Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Real Truth about “The Germans” !

Wir alle wissen, dass Vorurteile gegenüber anderen Völkern mit großer Vorsicht zu genießen sind. Und doch machen viele von uns beim Verallgemeinern mit! Wie oft sagen wir Sachen wie: „Die Japaner sind höflich“, „die Franzosen lieben gutes Essen“ oder „die Italiener sind romantisch“.

Aber was sagt man in anderen Ländern von den Deutschen? Und stimmt diese Außenansicht mit der Selbstwahrnehmung der Deutschen überein?

Machen Sie mit und Sie erhalten gleich nach dem Abschicken Ihrer Antworten eine Zusammenfassung der bisherigen Ergebnisse. Nach der Gesamtauswertung aller Antworten werde ich Ihnen einen Report online zur Verfügung stellen.

Go to:

Friday, September 11, 2009

100 German Words You'll Find In English

abseil Alzheimer Angst Auf Wiedersehen Anschluss
Apfelstrudel Aspirin Autobahn Blitz Blitzkrieg
Bratwurst Creutzfeldt-Jakob-Krankheit Christkindl Dachshund Delikatessen
Dieselmotor Dirndl Dirndlkleid Dobermann Pinscher Doppelgänger
Doppler Dummkopf Edelweiß Ersatz Fahrenheit
Fahrvergnügen Fest Flak Frau Fräulein
Frankfurter Wurst Führer Gasthaus Gauß
Geigerzähler gemütlich Gemütlichkeit Gestalt Gesundheit
Gewürztraminer Glockenspiel Götterdämmerung Hamburger Hamster
Hertz Hinterland Kaffeeklatsch Kaiser kaputt
Kindergarten Kitsch kitschig Knackwurst Kobalt
Konzertmeister Lebensraum Leberwurst Lederhose Leitmotiv
Lied Leberwurst Masochismus Neanderthal Nickel
Ostpolitik Panzer Pinscher Poltergeist Putsch
Quarz Realpolitik Reich Reichstag Rottweiler
Rucksack Sauerbraten Sauerkraut Schadenfreude Schnapps
Schnauzer Schnitzel Schweinehund Strudel Übermensch
Umlaut verboten Volkswagen Walzer Waldsterben
Wanderlust Wehrmacht Weltanschauung Weltschmerz Wienerschnitzel
wunderbar Wunderkind Zeitgeist Zeppelin Zink

and "Vorsprung durch Technik"

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Watch Your Language

They say smiling is infectious, but yawning is even worse.

Some time ago, I needed some images of people yawning. Googling for pictures I found myself constantly doing it. In fact, as I write this article I find myself yawning again... Look at these:

Are you feeling the urge to yawn too? Quick subject change before we both fall asleep...

Imagine instead a nice, juicy lemon. Imagine biting into its soft, tangy flesh... now my mouth is watering...
Now suddenly, I'm wanting to scratch my head because I'm about to type the word “itch”,...
Sense your body now. Consider this word "itch". Can you feel a vague itch somewhere? Go on, have a quick scratch before reading on.

Some words are so laden with meaning that simply reading or listening to them can have a marked effect on our feelings and behaviour.

Psychologists John Bargh, Mark Chen, and Lara Burrows of New York University conducted an experiment in which one group of students solved a puzzle involving words associated with the elderly. They were exposed to words like “careful”, “wise”, “ancient”, "old", "pensioner", and “retired”. The second group of students solved a puzzle with neutral words, not associated with any single concept. After solving the puzzle the students were free to go.

Unbeknown to the students, Bargh and his colleagues used a hidden stopwatch to time how long it took the students to walk down the corridor to the elevator. Amazingly, students who had been given the elderly related words, took on average over 10% longer to reach the elevator. They had acquired perceived traits of the elderly: slower walking speed.

Can exposure to words affect our moods? Certainly! Here's a list of beautiful words as selected by Robert Beard (AKA Dr Language). Doesn't it feel good just reading them? Wonderful, love, destiny, fantastic, blossom, peace, sunshine, sweetheart, enthusiasm, butterfly, smile,... And if you're seeking amusement, just read this selection from the list of the funniest English words: fuddy-duddy, whippersnapper, pettifogger, hullabaloo, mollycoddle, bamboozle, snollygoster.

What is interesting about language though, is that it contains significantly more negative than positive words. There may be good evolutionary reasons for this. We need to be sensitive to, and to communicate about negative things, because this gives us a survival advantage. This seems to be true across diverse cultures. Studies of 37 different languages reveal basic emotions that have very similar meanings: joy, surprise, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, sadness - that's 6 negatives and 1 positive.

If words can affect our feelings, we should be very careful about our exposure to them. Can it be that the negativity of press, radio and TV reports is contributing to the increase of depression in society?

Before you go, consider ways of innoculating yourself against negativity.
How about a dose of synonyms for that wonderful word wonderful?... admirable, amazing, astonishing, astounding, awe-inspiring, awesome, brilliant, cool, divine, enjoyable, excellent, extraordinary, fabulous, fantastic, fine, incredible, magnificent, marvelous, miraculous, outstanding, phenomenal, pleasant, pleasing, prime, remarkable, sensational, staggering, startling, stupendous, super, superb, surprising, terrific, tremendous, wondrous... Mmmm... that's good, I'm feeling better already. You too?

Paul Smith

Monday, July 02, 2007

Ärger mit Engländern

Have you ever considered a fundamental difference between a British and a German luggage trolley? It’s not just that the German trolley is somewhat heavier and usually goes in the direction you push it. It’s more to do with British pragmatism versus German security. Let me explain. German trolleys can be pushed only if the brake-bar is depressed. An unattended German trolley is in a constant “safe-mode”, which means it won’t roll away from the passenger, run down a ramp, or leap off a platform under a train. A German trolley will only move when and where it is told to.

Now compare this to a British trolley. A British trolley will move if you simply push it, and sometimes even if you don’t. To stop a British trolley you have to proactively push the brake-bar and hold it down. Now you may think that this curious difference is due to a random historical accident, like driving on the left versus driving on the right, or a preference for inches rather than centimeters, or pints rather than litres. But you’d be wrong! The difference between pressing to stop, and pressing to go reflects a basic psychological difference between the British and the Germans.

In the UK a common attitude is don’t interfere with a running system. Only intervene if you absolutely have to. Use the minimum amount of energy to get the job done. Good enough is good enough. It’s not that the British are lazy, they are just pragmatic about how much to effort to invest in order to achieve a desired result.

The Germans on the other hand, go in for lots of information, special safety features, and they don’t shy away from 30% more material in order to make a product more robust. German information-plus culture is well illustrated by traffic reports which reassure drivers that there are no accidents, hold-ups, or other hazards... much to the bemusement of the British. It took me 20 years of Autobahn driving to learn to appreciate “Achtung Autofahrer! Zur Zeit liegen keine Meldungen vor!” In Germany no news is bad news - it makes us comfortable to be periodically reminded that our world is in order.

In Britain however, no news is good news; and a little information is much better than a lot. The British deliver content more economically, hence the famous understatement, the innuendo, the subtle hint, the message between the lines... Observe British pub behaviour, only a foreign tourist would be crass enough to actually ask a barman or waiter for service. The native speaker will politely wait his turn and signal his readiness for a drink with the merest twitch of an eyebrow, or by the nonchalant holding of an empty glass, or a slightly visible £5 note.

Germans are sometimes irritated by a lack of information from their British business partners, an unwillingness to say directly what they think, and a general aversion to anything which threatens to change the status quo. The English expressions “Don’t change your horses”, “Let sleeping dogs lie”, and “Make the best of a bad job” epitomise an attitude well summed up by “Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t”.

Whatever the shortcomings of the British, and whatever your frustrations regarding errant luggage trolleys, one has to admire their sense of humour,… the British, not the trolleys! Next time you don’t hear from a British counterpart, don’t worry - no news is probably good news. Or, as the song says: “If the phone doesn’t ring, it me.”

Paul Smith

PS If you liked this article, check out: "How To Be British"

Friday, March 02, 2007

Remember to Forget

Have you ever forgotten what you were going to do next? Or where you put your keys? Or the name of the person you've just been introduced to? Don't worry, you’re in good company. Everyone experiences memory lapses....

Now, where was I?.... Ah yes,...

...which is why we are impressed by people like World Memory champion Ben Pridmore who can perfectly memorize a randomly shuffled deck of 52 cards in 31.03 seconds. Or Akira Haraguchi, who on 4 October 2006 managed to recite the number pi from memory to 100,000 decimal places, it took him 16 hours. There are quite a few exam-stressed students who would give quite a lot to have an encyclopaedic memory like that.

But there‘s a downside to a perfect memory.

People with perfect recall are often dysfunctional, like the autistic Raymond Babbitt played by Dustin Hofman in the film "Rainman", or like the Russian mnemonist Solomon-Veniaminovich Shereshevsky who was once read the first four lines of Dante's "The Divine Comedy" in Italian, a language he did not understand. He was not only able to immediately recite the entire passage, but more impressively, he could still do so 15 years later. How did he do it? He associated each phonetic syllable with a mental image that made some sense in Russian. But Shereshevsky had no idea about the real meaning of Dante's lines.

I don't know about you, but I'm not so sure I'd like to fill my head with shuffled cards, long decimal numbers, or phonetically-coded images.

Actually most of us do have pretty good memories for things that are important to us. And some things are just branded into our memories.

During the 1970s one of our partners was working in a remote, region of North Vietnam on a Swedish government development project. Falling asleep with a can of open beer next to his bed he woke up in the night with a terrible thirst. The gulp of beer would normally have settled his thirst, but in this case a cockroach had crawled into the open can. Years later, our partner can still recall in vivid detail the sensation of scrabbling insect legs in his mouth and the sight of two antenna emerging from his mouth. That night our partner would have won the World Cherry-Spitting Championships hands down. Forgetting experiences like that are pretty impossible. We'd like to forget them, but we just can't.

Wouldn't it be great to just be able to press a "delete experience" button in our heads? Imagine being able to simply trash the memory of an irritating advertising jingle, or a wrongly remembered fact, or a very negative experience.

Although it's probably impossible to erase strong memories, people suffering from the shock of a traumatic experience (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) can often be helped by therapy which focusses on changing the memory to make it more positive, by overlaying it with new experience. Simply talking about a negative experience, and exploring one's feelings about it, can have the therapeutic effect of modifying the memory. For the pious, could this be the function of confession and absolution?

Before you go, consider techniques for remembering the good, and forgetting the bad. I sometimes use "sky writing" to remember, or to modify memories. Imagine a vast blue sky onto which you mentally project an image of what you want to remember. Like in a movie, animate your mental picture to remember it; or to edit it, transform it into another image. And may all your memories be nice ones.

Paul Smith

A version of this article first appeared in Spotlight Magazine (March 2007)

Monday, October 09, 2006


Try this brainteaser. A black man, dressed completely in black is sitting at a bar in an English country pub. He is drinking one whisky after another. After three hours the black man in black leaves the pub and stumbles drunkenly down a narrow, winding country lane. There are no streetlights and there is no moon. A car without headlights approaches at speed. Despite this, the car driver notices the black man and is able to brake in time to avoid an accident. How could the driver see the black man? Think about this before checking the answer at the of this article.

The reason we can get stuck with this (and other problems in life) is that we make assumptions. If we assume that the man in black is out for an evening drink, then the problem is a hard one to figure out.

The dictionary defines an assumption as something we "take for granted" or "suppose to be true". Assumptions are essential to logical thinking and decision making, but woe betide us if they are false.

In the 1980s, WHO (The World Health Organisation) launched an expensive public health campaign in Pakistan. The objective was to educate mothers to feed milk to their newborn babies. Because of numerous regional languages, WHO adopted a visual approach depicting the main message in a 3-part cartoon format. The first picture on the left-hand side showed a sick and crying baby. The second, middle picture showed the baby drinking milk. And the third and right-hand picture a healthy and happy baby. The problem was that in Pakistan, people read from right to left! The poster was effectively saying "Take a healthy baby, give it milk, make it sick."

The designers at WHO had made the fatal assumption that Pakistanis read from left to right, as we do in the West.

The more costly, the more significant the event, the more important it is to check basic assumptions. This is one way that external consultants such as McKinsey and BCG add value to client projects. An outside-in view allows different perspectives and the chance to question basic assumptions. For this reason also, new employees in an organisation have a few precious weeks at the beginning of their tenure - to see things with fresh eyes before becoming indoctrinated with the values and assumptions of their colleagues.

Sometimes false assumptions can result in amusing consequences. One of our partners had an assignment to coach the minister of employment of a major European country. Arriving at the ministry on a Saturday morning, he was greeted by a young lady dressed in jeans and pullover. She led him to a conference room, made him coffee and started to make small talk. Being pressed for time, our partner politely asked "When will the minister arrive?" Her answer was "I am the minister!" This was an interesting mistake, especially as the coaching was meant to involve communication and gender issues. Fortunately for our partner, the young minister had a sense of humour, and his faux pas turned into a nice ice-breaker.

Before you go, there is a very nice way to remember the importance of assumption checking. Look closely at the letters in the word "ASSUME" and note that taking things for granted can make an ASS of U and ME.

Paul Smith

ANSWER: The incident happened during the afternoon, in broad daylight.

(This article appears in the December 2006 issue of Spotlight Magazine)