Top Ten Situations Where The American and The German/Austrian Ideas of Moral Clash

Martin_Canine
There are many, many blogs, YouTube channels and articles about the culture shock American expats have to face when they come to a German speaking country. That over here you have to pay cash, that stores are closed on sundays and that everyone is very direct can always be found on every single list about the cultural differences. And yes, this is something that takes time to get used to - same goes for the other way around, when Austrians and Germans come to the US.
But an issue that almost all of the texts and videos avoid, maybe because it would soon turn into a pretty heated debate instead of a funny little traveling story, is that when you live longer in any foreign country, you will notice sooner or later that the cultures may clash in some rather fundamental beliefs, views and morals that can be very challenging to cope with, if you have learned to accept yours as social norm - no matter if it’s from an American or German/Austrian point of view.

I will try to explain how this differences come to be. This should not be misinterpreted as a justification or me teaming up with either side. I am not saying that any of the two approaches are always better than the others, as many of them actually do apply to the people that live in the respective country as a result of having developed differently. In some instances, I’d rather go for either of the two cultures, but it’s all debatable and I will stay neutral on this list.

The Top Ten

1 When talking about politics When talking about politics

When the election season starts in the USA, you can see many people devotedly advertising their preferred candidate, including international celebrities who support their party on-stage and with money. In Germany and Austria pretty much everyone keeps their mouths shut when it comes to their party affiliation, and when being asked, they often brush you off with “that’s none of your business”. Celebrities also refuse to take part in political talk, and many of them have repeatedly stated that while their songs have a clear message, they won’t support a particular party.

This significant difference most likely lies in the range of the parties available for elections. The USA is essentially torn between two opposite approaches: the left wing Democrats and the right wing Republicans. Associating with them is rooted in fundamental beliefs, and people are usually registered as voters. But in both Germany and Austria, there are many, many political parties, only very few of ...more - Martin_Canine

2 When being confronted with blackface When being confronted with blackface

Probably the internationally most famous incident where this happened is when Kim Kardashian was paid by Austrian T.V. personality Richard Lugner to the Opernball and ran away/fled. This is an event the entire nation of Austria annually observes, and Lugner’s dates have been a crucial part for years. He is known for his embarrassing remarks and his horrible English and has said more than one memorable quote. But most Austrians got wrong why Kardashian fled. Actually, it wasn’t because of Lugner, but because Austrian comedian Chris Stephan showed up, dressed as Kanye West, in full blackface. It may come as a surprise, but this was NOT meant to be shocking. It was simply meant to be a parody of West. If Victoria Beckham would have shown up to the ball, he’d probably have come dressed as David Beckham - or maybe even the other way around.

The international press wrote about racist humor, but the few Austrian articles that actually understood what the issue was about this ...more - Martin_Canine

3 At sex ed At sex ed

It might take some time for this to be approved. - Martin_Canine

If an American living over here has children and has to bring them to a German or Austrian school they might have two issues with sexual education. Firstly, at how young the sex ed class starts - which is usually before the age of 10. People over here have the feeling that the earlier kids start learning about this topic the better they are prepared. Which leads to the second issue: German sex ed goes further into detail than American one. The students are allowed to ask all sorts of questions and they are accurately answered - topics include safe sex, different kinds of sexualities, self exploration, positions, relationships, STDs, and more. Teachers want the students to learn a responsible and mature handling of sex, not to see it as something to be ashamed of nor as something to take lightly. Sex and nudity is treated very much naturally over here, and instead of making the kids feel dirty and avoiding the topic, they want them to be fully prepared before their first time - and it ...more - Martin_Canine

4 When buying alcohol When buying alcohol

There is no such thing as a liquor store over here. Alcoholic beverages can be bought in every supermarket or discount score. Sometimes they have an individual section in the market, sometimes they are right next to the sodas, juices and lemonades. Depending on the region you live in, some of these might be legal to buy and consume at age 16. This might be very uncomfortable for some Americans, as they are pretty much treated like every other drink. How this came to be I don’t know, I guess it’s always been like this and was never question, maybe it’s part of the German/Austrian approach not to avoid confrontation with things the children aren’t old enough for yet and instead talk to their kids about it. I never felt the urge to drink myself, so I was never really interested in it, so I don’t know. - Martin_Canine

I believe it has something to do with medieval history. In those times, rivers were used as dumping grounds for all sorts of waste, so alcoholic beverages were often safer to consume than water. - PetSounds

5 On TV and on the radio On TV and on the radio

While in the United States, you can turn on the T.V. and expect all curse words and sexual stuff toned down, be prepared to see full frontal nudity and sex on T.V. in German speaking territories, also during daytime (most channels watched in Austria are German, a couple are Austrian, but the same applies to them). During the day, movies and shows rated suitable for all ages or 6 and up are allowed to air. Movies rated 12 and up may air at 20:00 or later, movies rated 16 and up at 22:00 and movies rated 18 and up at 23:00. But sex and dirty talk alone will barely get a movie to be rated anything higher than 12 (American Pie, Borat, Blue Valentine,... are all rated 12 over here). Nudity is often not even a reason for any restriction at all. The only exception are talk shows and sometimes reality shows that do slightly censor raunchy stuff, but the only reason they do that is as a gimmick because the US shows do that as well, and they want to give you that same feeling.

That ...more - Martin_Canine

6 When talking about patriotism When talking about patriotism

This one heavily varies between Germany and Austria. It has something with post-war guilt and that Germany immediately took responsibility with what happened, while Austrians couldn’t have cared less about their participation in the Third Reich until the late 80s/early 90s, and viewed themselves as victims (which is, obviously, not true). A large amount of Germans hate patriotism, no matter which country it originates from. Patriotism means thinking one’s country is great, and that can quickly lead to thinking one’s country is better than the others, and we know from history where that ends. That’s what many Germans felt for decades now, and many still do. They also dislike patriotic movies from other countries, which is a point I will address later on. In Austria it’s quite the opposite. If you criticize anything about Austria, especially when Austrian yourself, you have people of all ages, political views and lifestyle against you. Also this is rooted in history, but ...more - Martin_Canine

7 In teenage magazines In teenage magazines

This one goes hand in hand with sex ed.
You want to buy your kid a teen magazine, with gossip and interviews of the current celebrities, maybe also want to get it to know some German stars. You ask the seller what he’d suggest, and in 9 out of 10 cases he’ll answer with “Bravo”. This magazine has been around since the 1950s and generations of teens grew up with it. In its first two decades, it was something for the rebellious youth, but in the meantime it’s a cult classic magazine that many parents are more than happy to buy their kids. At first, you won’t suspect anything: there are rumors about Taylor Swift’s new album (yes, international celebrities are also covered), a report on YouTube star Bibi H.’s pregnancy and a page about a day in the life of rapper Bushido (these examples are made up, but that’s the kind of topics to expect). But then, when you’re halfway through the magazine, you come to a section called “Dr. Sommer”, from which two naked ...more - Martin_Canine

8 When watching a war movie When watching a war movie

While Americans often praise war movies are emotional and the protagonists as heartbreakingly heroic, going through hell for doing the right thing, both Germans and Austrians hate when war movies don’t criticize their protagonists. To them, soldiers are killers, and killing is never something to be proud of. It may be necessary to prevent even more damage, but is not something to be seen as heroic in and of itself. “American Sniper”, a movie nominated for several Academy Awards, was not unlikely the most panned movie of the 2010s decade over here for exactly this reason. War movies that were praised over here include “Platoon”, “Letters From Iwo Jima”, “Paths of Glory”, and retrospectively, “All Quiet on the Western Front”, which is usually watched in school classes to teach that war is terrible, that we’re all the same in the end, and that something like this should never happen again. Of course, much of this comes from the countries’ past. A glorification ...more - Martin_Canine

9 When talking about guns When talking about guns

This one is easy. In the USA, the right to have guns for self defense is written in the constitution. It is understandable that when guns are all around and everywhere, you’d feel scared not having one yourself. In Germany and Austria, owning guns as a regular citizen is illegal. Nobody has them, so there’s no reason to have one yourself for self defense. Now, it is near impossible to think into the other nation’s shoes.
That’s why we get these two arguments (and I witnessed those several times):
German/Austrian: “Without guns, there would be no gun violence”.
American: “But when someone is about to point THEIR gun at you, you would want one as well to shoot the killer.”
Both are absolutely right, but they were made for two different societies, one in which guns are the exception, and one in which they are part of everyday life. It doesn’t help that whenever the topic of guns is on the German media, it is ALWAYS about shootings in the USA. This lead to a ...more - Martin_Canine

10 When it turns out an artist committed a serious crime When it turns out an artist committed a serious crime

I witnessed this one very often on the internet (more often than it should be the case), as I follow and befruend both Germans and Americans online. An artist (musician, actor, director, producer,...) is accused of a crime so horrible that it makes your body shiver. It’s clear this person is an evil individual and needs to be punished - this far everyone around the globe agrees. But now things evolve differently: Americans tend to completely distance themselves from the artists in their work as well, Germans and Austrians, while being shocked, tend to still appreciate their artistry and even continue being a fan of them. Several German people were disappointed when it was announced the final season of “House of Cards” would be shot without Kevin Spacey. They thought he was brilliant in this role and that the series would lose its most essential quality.

The difference may be in the amount of identification people from each country have with their idols. Americans like to ...more - Martin_Canine

The Contenders

11 When talking about communism and capitalism

PPS: Do you know "Animal Farm"?
The book and movie have been acclaimed in both the USA and modern German language territory. In the USA, it was mostly seen as an allegory on communism in general. In German language Europe, it's often interpreted as a story on how the individuals in charge corrupted the idea. At first, everything works well: all animals are equal. It's not until the pigs began abusing their power that everything went out of control. - Martin_Canine

PS: Browsing through the topic a bit, I think the main difference is that Germans/Austrians think "communism is for the people (they look that nobody has disadvantages), while capitalism is for the rich (Germans and Austrians don't look up to the rich as much)", while Americans think "capitalism is for the people (everyone can make their own fortune) while communism is for the government (they can own everything)". - Martin_Canine

While in many countries, people learn that either of the two ideologies is the best, and often that the other is seen as immoral, Germany and Austria aren’t as devoted to either of them. A very common opinion on the topic is this one:
“The theoretical ideology of communism is better, because it ensures all people get treated the same and nobody has to be homeless or live in poverty, but it is near impossible to execute it fairly because people in higher positions will abuse their power, so we have to settle for capitalism, which often can be unfair to people who were born in bad or poor circumstances while others whose parents already were rich have an advantage, but at the moment it is easier to control capitalism.” Especially Germany has experienced both sides of the political fence and know that both systems are massively flawed but also have advantages. Most people don’t blame either ideology for having failed, but put the blame on the people who abused the system, ...more - Martin_Canine

12 When talking about Christianity

Overall, Americans value the Christian religion much, much more than the average German or Austrian citizen. I think this is what foreign articles focusing on our countries get wrong most often. What they write is essentially true, but they interpret it wrongly. Yes, most of us are registered as Christians, yes, there are crosses in the classroom and yes, almost all of our holidays are Christian holidays. But that doesn’t mean that people devotedly believe in it. In the big cities, Christian people often don’t regularly attend the church, many only believe in the most essential things (there is god, there was Jesus, etc.), and believe in the values Jesus talked about. What they adapt from the books is the basic philosophy. In the bigger cities, it’s uncommon to find Christians who are devoted bible readers and try to follow all of the messages. Creationism is even widely frowned upon and seen as outdated. As for holidays, this has something to do with tradition. Even ...more - Martin_Canine

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