German Expats Unhappy

Germans are known for being cold and distant. And while stereotypes are unfair to the stereotyped, maybe – just maybe – they also sometimes hold a bit of truth.

Earlier this week, I introduced InterNation’s recent Expat Insider report, which analyzed the feelings of 12,500 expats around the world – nearly 800 of which were living in Germany.

If you believe the stereotype, then it should come as no surprise that Germany ranked particularly low in the section “Ease of Settling In” – just 10th from the bottom (#56) among the 65 most popular countries for expats. Other areas where Germany ranked quite low included:

  • Language: #56
  • Finding Friends: #59
  • Friendliness: #51
  • Feeling Welcome: #50

Language

If you’ve ever taken 5 minutes of a German class or spent 5 minutes in the country (or read one of the my Mistranslation Mondays), then you know that German isn’t an easy language.

Globally, half of all expats report that it’s overall not easy to learn the language of the country they live in, but this figure is almost 20 percentage points higher in Germany, with 69% saying they struggle to pick up German. Only 5% of expats strongly agree that it is easy to live in Germany without a grasp of the local language. Internationally that percentage is far higher at 18%.

While the language is difficult, I find Germans very accommodating to foreigners that struggle with the language. The overwhelming majority of Germans under 40 can and will speak English. And in my experience, anyone that can’t speak English is open to (and thankful for) foreigners that speak broken German with a bad accent. However, I do agree that at least a loose grasp on the language is required for living here.

Friendliness

In the Expat Insider survey, expats in Germany placed Germany far right on the scale of friendliness. The only countries that expats find more “reserved and calm” than Germany are Denmark, Switzerland, Japan, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.

Friendliness of Countries to Foreigners

Finding Friends & Feeling Welcome

Knowing that expats find the Germans so un-friendly, then it follows that these expats also find it difficult to find friends, causing Germany to be ranked at 59 of 65 countries. InterNations reported that many expats in Germany tend to stay in the “expat/foreigner bubble”, where they have a social circle solely comprised of fellow foreigners.

The metric of “feeling welcome” was visualized in the below graphic. Respondents placed Germany pretty central along the axis from “Constant & Traditional” to “Dynamic & Innovative.” However, Germany is at the far left end of the “Rational & Distant” to “Emotional & Welcoming” scale.

What do you think about these results? Do you agree? Disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

  • Really interesting observations. I definitely think that a grasp of German is needed to live here. However, even if I screw up a word or two, Germans are more than accommodating. Plus, they’re always shocked that an American knows another language (!). I’ve found that dating a German and having a German last name has earned me A LOT more respect in Germany. German women especially are much more open to me because I’m dating a German (or maybe they just like me…hahaha!).

    On a side note, loving the new layout!

  • Ami Schwabenland

    I also find these observations interesting, and not at all surprising. I didn’t have many friends in my first three years here, but that was fine with me because after 16 years of teaching teens in the US, I wanted time to myself. It helps that I’m married to my best friend and my next best friend is his mother, sappy as that all sounds. The Germans don’t tend to reach out first, and we Americans expect that. I’m new to the neighborhood, so they should stop by or at least greet me over the hedge and welcome me, right? Not here, and I accept that. I gained friends when I started volunteering. But the language is the key. Many Germans speak English, but we expats need to work hard and learn German if we want to interact meaningfully with the locals. That should make sense to Americans! If someone moved in next door and spoke only Bulgarian, how much effort would the American put in to becoming friends with him or her? Granted, most of us would be friendly and smile – something else Germans don’t often do in the presence of strangers. But if the Bulgarian did not put effort into learning English, there would be no friendship.

  • That`s really great! i`ve never met the graphic comparison of finding friends and feeling welcome. But i`m really impressed because i don`t understand german culture and of course i`m not living their lifes.! Today we heave more options to get to know about different people.Keep it great!

  • Wolf

    As a German native… yes, I can agree. The language definitely isn’t easy, what with having retained quite a few grammatical features that most other Germanic languages have shed. On the other hand, there’s still many languages that are more difficult for English speakers to pick up, including most that aren’t part of the Germanic language family at all.

    Also, while I don’t think Germans are, on average, any less friendly than other people once you get to know them, getting to know them in the first place isn’t always easy. That’s also true if you’re German yourself, like I am! In my experience, becoming friends (real friends, not just “Bekannte”, or even “gute Bekannte”) with Germans is quite difficult.

    What’s curious about this is that most Germans (again, in my experience) are actually quite lonely and would like to have more friends, more social contact, and so on. But they don’t know how to go about it, and they feel that others are cold, aloof and unapproachable, without realizing that they come across exactly the same way themselves… or that others aren’t any of those things, any more than they themselves are. It’s a conundrum.

    If you want to get to know German people, a sincere smile and some friendly words will go a long way, I’ve found; most Germans will respond very positively if you treat them kindly. But it’s not a panacea, and it’ll still take them a long while to really become friends with you. I don’t have a solution for this either, unfortunately. If you find one, let me know!

  • Marcia

    In visiting my daughter in Germany, I have found that the few Americans I ran into were the least friendly people of all!

  • Sad to see this. I am German and expatriated since 17 years – and know how difficult it can be when being launched into a completely different culture & language. Wish Germany would do better.