BFFs: du Process
Interesting talk at dinner the other night about friendship. What does it mean, how do you tell, and how do Germans and Americans differ in their understanding of the meaning, obligations, and limits of friendship.
Germans see Americans as superficial or even manipulative. We smile too much, we presume too much intimacy too fast. In German, there is a distinction between different forms of "you." I found this article, and also this one, if you are interested.
The money quote from the article:
The real problem isn't just grammar; it is also a matter of culture. An English-speaker is not used to making the distinction between the familiar and formal you (except in the similar "Mr. Brown" vs. "Bob" situation). German-speakers are very much aware of it and can become very uncomfortable when the du/Sie rules are broken. German-speakers tend to keep their distance longer with acquaintances than English-speakers do. German business colleagues who have worked together for years continue to address each other as Sie. It does not mean they are unfriendly, but they are maintaining the important German division between truly close friends and mere acquaintances.
This can manifest itself in ways that seem odd to the boundaries. As I wrote before, to an American, Franconia can seem like the land of state-sponsored autism.
But it is just as odd, or maybe more so, for Germans, and especially Franconians. If I said "Good Morning," in perfect German with a German accent, to someone on the street, they would stare in amazement. That is absolutely not done. "We have not been introduced!" would be the reaction. The circle of friends, real friends, for a German is generally smaller than the circle an American with precisely the same set of relationships might identify. But at the center of that circle the friendships seem deeper and with more reciprocal obligations for a German, especially German man.
Americans, on the other hand, can count their friends on Facebook. Where Americans might want many friends, Germans might want good friends.
There was a lot more, but that's the gist of it. I personally am more comfortable with being friendly, and the "superficial" criticism is not very persuasive. Why not be nice? It's more fun. Germans, at first, when they visit the American south assume that people are trying to get something, maybe even rob them, if a conversation is struck up. Americans don't need to be introduced. Germans also find it tough to tell where a friendship starts with an American, and I think they have a point here. Americans are a bit too intimate too fast, but then pull back. How can tell who is a friend, without "du" process?