Last week I wrote about kindness – and how an accident that I witnessed made me take a hard look at my own behaviour. (You can find this story here.)
My reader Rachel* wrote me a response. I publish it here, with her permission. Maybe her words resonate with you?
(A quick word before you read Rachel’s letter: Hiring season in Germany starts on 1 September. Companies hire faster between September and Chrismas than at any other time during the year. To take advantage: Sign up for the Expats Job Offer Miracle. )
So, here is Rachel’s reply to my story:
I somehow opened this email in the middle of my day, and read it all the way to the end and midway shed some tears. You describe perfectly the German mentality -which I definitely respect but it comes with very harsh repercussions – in trying to not just survive in Germany but to thrive. Even mundane things are a struggle or make for an unpleasant experience because in Berlin, for example, I find wandering about in the eastern part of the city almost always guarantees some kind of public service message shouting lesson from a disgruntled (usually older) German for the most mundane things.
These micro-aggressions are compounded and take a toll on a foreigner who is trying very hard to get on with things. The lack of “kindness” as you put it, really makes for a difficult life in trying to settle in and live a reasonably happy life. I’ve lived in so many places, and they all have had a culture of kindness and a kind of communal pleasantness that made the hard days bearable. However, in Germany it’s been a case of honesty and logic and as you put it, what is right v what is wrong- feelings don’t matter. While that also has value and it resonates with me, I am finding the lack of kindness and empathy really draining as it makes life really difficult as it basically boils down to being a city of robots with no heart. For me, I am really trying to figure out if it still makes sense to live here after 7 years. Just one month ago my Hausartz diagnosed me with a burnout, and I think I’ve finally reached my limit. Either I really take a break and rest or I jump on the horse one last time and give it my best before “giving up”.
I’ve thought a lot about it and spoken to many expatriates who’ve lived here for a very long time, and even self-aware Germans and we have all come to the conclusion that it’s a city (Berlin) that is so hurt, that it will break you because it’s so hardened and at the end of the day look at you bleeding on the ground and say, well you did it to yourself. You should have x, you should have y.
I am an accomplished lawyer and moved here thinking I would definitely succeed. But after all the trials and tribulations and going through that awful Corona period, I can hardly recognize myself anymore. It might have been the biggest mistake of my life moving here. I don’t know. The jury is still out. The German government messaging of attracting people here to work is out of touch with the realities on the ground and how truly not-ready Germany is to become an international place.
I don’t know why I am telling you all this. Your post just elicited some feelings I’ve been thinking about and I have always thought that you understood the plight of foreigners, and this just gave me a glimpse as to your honesty and vulnerability and more importantly the ability to be self-reflective and to share that with people who you don’t know. Maybe as part of your coaching you could team up with a psychologist/coach to give people some sessions on resetting their mindset and healing from the trauma of living in Germany. Honestly, some friends who have left and gone back to the UK/US have sought therapy for this exact thing.
Thank you for sharing, Chris. I appreciated the read and it’s given me some things to think about.
*Name changed. Text published with permission.
PS: If you struggle to get job interviews, because you are “different”: Sign up for the Expats Job Offer Miracle. Hiring season in Germany starts from 1 September.
I wish you success.
“How To Win Jobs & Influence Germans”