With Partners, Senior Managers, and Associates representing countries from all around the world, brought together for the 2017 PKF Global Gathering, we all finally had our chance to shine. “SWEET HOME ALABAMA. WHERE THE SKIES ARE SO BLUE.” While the Oktoberfest tent manager shot us down the month prior, the Dirty Tones band performing for the Global Gathering at the Augustiner Keller (famous beer hall in Munich), was receptive to Dave Nissen’s ( Mueller’s Managing Partner) request. With the band backing us up, over 25 PKF attendees went up on stage and sang out “Sweet Home Alabama”. The rest of the attendees in the crowd joined in, sang along, and danced with us. I have to say this moment was another highlight among many highlights since arriving in Munich at the beginning of September. Dancing, meeting others from all over the globe and plenty of delicious Bavarian beer concluded the night.
Reflecting after this international event, I would like to add to the German work and life culture differences Mike (the other Mueller employee exchange candidate here with me) brought up in his second blog post. One of my first feelings upon exploring Munich was that it was like going back in time. Walking around the streets, the buildings are less than four stories tall, the architecture mirrors the 19th or early 20th centuries, and there are winding roads. Quite a contrast from the architecture in Chicago consisting of modern skyscrapers and a grid system. As Mike mentioned, the stores generally close before 8pm and on Sundays, as I imagine would be the case in the past. The stores in my neighborhood in Chicago are open all waking hours, with multiple open 24 hours, seven days a week. It took some getting used to, not having the convenience of being able to purchase whatever I needed when I felt like it. You have to plan your shopping here including going to multiple stores to purchase different types of items: food, electronics, house supplies, etc. From talking to employees here, the reasons stem from the culture of wanting people to be home with their families and to prevent one stop 24 hour stores that would eliminate jobs. However, with this said, Amazon is on the rise.
The next notable difference is that everything is smaller. The cars are smaller to fit into the smaller parking spots, with few SUVs. In the morning, I need to make two coffees to equal one mug of American coffee. On the bright side, the coffee is better tasting. One PKF employee, Florian Rossmann, who has visited the States, does not think American coffee qualifies as coffee. The fridge is smaller causing you to go to the store more often. It’s okay though because the food comes in smaller packaging, which required multiple pasta sauce jars when I made the pasta breakfast that surprised Mike in his first blog post. The food could be another cultural difference topic, but better to leave that to someone who is not a picky eater like myself. When talking about culture differences with PKF employees here, they say the exact opposite is true for America about how everything is larger.
Another notable difference in culture is the way people dress in Munich. Everyone is fashionable, including little children and people of all walks of life. It appears to be a sin to wear basketball shorts in public and even t-shirts are uncommon. No throwing on sweats and a sports hoodie in Munich to run out for a few minutes. You must appear as if ready for a date or an important event at all times. In order to work in Germany, Mike and I had to add a couple suits to our collection as suits are required daily dress code at PKF Munich and only for formal occasions back home. People also dress in more layers and start wearing jackets as soon as the temperature dips below 24 degrees…, which would make sense except I mean Celsius, which is around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. While Mike and I are struggling to stay cool in shirts, people around us are comfortable in arctic tundra jackets. I think this stems from the lack of air conditioning in the summer, which we thankfully missed out on by being here in the fall.
In terms of work culture, there are a few key differences that I picked up on. Employees will focus on a task until completed and then will socialize on a personal level. There seems to be more of a separation between work and personal life. It is not uncommon to walk into a room, have everyone glued to their screens or in conversation about projects with each other, then later in the morning have people say guten Morgen (good morning). Back home, we will generally interrupt what we are working on to socialize when someone arrives. We will also mix in more socializing which generally makes the work day more enjoyable, allowing increased motivation and longer work. The two systems probably result in similar results and it comes down to which one you are used to. Next, Americans will try to make work friends right off the bat while Germans slowly form working friendships. This may go along with the more reserved nature of Germans in general. A cultural difference that I would love to become more common place back home, although maybe not to the extreme, is the direct nature of communication. When someone needs something they directly ask for it and if something is not proper, they say so. There is no need for an excuse or offence taken. The task just needs to get done properly in limited time. Some conversations overheard can almost be awkward if thinking from an American cultural lens. A conversation about a task may be, “This is not proper, what is the solution?” Then the coworker provides a solution or they work together to come up with one.
There are plenty of other differences, but overall, a lot more similarities. Differences are more interesting to discuss though. Exploring and learning about other cultures is one of my top passions so this Secondment (i.e. short-term work assignment) has been an incredible opportunity to dive deep into another culture. I have learned no one culture is better or worse, just different and fun to explore. It comes down to personal preferences and the environment you grow up in. Expanding cultural intelligence adds appreciation for both your own culture and others around the world, making life more fulfilling. In the end, the one thing that apparently spans across all cultures is the love to sing American Karaoke “SWEET HOME ALABAMA”!