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Working in Germany: An intercultural challenge for the Chinese

by the Expert-Team from ICC-Portal (China-Blog and Intercultural Training)

Chinese make up the largest group of foreign students in Germany. Many wish to get some business experience in the country after getting their degree and before they return to China. Which intercultural challenges are the Chinese presented with here and what is the best way to deal with them? We interviewed 30 Chinese with Germany experience about this.

Living and Working in Germany

Germany is known to have a good reputation in China. Chinese who come to Germany especially value the good air, the clean environment,and the travel possibilities within Germany and to the rest of Europe. In the interviews the Chinese respondents commented positively regarding medical care and the relaxed lifestyle in comparison to China. The German food however was not always a source of enthusiasm. Due to that the Chinese interviewees felt it was important to have a larger Chinese community or at least a good Asian supermarket nearby. The largest cause of homesickness was missing family that was left back in China. Several Chinese explained in the interviews that it was difficult to establish social contacts in Germany, in part due to language reasons.

Intercultural challenges in the workplace

The economic relationships between China and Germany are stronger than ever before and new cooperation and investments are added annually. Intercultural competencies however are still an undervalued aspect of the German-Chinese collaboration. The Chinese often find that the direct communication and the importance of rules and principles in Germany take some getting used to. After a time some find these characteristics very beneficial, while others continue to see them as a problem. According to them for example you just can’t work fast or flexible enough. In the interviews a third of the respondents declared that they appreciate German reliability and diligence. Once it was mentioned that Chinese pragmatism and the German sense of responsibility should be combined. In an earlier poll the Chinese respondents praised the fact that with Germansguanxi (good connections) were less important than for Chinese. Some Chinese commented critically about German companies by pointing out that their managers from Germany could learn more about Chinese (business) culture.

Chances and Recommendation for Chinese

In general Chinese have good chances in the job market in Germany, because besides the many German companies with a connection to China, more and more Chinese firms are establishing locations in Germany. In China as well numerous German and German-Chinese companies are searching desperately for Chinese employees who have a good degree, foreign language skills and experience abroad. For those new to Germany from China or Chinese who work for Germans in China, it is recommended that they look for contact to Germans outside the workplace early on, because in general Germans separate private and work life more strictly. Because of this, friendships seldom develop at work, and colleagues tend to remain colleagues. To inform yourself about German workplace cultures, there are several addresses available, for example the SinoJobs pages and the ICC portal. In reference to German directness, which foreigners (not only Chinese) sometimes perceive as impolite, a Chinese man explained that he always asks himself quickly whether a problem or he personally is meant, when a German seems to be too direct. He then often realizes that no interpersonal conflict exists.And last but not least the German language should be mentioned, the study of which is the best way to better understand the German mentality. Regrettably it is a big challenge for the Chinese to learn German and English at the same time because the languages appear very similar (just as Germans can hardly learn Chinese and Japanese simultaneously). In closing it should be stressed that not every intercultural stumble can be anticipated. If something goes wrong, it is helpful to take the whole thing with a sense of humor, which even Germans have too, although the opposite is often alleged.

Additional current intercultural information is offered by the Deutsch-chinesische Knigge.

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