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German People and Culture

I am studying international accounting and we are looking at various countries and how their culture influences their accounting and law practices. One term that has come up is prudence regarding taxes and laws when it comes to Germany. Any recommendations on references I could read would be great.

Many thanks.

Posted by
18301 posts

I can't give you any references, but half of my ancestor lived in Germany 2-3 generation ago, and I know how that has influence my perspective. I've also spent six month traveling in Germany and meeting Germans, and when I worked for one company with a strong German presence, we had a lot of interface with Germans.

From my personal experience, I would expect Germans to be very precise and analytic. - very exact. It's just in their genes.

It might also be because theirs is the most complicated language in Europe.

Posted by
198 posts

Our language is not the most complicated (see Hungarian), but it is highly precise. Much like most things in Germany.

Germans are highly conservative, especially when it comes to finances and fiscal policy. I don't mean socially, but more in terms of changes being phased in gradually, waters tested, etc. This is true of everything from decisions to alter existing infrastructure to investment. Covid exposed how woefully dependent on paper and behind in digital capacity Germany was. FINALLY most places will take plastic, for example, and Covid has made a dent in our tendency to carry large amounts of cash so our transactions can't be tracked.

Sorry I can't give any references per se, though there was a study on Germans carrying lots of cash apparently.

Posted by
3458 posts

" Our language is not the most complicated (see Hungarian), " And its somewhat distant cousin , Finnish

Posted by
5555 posts

I don't buy the argument that German is inherently more complex than English or other languages. German babies pick up their language at pretty much the same rate as babies anywhere else.

Speaking German doesn't automatically make one more analytical either, unless perhaps you're learning/understanding/speaking German as a second language... once you try THAT, you find yourself analyzing just about everything and thinking about language in a way you never did before. I think that's why they say you become smarter when you learn a second language.

It's true that English speakers who actually STUDY German as a second language routinely report their surprise over its "complexity." But I think that's largely because one's first language seems so simple on the surface. Truth is, it only seems that way because we picked it all up by osmosis as kids and - and we've probably never had any practical reason to truly study it fully. Small examples... simple present tense question formation (quite complex compared with many languages)... the vowel system (incredibly complex) which native speakers of English command perfectly but know next to nothing about. IMHO it's really only the formal study of any language - whether a first or a second language - that sheds an analytical light on how a language works and makes that language look complicated. Just try convincing a native English speaker, one who hasn't really studied the English language in depth (which is almost everyone) that he/she uses 20 distinct meaning-differentiating English vowels (like "men" vs. "man") every day and utters a whole bunch of other interesting vowel sounds too. You might get told you're wrong, that English just isn't that complicated.

Posted by
847 posts

When you study accounting and finance in Germany, make sure you read about the Wirecard scandal. It's not just about accounting and finance, but the whole legal system (plus the regime that tried to cover up the scandal for years).

I am not saying that the US is free from scandals, but Wirecard is a very recent example to study.

Posted by
946 posts

I don't think it's how complicated or simple a language is, but rather, it shows the control a country has over its language and the precision that language has. Germany's language is in many ways the same as it was hundreds of years ago because there have not been the changes that other countries have made (usually by a gentle slide). For example, English used to have the cases that Germany has today - nominative, accusative, dative and genitive, but over the years that form of speaking gradually evolved to what we have today.

High German, on the other hand, is controlled by a body of people called the Council of Orthography that keeps strict tabs on the language, and maintains its integrity. Any changes to the language (for example, I believe there were recently some changes regarding gender identification) are controlled by this council, with input from citizens.

And then we have English, which just sort of gradually takes its own path (sort of like Americans) - loose and flowing and subject to changes. No one really controls it (witness the discussion that recently took place about the word "train" becoming a verb). And that's what happens with other languages. There are exceptions - I think Iceland is one that is very strict about language - but not too many

I am not a linguistics expert by any means - most of what I said above I learned from the Germans who taught me in my language classes - but that is my understanding of what we are discussing here. Germans follow the rules and don't make changes until they are sure of what they are doing. HowlinMad expressed it much better but I think this follows the gist of what he was saying.

Posted by
203 posts

Mardee, there are two things in your comment that I want to address: one is about the centralisation of German as a language/the amount of 'control' over its change, and the other is about the speed of that change. (And I don't at all mean to be difficult! Just I am passionate about my language, so I enjoy discussing it. Please do not take offence!)

About central control: Yes, it is true that there is a spelling commission, and yes, we do have the Duden (the dictionary) that makes recommendations of a sort (like with Gendersprache, the debate you reference). But, and as demonstrated by that debate, there is often massive discussion about their various suggestions, and they are not universally accepted (here is an article in German for those interested in the debates). In the case of the Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung (the spelling commission): it is important to note that it is explicitly about orthography, not about the language integrity (a term I have questions about, to be honest) more generally. And, even on this restricted level: Just look at the example of the spelling reform of 1996 to see what a gigantic mess this has been at times (the English-language wikipedia article gives a good overview of the disorderly process).

I do understand that, in comparison to English, the idea of any spelling reform of any type makes German seem wildly centralised and controlled (and I am not denying the relatively higher control), but - and this brings me to the point about the 'unchanging-ness' of German - it is at the same time a very good example of how the so-called unchanging-ness of German is actually a mirage. In the case of the spelling commission: our orthography is so transparent because of changes over the centuries, not in spite of them. (Note: I was just today reading a German text in the original form from 1860, and ... even just that far back, there are strong, marked changes in grammar, lexicon and orthography).

About language conservativism in general: there is much debate about how to measure this, though it is true that grammatically and on a long time-horizon, German is considered conservative. At the same time, phonetically speaking, English is actually more conservative than German (it has retained older features of Germanic phonology), so there is that. And, even though there are many grammatical features that are conservative in Standard German, we nevertheless have all sorts of changes that have and continue to happen in our language. At the moment, for example, one might name Anglizismen, or English words used in German, as leading to a wide-spread set of changes in the lexicon. There are literally thousands of terms that we now use every day that were simply not part of our vocabulary at all when I was a child. And just like in any language, grammatical rules are always also in flux, even if over the long term they have shifted more slowly than in other Germanic languages (Genitive vs. Dative usages for example).

And all of that is before we even begin to talk about Dialect, which is part of most native-speakers people's language experience in Germany, even today. For example, I have a migration background, so I didn't learn a dialect directly from my parents, but I do know rather well the one from the area I grew up even so. One cannot leave out the question of dialect or regional language inflection when speaking about the German-speaking area more generally, and it is a story that pushes hard against the narrative of the German-speaking space being somehow linguistically orderly.

I hope this is helpful.

Posted by
946 posts

Azra, that was really interesting to read. And there is no offense taken, believe me. I find linguistics fascinating and the German language especially so. That being said, I always found grammar boring in school and never really paid much attention to it until I started learning German - and then the grammar was suddenly my favorite part of the language.

I do understand what you mean about changes in the language and the other issues, though - and that makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the clarification.

Posted by
8108 posts

There is no such thing as having analytics be in your genes. Or being precise, or being fond of rules, or being logical, or being funny, or being fond of math, or being musical, etc.
These all have to do with upbringing and are not part of our DNA. A "German" kid brought up in India or Australia will not have these special "genes". Talk like that sounds too 1930s if you know what I mean.

Posted by
5555 posts

Mardee refers to...

...the control a country has over its language and the precision that
language has

While it's true that Germany has a body of "language-policing" authorities, the actual authority/control they have over everyday speech and language change is probably close to zero. Rather, I think it's the shared CULTURAL understanding of the people themselves that contributes to a more static language, which you referred to here:

Germans follow the rules...

Uniformity has always mattered a good deal in the German culture. And linguistic uniformity (the concept behind "High"/Standard German) is a natural outcome of that cultural tendency - only it's even more important than other cultural elements because it's really the only way that native speakers of extremely diverse regional dialects in Germany can participate fully in broader German society. The main reason Germans tend to follow and appreciate the "language police" is that they provide what Germans already see as the very useful service of keeping the country on the same linguistic page. But that does NOT mean on the same linguistic page forever and ever. Standard German is always changing, now more than ever probably, and the language authorities exist not to prevent change, but to ACCOMMODATE and FORMALIZE change that is taking/has taken place in the language. Azra points this out:

...our orthography is so transparent because of changes over the
centuries, not in spite of them.

Mardee writes,

And then we have English, which just sort of gradually takes its own
path (sort of like Americans) - loose and flowing and subject to
changes. No one really controls it

This is true, but it's pretty much the nature of language development, IMHO, no matter the language. That's how those diverse dialects of German (Swabian German, Bavarian dialects with their odd grammars and vowel changes) came about - they evolved according to the will of the local speech community. Today, English and German are behaving similarly, but today's speech communities include many millions of people thanks to the media and technology; what gets said in those places has a huge impact on language change and language conformity.

German borrows shamelessly from English these days, which is why it now owns verbs like "downloaden." American English borrows less from other languages but there've been some interesting changes in recent years. Lots of verb phrase simplification and omission in news reports, with "headline speak" seeping into reporters' main texts, stuff like...

"Thieves seen yesterday racing out of Walgreens with sacks of stolen merchandise."
"People being told how to make Molotov cocktails."
"Tonight, new sanctions on the Russian leader himself."
"The White House tonight also praising the courage of anti-war protestors."

In most examples there's no time confusion or meaning lost, so I could see constructions like this becoming everyday speech over time.

Posted by
198 posts

"And its somewhat distant cousin , Finnish" --Indeed! And Estonian is in that family. And some others--Sami I think.

While going down the linguistic rabbit hole can be quite fun, the topic did get a bit off track. It was about CULTURAL (not genetic) influences in accounting.

But if we are going to talk about dialects in German, we HAVE to talk about Platt.

Posted by
5257 posts

Wait, before we get back to RM's accounting research, I have to ask Ms. Jo -- is it really true that musical talent isn't connected to DNA? I always thought it ran in families somewhat. (Sadly not in my family.)

Posted by
8108 posts

Haven't seen the Music Gene pop up on any of my 23 and me reports.
If it runs in families, it is because families play music together.

Posted by
1666 posts

Edited: I am not so familiar with accounting and law practices and be precise how a country’s culture can influence them, but the theoritical side of cultures in general interests me and how it can explain their influence on a nation’s behaviour. Maybe the following can be of useful.

An interesting book I can recommend is Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind by Geert Hofstede. It’s about the analysis of identifying systematic differences between national cultures worldwide. The cultures are compared with each other using 6 dimensions, meaning how different cultures deal with:

-Power distance
-Individualism vs collectivism
-Uncertainty avoidance
-Masculinity vs. femininity
-Long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation
-Indulgeance vs. restraint

Every member of a group or at a larger scale a nation grows up under the influence of written and unwritten rules shaping someones identity and for a huge part influences how you behave. The clothing you wear or the language you speak can be seen as official or written rules as it clearly identifies you the group or nation you belong to. Unwritten rules do that too but are much harder to see, nevertheless their influence is substantial and lack of knowledge about this results in many cases to miss communication.

The reason why people are for instance so precise is because they are raised in an environment where this is an unwritten rule and you learn this from a very young age without actually being aware of it. Btw has nothing to do with DNA but more with programming the mind. An explanation of this behaviour is uncertainty avoidance (3rd dimension), that means a society is organized in such away that you rule out risks and so keep control, in some nations like Germany is this more the case than others. Germany is known for it’s precision but also many rules, so a higher level of uncertainty avoidance compared to other countries. For instance cars and other products are made solid to avoid the risk of or diminishing injury, more rules to avoid things going out of control. Products and rules are made to rely on without actually questioning.

This description is a bit one-sided to describe the German mentality as a whole and within the country there are cultural differences too to keep in mind. So if you have to work with somebody or persons from another country (within the business or cross-border) it’s I think important understanding the unwritten rules of his or her / their background. To do this you have to know more about the cultural aspects of your own country too and I think as an introduction this is a good book to consider.

I live (in the Netherlands) close to the Belgian border, but even we speak the same language as the Flemings there the cultural differences are considerable. The Flemings have a more French mentality, the Dutch behaviour is more Scandinavian. So language don’t has to be the main characteristic identifying a nation’s culture. Not being aware of these differences results in not really understanding eachother and can lead to serious miss communication. Thanks to this book I have more insight about this, so nevertheless being theoritical it’s of practical value for me. Even being general about cultures can this be of interest for you?'s_cultural_dimensions_theory

Posted by
6627 posts

To the OP, it might help to explain what you mean by prudence in this case. I'm not sure if you mean how accounting and legal systems are made, or how compliant the general population is in following such rules.

PS I think Euskera (Basque) is considered the most difficult European language.