“If we don’t criticize you, we have praised you.”

“Nicht gemeckert ist genug gelobt.”  This is one of our greatest challenges living in Germany.  The culture is highly critical and uses shame and criticism as a way of achieving quality which is evidenced everywhere in German workmanship–Mercedes Benz, BMW, Bosch, Porsche, Braun, just to name a few of brands that are synonymous with good workmanship.

Coming from a generally quick-to-praise culture, moving to Germany was equivalent to a dip in frigid water on New Year’s Day with the Polar Bear’s Club.  Our first three years in Germany, Todd and I despaired of doing anything right.  We were quickly told everything we had done wrong–from mopping, to dusting, to making beds, to speaking German.  Our self-confidence had plunged into the negative category.  In fact, several times when Todd spoke, a lady would approach him from the back of the church and hand him a bundle of papers–“I wrote down all of your grammatical errors from your sermon.”

When we announced that we were leaving Germany to move to Sweden, we thought everyone would be thrilled.  After all, we really hadn’t heard anything we had done well.  “They are going to be so happy we are leaving,” we thought.  Yet, the opposite was true.  People were genuinely sad to see us go and for the first time we heard about what they liked about us.

It is often that we can live and work for the affirmation and encouragement of others which is unhealthy.  Yet, too much criticism without any acknowledgment of what has gone well, is also dangerous.  I have seen my children who were confident and secure in Sweden begin to wilt and despair after the constant critique here in Germany.  They were never good enough, nor could they ever be.  As a Mom, I begin to despair of my own parenting when every meeting with another teacher was only an long list of things I should be doing with my children to stimulate their German.

I don’t want Todd or I to forget the inherent nature of German culture.  I don’t want us to get discouraged when all the critique comes and remember that “this is the way things are here.”  I also don’t want to go to extremes and revert to superficial overdone praise.  What I want to do is to catch my kids doing right as often as I can.  When things are done well, I want to point this out so that they can be encouraged to continue on and be proud of a job well done.

Click here to read an interesting article (in German) talking about how the Germans view praise and critique in the workplace.  


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