The 13 days I spent in Europe for this Maymester was enlightening, to say the least. Over the course of the just-under-two-week trip, I learned a great deal about the subtleties and differences not only between French and German culture but also as a whole how it compares to our own back in the states. Thus, I set out with the goal of collecting observational data in the ways both the French and German’s reacted to our class as a whole and myself as an individual foreigner.
I noted things like how social standards differed (as well as I could determine) from my own understanding of the world and the way my own choices impacted my experience in the two countries. These comparisons revealed themselves to me both through the social culture I experienced on my own as well as the professional attitudes of the companies I visited. Even between the two companies in France, I observed two very different attitudes within the same country.
Thus, these observations are not meant to define what French or German culture is or isn’t but are rather meant to observe and analyze the differences in culture and professional traits that are apparent in each of these cultures, some more stereotypical and exclusive than others.
First, to discuss the societal differences I observed in my individual exploration of the societies. Paris mostly reminds me of most large cities. I am privileged enough to have been given the opportunity to travel to some other large cities before, including Seoul, Tokyo, Toronto, Sydney, and of course Manhattan.
While each countries culture always shines through the city, there’s something about a concrete jungle that imprints its own characteristics. For instance, it’s busy all day; there is always a massive amount of people moving through the city most of the hours of the day. And in general, people tend to keep to themselves in large cities. It’s a “mind your own business” kind of atmosphere where people don’t like holdups and don’t like it when you get in their way. This kind of attitude is necessary if you want to survive in any large city or you’ll never get anything done. However, scrape past the veil of any city and you start to find the inner workings of the city of love. Something I discovered quickly is the importance of greetings in French culture. In the US, I rarely return greetings unless I am offering my business or it is someone I know. Acknowledging someone in the states indicates interest, which can get you tied up with solicitors and beggars. Likewise, if you aren’t interested in making small talk, simply not responding may come off as rude, but is usually brushed off as simply apathetic. In France however, I found that greetings are extremely important, especially in the native language. Arriving as a fumbling American who would stutter out a “Hello,” or “English?” did not get me far before I realized the importance of a simple “Bonjour.” Just returning the greeting made me feel more welcomed and respected as a tourist in restaurants, stores, and the hotel. Another thing I noticed was the public noise level in stark contrast to the business, especially in the subways and trains. Americans have a reputation for being loud already, but even when we made efforts to be quiet, we would get dirty looks or feel out of place. Paris seems a relatively quiet city, outside of tourist hubs or busy areas where you have no choice but to talk loud to be heard. This seems to translate into the reserved yet refined nature of France. Everything felt relaxed, but formal, there was an underlying kindness and welcome to the city, but it seemed to require adherence to unspoken rules, and as an outsider, I felt underprepared. I couldn’t help but feel mostly overwhelmed by Paris, a city of immense beauty, complex emotion, and underlying reverence. Paris seems a city where one must know the language and know the culture. It doesn’t budge for you, and it won’t tell you how to act; that you must figure out on your own.
Stuttgart, on the other hand, seemed somewhat the opposite, clear upfront on the structure it demands but kind and warm to you and willing to work with you, probably due to it’s smaller size. Stuttgart has a system going for it, but as long as you flow within that system, it’s relatively forgiving. For instance, I had an experience in the museum where I was not able to get in due to my camera bag. They were firm in the way they told me to deal with it and it came off as cold and almost rude, but as I looked back I began to realize it was just an adherence to a rigid order to things. It’s a logical rule for them and a failure to adhere is met with the right countermeasure, in this instance instructing me how to fix the problem, rather than “not making a big deal about it” and letting it go, as some Americans might expect. The atmosphere was overall more relaxed, again probably due to the smaller size, though it was not a small city by any means. Restaurants were friendlier and more accommodating and despite stereotypes of Germans being rigid and uptight, it seemed they actually enjoyed tourism and the presence of newcomers. However, again, things all depend on the logical nature and order of events. Though not rude about it, the waitress at a restaurant seemed shocked when I asked if anywhere was serving sauerkraut. As it turns out, they only serve that during the winter, as it isn’t a summer food. Thus it seemed hard for the waitress to comprehend someone would think of ordering the dish at this time of year. While seemingly an innocent question to me, I had come off as ignorant and uncultured. Again, the waiter wasn’t rude in telling me, but I could tell that to native Germans, that was probably a very stupid question. Overall the social culture seemed mostly inviting in both places but in different ways. Paris demands that you blend in to thrive and Parisians expect you to understand their culture at least a little instead of making a fool of yourself as a tourist. Stuttgart, on the other hand, is upfront in asking for adherence to the structure but is more flexible in what is out of line. While Paris is reserved in its refinement, Stuttgart is open about its pride in perfectionism. Paris is elegant, innovative, with flourishing designs flowing through its architecture while Stuttgart is efficient, functional, and refined, perfected after years of trial and error. Both represent their ideal perfection in different ways.
These traits translate to the companies we visited as well and by extension, their products. The first company we visited was Nexo and the first thing that struck me was their humility. They were quick to admit their past flaws and where they sought improvement, as well as acknowledging where other companies surpass them. This humility understates how brilliant of a company they are, however. Nexo is a smaller company, but they are dedicated to the shape of sound. The speakers they design may lack the utmost refinement but the sound they produce can be shaped and controlled unlike any other. In terms of speaker design, they’re at the top of the game in innovation, their speakers incorporating bleeding edge technology. On the other side of Paris we visited L’Acoustics which also displayed traits of Paris in its own ways. While not as humble as Nexo, L’Acoustics was equally dedicated to innovation in sound. Their line arrays were tamer than those at Nexo and felt more held back, but came across more balanced, especially through the mid-range. While Nexo seems to focus on innovation in the R&D process and in speaker design specifically, L’Acoustics approaches innovation in a more broad sense, innovating the rigging and the software as well. L’Acoustics also has stepped foot into the positional surround sound world, with L-ISA, which is truly groundbreaking, both in physical technology and software. And comparatively, D&B seems dedicated to refinement. The D&B system is loud, refined, tight, and easy to setup. It’s a perfect blend of everything. This seems to reflect the German ideal of structure and refinement. D&B also has a surround sound system called Soundscape, but L-ISA seems more targeted at immersion and enhancement of entertainment whereas Soundscape works to provide accurate positional information of a musicians location.
Overall Paris and Stuttgart offer many differences to each other in terms of culture. Whereas Paris is innovative and artistic, creatively driven towards new heights of technology, Stuttgart seeks to refine something existing until it is perfect, working through structure and logic to create the best. Both philosophies strive for perfection but in different ways, through discovery versus commitment. These philosophies trickle into the businesses of the area, including the ones we visited. All in all, it was a new and exciting experience and both culturally and professionally enlightening.
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