Germans are so direct that the term ‘small talk’ doesn’t even exist in their language. Why? It’s just not something they do. Regardless of whether it’s a touchy subject or not, Germans jump straight to the point in conversation, rather than beating around the bush and facing confrontation as indirectly as possible, as do the British. Although genuinely shocked a few times by how direct Germans can be, this is something I did get used to pretty quickly.
In England, well London at least, although we happily engage in small talk before getting to the point, we also go out of our way to avoid unecessary and potentially awkward situations. Let’s take getting on the tube (underground) as an example. If you’re lucky enough to get seat, then you know the rules: keep your head down, look at the ad or tube map that is slightly above the head of the person opposite you, but whatever you do, do not make eye contact with them. It’s not only awkward, but people begin to wonder what exactly it is you want from them and why you have had the audacity to make eye contact in the first place. It’s awkward. Just stop it.
Same goes for when you’re in a doctor’s waiting room, or even more awkward, the longest 20 second wait of your life, whilst you travel in the lift. I actually just remembered that there was another woman who worked for the same company as me in London. We would get on at the same station, get off at the same station, she’d then walk a different route to the building (not sure if she did this on purpose) and then voila! We’d both get into the office lift at the exact same time. Everyday for nearly two years. And guess what, we never said a word to each other. Weird, right? I also think so. I tried a smile here and then but eventually felt as if I was trying too hard, so I gave up.
So imagine my surprise in Germany when the only other person in the lift turns around and says a loud and confident “tschüss” as he leaves. Sorry, what!? Was he talking to me? I had to double-check that there actually wasn’t anyone else standing in the 2 squared metre area lift. Hmm.. weird.
The same thing happens at the doctors. Apart from this time you also get a “Guten Tag” when people come in. Ok, so always say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ at the doctors but only ‘goodbye’ in the lift. You’d assume, that after a nice “Guten Tag” at the doctors someone might want to engage in further conversation with you. But don’t be fooled, this is Germany and small talk doesn’t exist, so don’t push it. We just greet each other, sit next to each other in extreme silence for around 20 minutes and then a quick “tschüss” when the doctor calls for Frau Jordan. Ok, I can handle this. If I’m honest, I’d much rather read my book anyway. Is this not awkward though? No because the word ‘awkward’ doesn’t exist in German either!
All in all, I actually find it quite nice that people say ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ to strangers, it doesn’t hurt after all. Although I did find it weird when someone said “bye” in English, instead of “tschüss”, it’s just not a thing in English haha. And whilst I’ll never understand the point of just saying “Guten Tag” to someone if you’re not going to follow it with small talk. I’ll just have to accept that “No Alisa, it’s not awkward. ‘Awkward’ doesn’t exist in German.” Yep, I suppose I will just keep telling myself this.