Cultural Differences – I

I mentioned not long ago that I was planning on doing a series of posts on cultural differences I had discovered between living in Canada and living in Germany. I’ve got a few posts started, but nothing finished yet. Then I remembered.

When I started this blog most of my posts were reflections on a recent European vacation. I never dreamed at the time I would be living here. One of my first posts, from September 9, 2014, was about a specific cultural difference I had noticed.

So I am reproducing that one today, with others to follow over the next few months.

IS THIS A CULTURAL DIFFERENCE?

I am a big believer in tradition. There is something comforting about doing something the same way our ancestors did. It gives us a sense of continuity, of contact with past generations. I am not, however, a Luddite. I do not fear new technology and have frequently been an early adopter of technological innovations, at least when my finances have made that possible. I have no desire to turn back the clock and live in the “good old days.” That sort of nostalgia frequently overlooks the realities of what the past actually was like and replaces them with an ideal that never existed except in the mind. I like having indoor plumbing, especially during the Canadian winter.

A month traveling in Europe has convinced me that Europeans are rooted in the past, that they fear new technology and eschew it with a passion. If it was good enough for their ancestors then it is good enough for them. No need for modern conveniences. Well, that may be overstating it, but there seems to be one modern invention unknown in Europe.

This does strike me as strange, because Europeans have been responsible for many inventions, from recent items such as the cassette (both audio and video) and the World Wide Web to, in centuries gone by, the steam engine and the printing press. So can someone tell me why there is so much reluctance to utilize that simple invention, the window screen?

In Canada if a window opens it has a screen. The idea is to allow the air to flow in and keep insects out. Simple really. In Europe, wherever we went there were no screens. Private residence, youth hostel, hotel, bed and breakfast, it made no difference. If we were staying in a 400-year-old chateau I could understand, but some of the places we stayed in were recently renovated. There is no reason the windows couldn’t have been fitted with screens when the renovations were done. Europe has mosquitos too; I saw them (and felt them). Not to mention the other flying creatures that took advantage of the barrier-free access to check out our room.

I can only assume that European mosquitoes, and whatever the continental equivalent of the black fly is, are much less a nuisance than their Canadian counterparts, so people would rather put up with a little inconvenience rather than going to the trouble of installing window screens. No malaria worries either I presume. But I sense a great business opportunity here, or would if I had an entrepreneurial bone in my body. I suspect someone could make a fortune installing screens to keep the bugs out. All it would take is a few early adopters and you could make enough money to retire.

I am not really complaining about there being no window screens in Europe. What I did find interesting though was that there still are such differences. I am sure I am not the only one who has noticed and suggested that the Canadian way has certain advantages when it comes to window construction. But I guess if it was good enough for their ancestors it is good enough for modern Europeans.

Perhaps it all comes down to marketing. Screens aren’t flashy, and North Americans have had them for a long time, so there is no novelty factor. No matter how useful I think they are, to the average European consumer they are neither sexy nor exciting. Some enterprising person though could stir up interest and make them a hot commodity all over Europe by one simple tried and true method. Just call them iScreens. After all, it worked for Apple!

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4 comments

  1. Neil Abramson · · Reply

    In the new 10th edition of my international management text, Managing Cultural Differences (Abramson & Moran, 2017), I employ a concept called National Character to discuss predominant and broad stroke psychological differences between members of different national cultures. There is a significant psychological difference between English Canadians and Germans. Both base their problem solving on the observed physical evidence with a bias in favour of tried and true solutions see in the past (as opposed to cultural values, for example, as in China). However, Germans (and Americans) tend to believe they know the right way and just want to get it done and not waste time on time wasting discussions and solutions that are unproven. English Canadians are more interested in building collaborative relationships and more likely to compromise to find solutions perceived on both sides to be win/win. Interestingly, French Canadians are more likely to favour innovative solutions over whatever has already been tried for better and worse in the past.

    Perhaps your Germans are ok without screens because it’s always worked for them and they have better things to do. You, an English Canadian, go along and they appreciate you for your openness. A Francophone might have complained more than you, and so, probably, would I if I had to live there. I am English Canadian which highlights that national character does not mean everyone is the same but only that the trend line is different in different cultures. The differences represent predominant preferences – the greater plurality if you like.

    1. Sounds like a book I should have read before moving to Germany!

  2. I asked our tour guide about this a few months ago and it was noted that there is now concern because malaria-carrying mosquitoes are very slowly migrating north due to climate change and have been found in southern Europe.

    A row of spikes underneath the window opening apparently stops birds from flying in.

    1. Never noticed any spikes – nor any birds flying in. I just figured that European birds are smarter than their North American counterparts.

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