Germany, home of the cheap
For years and years there has been an on-going debate about Germany being “a service desert” and though Berlin might be a obscure island in a big ocean, it is very true here as well. The more people I meet, coming here to work in the Berlin industry the more I understand their difficulties with this. It is really hard to understand why there isn’t any tax accountant taking the effort to try to speak English or why there aren’t many companies specifically trying to help foreign to settle here by providing support with paperwork and such. As a kid, who grew up in East Westfalia - an exceptionally penurious part of Germany - I am used to this and never experienced it as a problem, nor ever thought about it. But me recently being to London made me realise what it is: the German mentality of optimising efficiency, the single one thing which got us through the crisis rather okay-ish, is also our biggest curse and will hurt us in the long run.
In London people are super friendly and helpful. At every restaurant there are people welcoming you and help you guide the way. They are polite and patient, even though it is their job to serve tables, they are not in hurry and are happy to help you. As a matter of fact, they even take a minute or two more to talk to you, so you are feeling more comfortable. And that is amazing, sure there is a certain distance as well, but overall you feel very respected and taken seriously with whatever problem you might approach them and they are happy to help, even if they answered the question four hundred times already. So when leaving one club at one evening, there were three or four bouncers managing a huge queue of people, and it was someone unclear we were leaving so one of the bouncers really respectfully asked us about it and though we were almost out of sight he also wished us a nice evening. This interaction was nice and only lasted maybe two minutes, but the first thought that came to my mind was “That was very inefficient. You could have saved those 2 minutes if the way finding would have been more obvious. That should be fixed.” - what a horrible thought.
And this shows exactly the mindset we Germans have: when we have social interaction which was not totally necessary to run the business, we think of it as wasted time and therefore wasted money. Or to put it the other way around: “there probably is someone doing it more efficient than that and there and as such they can offer cheaper prices.” Seriously, that is our thinking. Just as an example: Germans can easily spend an entire Saturday afternoon driving from MediaMarkt to Saturn and back to compare prices just to save 4 bucks on a TV setup box or stereo of 60€. And then even call that a victory. No other country has as many online price comparision services as Germany, just to give you an idea this really good study counted 132 online Preisvergleiche for Germany, while the much bigger US only comes to 67 (and there are only about 140 with an international focus). But we don’t only do that on Flights and other expensive things, no even down to mobile cell phone contracts, gasoline and even comparing discounters. I am not making this up. I wish I was but n Germany you have to run your business super efficient or you are ousted by the competitor, because the Germans do look on the price tag first.
Which at the end of day leads to exactly what we are seeing right now: wherever you are, you are overworked and stressed and don’t have time to talk to customers. Ever. Leading to stressed, underpaid and under qualified people at every stage of the service chain (from the doctors practice to waiters) and you not only having a crappy experience with them (and often followed by a bad rest of the day) but also spending more time on it yourself though you don’t know what you are doing. So after all, from a society perspective, wasting a lot of time and being very inefficient. I don’t know if we can change that easily. Maybe if just enough foreign start offering their services to other foreign here, people might start liking it and that way it becomes a standard at some point. But if the core of your business is service, don’t try selling it in Germany.
Or, as friend said recently to me: “There are only two business models which work in Germany: super cheap and super expensive - Germans don’t buy anything in between.” Sad, but true.