Only in the US!

Today I am taking out the Extra Broad Brush(TM) and talk about some observations of a German regarding fundamental differences between our cultures and how they can manifest. These are things I experienced myself and thought I could use to illuminate some profound differences in the mindset of Germans and Americans. My goal is to illuminate, not to offend!

So here are 3 things that would not happen like that in Germany, 2 of which made me go “interesting! what a great noticer of things I am”, and 1 made me (and many Americans) angry.

For example, I happened about a youtube channel of a US citizen living in Germany. She showed how the day-to-day stuff in Germany is different from the US. She was not judgmental at all except for one video, where a typical (I think) US-American attitude showed up.

It was about how Germany regulates what names you can give to your child. Basically, the gender of the child must be obvious, it must not be degrading, and some other reasonable restrictions I am too lazy to look up. So, “Abcde”, “Asshole”, or “Deutsche Demokratische Republik” would not be allowed as first names in Germany. And Germans in general agree that this is a useful kind of regulation to have, even if there is disagreement on how restrictive it should be in detail. The youtuber however was appalled at this intrusion of the state into the most private sphere of its citizens. She used the expression “the government dictates the name of the child”. Like the gestapo comes to your house and says “Ze shild's name shall be Andreas or you will all be shot.”

I found this a very fitting illustration of the US versus the German sentiments towards regulation.

The next one is in a similar vein, but with a more serious subject. Twice, when discussing labor rights, the American party confused a “right to work” state (where you cannot be forced to join a union) with an “at will” state (where you can be fired for any reason or no reason at all).

They were in such a “freedom!” mood that they thought “can be fired on a whim and has no protection at all” is an employee's right (the word “work” implies that it pertains to employees, not employers). And they saw nothing wrong with it.

Again, I am not saying that those 2 Americans are stupid, only that because of the emphasis on individual freedom and rights, this outrageous (to a German) misunderstanding happened. Which in turn made me realise this as a difference in German versus American sentiments towards labor rights.

The next one is a bit more heartbreaking. In the US, if someone is sick, it is totally implied that they are in need of donations. Many a supposedly heartwarming story has been written about someone getting cancer, getting fired from their job (already illegal in Germany), consequently losing their health insurance (WTF!? but maybe it is better under ACA now), and receiving enough donations from family/neighbors/strangers to afford treatment.

To a German, that is not uplifting. It is a painful tale from the barbarous age before social security. The very idea that you lose both income and insurance when you need it most is absolutely perverse. For comparison: I guess that very few people in Germany have experienced this kind of existential distress in the last 50 years. Health insurance is independent of employers, takes care of your medical costs and, in case of long term illness, also of your living expenses (the employer is only obligated to continue paying you for the first few weeks of your inability to work).

This article says it in more detail: