Monday, September 10, 2007

Recently, the mid-sized unsuccessful company I work for was purchased by a larger and successful company. Nobody was quite sure what to make of this news. On one hand, success good. On the other hand, change bad. We fearses changeseses.

What makes this change a bit uncomfortable is that the new company is based in Germany.

Now, I'm a forgiving guy. I understand that WWI was a long time ago, and as for WWII, well who among us hasn't made the same mistake twice? I can even ignore the slaughter of large chunks of my own family tree, including branches alarmingly close to my own twig, because I'm a "Fool me twice? Ok! Best 3 of 5!" type of guy.

It was unnerving, however, listening to speeches made by our new German CEO speaking about how our "merger" vill allow us to grow to a billion dollar company, how after our corporate unification, ve vill DOMINATE our industry!

I cringed listening to this speech, doing my best to suppress images of Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove and his Tourette's-like Nazi spasms. Just spooky.

Meanwhile, the Germans have been making trips out to our local office to try and show us German culture. One day, one of the top technical mucky-mucks, came by to tell us what's like working with people of different nationalities. He explained that he had been working with people around the world for many years and had gathered much wisdom.

"Many times when I worked with the Japanese, they would fall asleep in meetings," he lectured. "I discovered, however, that is not because they are lazy, NO! It is the opposite. It is because they work all night and are exhausted!" He nodded knowingly at one of the Asian employees in the room.

"Now, the Indians will also work very hard. It is because they are all trying to come to America!" With that proclamation, the German executive pointed at one of the Indian employees in the room, and then at another, smiling broadly in the certainty that he had proved his point.

Welcome to the brave new world of efficiency and stereotypes and efficiently communicated stereotypes!

A month later the top human resources executive came to town to teach us specifically about the differences between Germans and Americans. We learned that Americans are shoot-from-the-hip cowboys, writing software using our gut and intuition. We're like Bruce Willis with a keyboard. Germans are of course methodical, and maybe world-war prone (but who isn't these days?)

She summed it up with a slide showing a peach and a walnut. The concept was that these two pieces of food symbolized how Germans saw the difference between our social styles. Americans were like the peaches. We are fuzzy and sweet on the outside, which makes us very accessible. We'll high-five you and ask you about your day. Our sweetness, however, is not perceived to go very deep. If someone actually tells us about their day, they'll soon bite into our hard bitter pit.

Germans see themselves as walnuts. Sure, they're a tough nut to crack, but once you get past that shell, you get to the meat, filled with nutritious protein.

You know, we had a lot of walnut trees where I grew up as a kid. They are bitter horrible nuts, perhaps the worst of the nut family.

Welcome to the new world order.


newnorth said...

hmm, first scary, second, we soo got the better food item. I have never seen a walnut and thought "that would be yummy and refreshing" ...anywhooo

good luck with the take over

(hahaha my word verification is fphjews, i'm serious)

Siôn said...

Remember that Bruce Willis kicked German ass in Die Hard series. You'll be fine...

chess h said...

wasn't this an episode of "the Office?" Life imitates art getting very scary now.

carey said...

And now you have a completely new employee hybrid, the peachnut. Makes you want to return to cube-life, doesn't it?

Mike said...

Newnorth, you are correct. Walnuts suck.

Siôn, that's right! Yippie ki-yay!

Chess, was it? Where Germans take over or the inappropriate "diversity" days. I've seen the latter but not the former episode.

Carey, I am sort of a peachnut, with my hard cranky outershell, and my bitter pit innards.

Pensive Turtle said...

Great post. Good luck with the Germans. Remember... they can smell fear.

patsy said...

keep your head low with the germans and remember we have a cave on our home place that would hold a few jews if necessary.
i read one time someone ask this jew why jews dealt in jewels insteal of land. he said if some day i have to flee i could not put land in my pocket.

Mike said...

PT, thanks. Thankfully I usually work from home. Hopefully they can't smell me from here.

Patsy, howdy, and thanks for the offer of your "cave".

tinyhands said...

If I were you, I would have raised my hand and said, "My daughter has a nut allergy."

Otherwise, it sounds just like my graduate management class on identifying and effectively applying stereotypes.

Mike said...

Tiny, me thinks that the Germans don't want to hear my excellent jokes during their presentations. That's very inefficient. Good one though.