know I said I'd come back to the scarf topic but I think it's actually a whole blog post in itself....)