Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Knowledgeable Europeans and Jolly Good, Wunderbar American Speakers

A recent article in the NY Times articulated an interesting 2-way cultural perception that I have noticed with Americans and Europeans (at least Germans and Brits.)

In “Talking the Yanks Under the Table,” Sarah Lyall noted that “Britons seem to have the advantage of accent: their exotic pronunciation can make even dubious observation sound like unimpeachable truth… ‘Every Englishman can talk for 15 minutes on any subject without a note,’ Norman Mailer has been quoted as saying.”

I would say something similar about most Germans I have met. While people often diss the accent, Germans can speak like an expert on a wealth of topics including America. Of course some perceptions about the US to be a bit skewed, but I found it impressive (though also discomforting) that a foreigner would know more about Aretha Franklin, classic American films or Native Americans than I do.

So what can we conclude from these two observations? That Brits and Germans are great, smart speakers, better than Americans? Perhaps. But the admiration doesn’t just flow is one direction.

I was always intrigued to hear my German colleagues comment about how well Americans present information. From the perspective of the Germans I met, Americans are able to succinctly present ideas, use Power Point more effectively and come up with smart sound bites. My adviser also commented that it takes a German twice the number of words to write his disseration as an American.

Most recently, I had a Brit say to me that he was taking a public speaking class. The class is super popular and fills up quickly because the class, in essence, teaches people how to be a public speaker American-style. The group of Brits I was with seemed perplexed and fascinated by this perceived American ability.

I realize that these observations don’t match up exactly. Are the Europeans saying Americans present crap, but do it with great flare? Still I think it is great trans-Atlantic case of the grass is always greener on the other side.

Any similar experiences with other Euros or people from Latin American, African or Asian countries?


Anonymous jp said...

Most American university students studying business will eventually receive a "BS" degree. Coincidence? ;-)

12:13 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

well there's another part of the equation to ponder;-)

2:04 PM  
Blogger Bense said...

My personal impession is that Profs in Germany are just expecting something different from Americans as a disseration.

The basical reason is no german colledge is shorter than 4 years. It needs space and slight some consideration and the Profs never expect anything else than at least 15 pages of a german student...

But you might be right avout them Englishmen. Nothing beats supersticious Cockney blabbering.

6:38 PM  
Anonymous Niki said...

I think German words are just longer than American ones... ;)

9:41 AM  
Blogger kelly said...

on a related topic, check out this piece by Mark Twain, who did his best to learn German: http://www.crossmyt.com/hc/linghebr/awfgrmlg.html#x1

it's quite amusing and oh so true :-)

12:40 AM  
Blogger Mango de Mallorca said...

I'm attending grad school in Germany, so I can clarify some stuff here. German academics like to repeat what they say over and over in papers. Tautology seems still in vogue here. Just my two cents.

1:57 PM  

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