Table of contents
2. Communication and culture in Germany
2.2.1. Cultural conditioning of the individual
2.2.2. System of values
2.2.4. Cultural identity
2.3. Intercultural communication
2.5. Non- verbal communication
3.2. Politics of the 1990’s
3.3. Role of the media
3.4. Other reasons
4. Current situation
4.2. North – South – East – West
4.3. Positive changes
5. Prospectus and approach
Communication is everything. Nowadays communication is involved in every part of our life. Interactions and interrelations between different people is the basis for social competences, politics, economy, education and many things more. Since we live in a global world we always have to deal with lots of different cultures. And every culture has its own understanding of communication, does use different communication systems. Above that every single human being of a cultural system has its own personality and values. That is why there are lots of seminars, further education trainings and studies about intercultural communication in order to be able to understand each other, to work and to communicate with other cultures. We need a common basis where we can establish competent behaviour. We have to have a look at the collusion to avoid irritations and misunderstandings. Since this is very complicated and needs a lot of effort there are too much problems in communication in our world.
Normally intercultural communication deals with differences/ problems between members of different cultures. But this aspect can be transmitted to the communication within one country. A special part of this topic is the situation in Germany under the aspect of communication and cultural differences. Germany has a special position in Europe caused by its history. The separation between East and West is still a topic to refer to. The collusion and the similarities are partially smaller than expected after 16 years of the reunification.
In the following essay different aspects of communication and intercultural behaviour shall be applied to Germany’s current situation. Reasons and possible explanations are given and in the end Germany’s real position is identified and proposals for solution of still existing problems are given. All the information given are based on general scientific methods and ideas concerning communication and culture as well as on personal experiences and a survey implemented by the authors of this essay. The meaning of culture is higher than normally thought. We need “bridges for understanding”, as Richard von Weizsäcker mentioned it in his book of the same name. This concerns not only peoples from all over the world but also the inhabitants of Germany. Only by understanding the culture and the way of communication of his neighbour one is able to create harmony, freedom and liberty.
2. Communication and Culture in Germany
First of all we want to point out some theoretical aspects of communication and culture. It is just a short overview that shall provide you with basic and general knowledge in order to get into touch with the topic and to understand its difficulty, its meaning and further explanations.
The word „communication“ has its origin in the Latin word “communicare” which means the mutual exchange and the common production of thoughts into language, gestures and facial expressions, writing and picture. Communication takes place between two or more individuals, within human beings on words, voice, touching and emotions.
In a social scientific context, communication is a process where individuals can solve problems. In connection with communication, relations are established, strengthened and destroyed.
Due to an increasing globalisation it also has the function to improve the quality of the meeting between people of different cultures. This is very important for a better understanding, to understand culture and to avoid prejudices.
Many scientists investigated the phenomenon of communication. So there exist some models in the theory of communication, which are utilised to describe this phenomenon. In most cases this is done by a so called “Sender- Empfänger” model “submitter- recipient – model).
A model of communication describes the scientific way of explaining how communication works. There are a lot of theories, trying to describe the idea of communication. An example is the Sender-Empfänger Model of Stuart Hal. In 1970, Stuart Hall developed a model, which defines communication as a transmission from a transmitter to a receiver. The message is coded and transmitted as a signal about a transmission channel.
During this, the message can be distorted due to several disturbances.
A requirement for a successful communication is that transmitter and receiver have the same code and the same (social, historical, economical) background. Only if this is fulfilled a successful communication can take place.
The rising internationalisation leads to more intensive meeting of people of different nationalities and cultures. Intercultural communication gains a rising worth. So it is necessary to develop a sensibility within the people.
There are a lot of different imaginations or definitions regarding to the word “culture”. It has several meanings; its original Latin meaning describes the cultivation of land.
Frequently, when talking about culture, advanced civilisation is meant; culture regarding to refine the mind: education, art, literature and so on. But it also includes ordinary things, which influence the every day’s life: the organization of work, nutrition, clothes, forms communication, family structure and language.
The intercultural research describes culture as follows: “It is the totality of attributes, principles, assumptions, values and moral concepts, values of behaviour, and basic attitudes shared by one group, which influence the behaviour of one group and the other way round itself influences the group.
Culture influences the way of living and the world of imagination of the individual and society. It regulates the social behaviour which again influences the culture. Culture can also change due to changes within one group or society and also forms the people living in it. Culture is often in conflict between tradition and customs, social heritage and innovations.
The easiest realising frontier is the geographical (regarding to borders) or political one. But it is highly controversial. Even linguistic borders do not deliver an accurate frontier.
Hofstedter, for instance found out, that there are more differences between Germans and Austrians than between Germans and British people, even though the language between Germans and Austrians is more common. So the definition of the frontier of culture is not as easy as it seems.
2.2.1. Cultural conditioning of the individual
The human being is born into a certain culture, into an existing complex system of certain values.
So every human being develops a pattern of thinking, feeling and behaviour.
These patterns are learned since birth. Of course there is a chance to differ from their learned attitudes, if one reacts in a new way, things about its action and behaviour. Human beings are influenced due to their social surroundings like family, school, workplace, friendship and partnership. So all in all, everyday when people come together or even live together, they are influenced by others and even have an influence on others, too. Often even one does not recognise it at first, but it has an influence to the subconscious. So there exist cultural differences regarding to life, behaviour and feelings within a society. At that part we would like to mention a special outcome of the cultural conditioning which could occur when people from different cultures come together – the culture shock. It is defined as an experience of an individual who encounters a different culture (Reisinger/ Turner, 2003, p.56 ff.). It may be caused by the inability to cope in a new cultural environment, by being confronted with different ways of life, habits or unfamiliar stimuli. A human being suffering from such a shock has then two different souls. The one wants to accept as soon as possible the new surrounding with all its rituals and forgets its own culture, the other one keeps its own culture whatever will happen and just refuses the new culture. The one can be called a self-doubting person and the other one as a person devaluating the foreign culture (von Thun, 2006, p.83). This contradiction in a man makes it hard for him/ her to develop intercultural competences. Such a part of culture shock happened in Germany as well after the reunification. It was a mixture of a role shock occurring due to the a lack of knowledge about the other one’s rules and behaviour and a transition shock which can be identified as a negative reaction to changes in the new cultural environment. The Germans were suddenly out together as ones and were unable to interact effectively within their “new” environment.
2.2.2. System of values
Values are abstract ideals and can be compared with priorities. They are the most lasting part of a cultural life. They represent the core of the onion-shaped diagram. Values serve as the polarization of patterns of behaviour and as the formation of ideals and aims. They are very important for the orientation within society. In this case, we talk about polarization as the distinction between good and bad, beautiful and ugly, irrational and rational. Everybody has a system of values, assessing his surrounding.
The development of the system of values takes place in the early childhood. The main reason, why most of the values are subconscious is that one first becomes aware of them, if one is touched by them due to the environment or his surroundings. The model of Spencer Oatey (1999) describes this phenomenon.
illustration not visible in this excerpt
The graphic demonstrates how to understand culture: Culture is arranged onion-shaped and in different layers. Every layer causes and influences the other. The outer layer contains the rituals and behaviour as well as artefacts and products of a culture. The layer underneath forms the systems and institutions of a society. This contains the social and economical as well as the political, legislative and executive systems and institutions of a culture. The next layer consists of beliefs, norms and attitudes, common values and moral concepts. Underneath this layer there is the centre of culture: the basic assumptions and values. This layer is limited in his area but it is the most important one of this model, because every other layer is directly or indirectly derived from this basic layer. Changes in the core of this model can lead to a complete change in the whole system.
When talking about culture Ethnocentrisms plays a very important role. It can lead to misinterpretation and to an unsuccessful communication. Ethnocentrisms is the endeavours to put more value on the qualities of the own culture, than to the quality of another culture due to a different view of this culture and due to the fact of being a “prisoner” in the own culture. A human being assesses the behaviour of other people with his own system of values, influenced by culture and norms. But in most cases, he does not realise, that these values are not common at all.
So there can be problems when two different cultures clash together. That is why we have to be aware of Ethnocentrisms and understand how it works and that every cultural group acts like this.
2.2.4. Cultural Identity
Regarding to intercultural communication, cultural identity is of high importance. It describes the cultural feeling and belonging of individuals to a specific group of culture.
Cultural identity is very important for the awareness of its own origin and for a better understanding of the own culture. Cultural identity first develops with experiencing other cultures. It has to be protected, because culture determines our thoughts, acting and feelings. Culture defines who we are.
In connection with this, the term of acculturation plays an important role. It describes the modification of the culture of one group as a result of contact with a different culture. Acculturation can take place in a peaceful way and without any complications, but it can also cause strained relations and social destabilization.
With the clashing together of two cultures, the weaker culture often becomes destabilized or is destroyed. The better way is the assimilation and acceptance of the other culture, because this leads to a protection, transformation and expansion of the identity.
The problem of cultural identity within Germany partly still exists. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, there were two different cultures, influenced by different political systems, faced to each other. Sure, they all belonged to Germany but due the different systems of socialism and capitalism different cultures with different values developed.
In connection with acculturation, the culture of the East (socialism is seen as the weakest culture) was destabilized and had to adopt the values of the Western orientated system. The East has not had a “voice” in whole Germany. We have to point out, that it has not been easy to adopt new values in a short time. So a lot of people from the East fell into a loss of identity. They were switched off of their daily life and values and put into a new system. Sure, this was not that easy.
There is an impressive quotation which describes the relation of the two parts of Germany, which should be only one part.
“In former times, the Germans where one nation in two states, today we are two nations in one state!”
Lothar de Maziere (first and last free elected prime minister of the GDR)
2.3. Intercultural Communication
The precondition of a simple intercultural communication is a common language. But this is often not enough; there are a lot of other factors influencing a successful intercultural communication.
There are six stumbling blocks in the intercultural communication, which make intercultural communication more difficult.
1) Assuming similarity
2) Language Differences
3) Nonverbal Misinterpretation
4) Preconceptions and Stereotypes
5) Tendency to evaluate
6) High anxiety
Language is he most important and most obvious part of communication. At first glance this is no problem in Germany because we all speak German. So we all should be able to understand each other. Superficially this is right. But language is more than words or vocabulary. The meaning behind the words, the expressions and the use of language is more important. Language is not only the external medium for communication between people but also the internal medium for thinking, expressing feelings and ideas and representing the environment. Without language any individual and cultural exchange would not be possible. In our case we do have a common language, but not only one language. The language of the West differs from the language of the East. Language is directly linked with culture. It is a “symbolic guide to culture” (Reisinger/Turner, 2003, p.9) and it is influenced by social and political surrounding. The “Ossis” and “Wessis” belong to different cultures and grew up in different systems. That is why misunderstandings between East and West can occur. We have different systems, therefore different experiences and sometimes a different language. Some cultural aspects of the East differ a lot from the West. For instance when talking about one topic (education of children) an “Ossi” would use other words, expressions, emotions or gestures to describe the situation and to point out his/ her point of view. His/her opinions could be completely different from those of a “Wessi” simply because the “Ossi” have made other experiences, have had another education and other values. The probability that Ossis and Wessis do not agree is higher than the same probability of two Ossis or two Wessis. To broaden this aspect we can state that the communication among Ossis respectively among Wessis is easier than among an Ossi and a Wessi. People from the East are a community. They had or have the same problems, history. They know each other quite well and have a feeling of “We”. In a conversation they do not have to explain general facts because of similar experiences and circumstances in the past. Whereas the life in the West of Germany was completely different. But we will come to this later when talking about the history. This feature is comparable to a conversation between you and your best friend. You know each other really good, you may have made the same experiences, you use the same language, you are able to read between the lines, you can suppose special facts another one could never knew. Therefore your conversation is clear and easy among you two. With a stranger or someone you only knew cursorily this would not be possible. That means cultural differences create differences in verbal communication. The differences in language create different ways of expressing someone’s feelings, opinions or beliefs. In the end these differences can lead to difficulties. That is the reason why there are often misunderstandings between East and West Germans.
In order to have a proper communication a common knowledge about the interacting parties is essential. Unfortunately this is missing in Germany due to the false information given by the two governments during the separation. On the one hand the people from the East were given wrong information or even no information about the inhabitants of the western part of Germany. On the other hand the people from the east were characterized wrong by the western government. The socialism was transmitted with non –liberty. This led to a negative image of all inhabitants of East Germany. So it was partially the policy’s fault. The relationship between policy and language is important, though. Firstly language is the tool for communicating political contents; secondly it reflects the political acting itself. The items used by politicians contribute to the interpretation of reality. So they have an influence on how the world (here the other part of Germany) is seen. The language transports social attitudes and a certain world view. This is dependent on what politicians say and do. The usage of political slogans, keywords and the occupation of special items with a special meaning, such as socialism with bondage, belong to the political strategy. If these words are used in a negative sense the addressee of those political speeches is influenced pessimistically. Moreover the past leaves a trace in the language and its meaning which is automatically associated with certain feelings/ experiences (Duden Politik, p. 40ff.). Some of those negative impressions still exist in the memory of the Germans. The use of language can be one reason why some authors mention that the “wall in the minds of the Germans” does still exist.