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Small Talk is not German

Autor(en): Hassan, Karema am Mittwoch, 11. Oktober 2017

Small Talk is not a German thing. Discover ideas why small talk is not a part of German conversation from the experiences of a Canadian.

As a Canadian living in Germany it has been quite the culture shock adjusting to the German “keinen small talk erlaubt” mentality. It is so extreme that the German language doesn’t even have an own expression for “small talk”. It has been a natural habit to say hallo to co-workers in the morning, followed by a how are you, what did you do on the weekend but in Germany it starts and ends with a “hallo”, half smile and going about your business. To non-Germans it can be interpreted as rude and awkward moments of silence but Germans are simply not used to small talk.

Komm zum Punkt (Get to the point)

I've observed that Germans are direct and just want to get to the point of the matter. There must be some unspoken German rule that there is only serious talk or no talk allowed. Germans mean what they say and their directness is infamous. Sometimes, I've been pleasantly surprised when co-workers break out of their “keinen small talk zone” and ask me “wie geht es dir?” It is evident there exists a separation that small talk is not part of of your job, and you do not do it on the clock in Germany. Nevertheless, a “wie geht es dir” is a baby step towards almost small talk and deserves an applause.

Small Talk is waste of time

Germans simply realize that bluntness and small talk really don’t go well together. Seeing this is a nation of efficiency and punctuality, they prefer direct, effective communication and small talk produces inefficiency and wastes time. Perhaps, most Germans would also admit their language is too serious and precise and it is not in the code of behavior for idle chit chat. This may explain why small talk is not a German thing and does not have a Zeit.

German Style

The closest thing to the German style of small talk would be initiating a conversation with a complaint. You could start by striking up a conversation with a stranger at a bus stop by complaining about the bus always being late. Germans like to talk for a reason. However, somehow their complaining comes across as deep, honest, intellectual and sophisticated conversation. In comparison, English small talk can be perceived as shallow, superficial, and fake. The content of English small talk is often predictable – weather, the latest sports game, or your next vacation. Germans, on the other hand, approach talking from an emphasis of content and honesty.

Es funkioniert (It functions)

The sooner non-Germans realize that Germans have functioned without small talk defining their society, the quicker they can enjoy this cultural difference. It took me awhile to stop feeling like “fällt mit der Tür ins Haus” whenever I had experiences visiting the KVR, bank or supermarket and people not asking me how my day is going. I eventually realized it is not impersonal or unfriendly, it is simply effective and the German way. I have learned to appreciate the lack of small talk because I would rather be surprised by someone willing to complain to me rather than being annoyed by another comment about the weather.

Coconuts and peaches

Recently, I heard the following quote from a German: Germans are like coconuts and Americans are like peaches. Coconuts being hard on the outside but soft on the inside and peaches being soft on the outside and hard on the inside. Germans may look hard, but once you crack through their rough exterior, you will discover genuine, meaningful discussion and that they indeed have feelings.

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