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?

6 Comments:

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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