The BBC reports on some academic research about British v German mores:

[A German professor] found (or verified) that Germans really don't do small talk, those little phrases so familiar to the British about the weather or a person's general well-being, but which she describes as "empty verbiage".

There is no word in German for "small talk" In academic language, this is "phatic" conversation - it's not meant to convey hard information but to perform some social function, such as making people feel good.

The German language doesn't even have an expression for "small talk", she says. It is so alien that in the German translation of A Bear called Paddington - Paddington unser kleiner Baer - it was omitted.

The result is that British people sometimes find Germans cold and rude, and Germans sometimes find the British inefficient and disingenuous. Having a lot of experience with both British and Germanic people, I'll volunteer some thoughts on this. It can be annoying to navigate through the English obfuscations but they tend to be interesting, subtle, and stylish with their use of language. Germans can overly factual but they're usually pretty clear. I remember a German friend, in Mexico, giving me the pitch for his language. He explained that it may look difficult and forbidding, but it's also consistent and predictable: "Once you know the rules, there is no possibility of misunderstanding."

The virtues of each approach are subjective, debatable, and dependent on context. And the direct/indirect binary is not really that helpful; as with my German friend above, the direct comment often points to a wealth of underlying beliefs, and the patterns of indirection, from the English, can reveal more than they might have intended. Similarly, English people are capable of being just as rude as Germans--and sometimes even icier, when you suspect that they're condescending as well as cutting. I would also add that being direct is not the same thing as being honest. Anecdotally, the most dishonest person I ever knew was Dutch, and the most sincere person (who I hope to know forever, partly for that reason) is English.
 



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