A German Love Letter To The United States
A Die Welt editor spent four months living and working in California, and though many of his countrymen are critical of the U.S., he fell in love with its cool, can-do spirit.
You welcomed me with open arms. You reached out to me and took me in for four months even though you had no idea who I was, what I did or what I wanted. You didn’t concern yourself with that. You answered all my questions, politely overlooking my strange accent and mediocre English.
If I wasn’t sure how to get somewhere, it was only a matter of seconds before someone on the street came up to me and helped me find my way. All I had to do was stand there looking a little unsure of myself and — on the street but also in restaurants, the post office, in hotels, at the barber shop, in offices, in shops, at the gas station — someone would come over and cheerfully offer their help.
There was no way to know whether I was important or not. My employer isn’t very well-known in the U.S. But again, you didn’t concern yourself with that. Nearly all doors opened for me, and I was able to speak with interesting, intelligent and successful people that I had always wanted to meet. I was freely given behind-the-scenes access to companies that interest me most.
Not for a second did I feel the aggressive nature or testiness so familiar in Germany. On the contrary. Everywhere I went the vibe was relaxed, cool and marked by friendly confidence.
It was difficult for you to understand many of the tales I told about Germany. Why is everything so complicated in my home country? Why are people there so overly critical and severe — particularly with themselves? Your way of living, working and thinking is totally different from ours. Talk is not your thing. You prefer doing, and if it doesn’t work you’ll take a different approach.
Your friendliness is often depicted as superficial, particularly by my fellow Germans. I wish there was more of your kind of friendliness in my native country. Perhaps your warmth just represents good manners, because behind all the rituals of sociability there are so many smart folks.
Maybe the superficiality can be ascribed to what remains of British understatement. You don’t get very far with that in Berlin or the rest of Germany. But I like your style of friendliness a lot more than the downturned mouths and shouting so common in Germany.
The funny guy wearing bright and somewhat worn sports clothes sitting next to me at a lecture turns out to be a professor of philosophy at Stanford. The boss of a pretty big company shows up for lunch at an elegant restaurant promptly, wearing an impeccable suit — and green sneakers.
The small, wiry young Asian wearing a baseball cap is not an aide — he’s the boss. People here don’t need to wear the insignia of hierarchies because they are who they are. And I could go on wearing my suits without being made to feel foolish among all the wearers of sports jackets.
The young people on the West Coast are in the process of programming a new world for the future. They are doing this intuitively, as a matter of course. In Germany, we ask ourselves where our problems lie — and how can we solve them? There has to be an answer to every question if you just think about it long enough, and are smart enough.
That’s not something you do. Knowledge, digital technology and money are in magic alliance here. And you couldn’t care less what we think of that, whether we have objections, worries or reservations about it. It’ll happen anyway. With or without us.
Success is not viewed suspiciously: It’s celebrated. On the Internet you can find out who bought the house across the street and how much they paid for it.
The people next door drive two large Jeeps. His is black, and she drives the white one. Together the cars barely fit in the driveway. The neighbor on the other side drives a small blue electric vehicle. And rides a bicycle. But everybody gets along. The exceptional and inimitable are encouraged, and a lot of money goes into supporting these qualities.
I ate the best food imaginable in your restaurants. And it goes without saying, the best hamburgers. Your wines are eminently worth drinking. Your seas, mountains, valleys, cities, deserts — they are the incredible landscapes we know from the movies.
And the light! In the United States, there is the feeling of being in a tastefully lit film. It’s not at all like Germany.
Sure, there’s a lot of misery on the streets of your big cities. The ones who don’t make it in the money and success sweepstakes will end up on the streets faster here than they would in Germany. Behind all your smiles, cheerfulness and the polished sound of your language, there is a certain amount of mercilessness.
Your freedom, your beauty, your uniqueness don’t come free. And that often makes you hard-hearted and unjust. But you know that. And the way things look, you are in a position to keep changing, growing and improving. I like that about you.
So please don’t let us know-it-alls from old Europe get to you. At the end of the day, you may well end up getting us out of yet another mess.
*The author is deputy editor-in-chief of the Welt group.