Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Indian Zeitgeist

Germany was brutally destroyed during the war. I don’t sympathize with nazi’s but its true that there were a huge number of civilian Germans who were killed during the war and its tragic proportions subdued just because they were on the wrong side of the battle…Not many know that 50000 people were killed in a single air raid in the city of Hamburg(source wiki ). Unfortunately people don’t talk about it in the same breath as what happened elsewhere.

Recently one of my good friends and a blogger asked me an interesting question.

“How did Germany become an industrialized and developed country inspite of the strict labour laws and destruction it faced in the war”

The rise of Germany post war is well documented and you can find details in wikipedia where it explains the wirtschaftswunder aided by american aid, currency devaluation and other measures. Besides these, having stayed here for sometime I could think about other german traits which might have contributed to phoenix-like recovery and the lessons we could learn from them.

Now the question is what makes the Germans special…Having worked with them and seen the locals I can make out drastic difference in work culture, ethics and attitudes. .

Law and order

To quote an example: - In the public transport system followed here, it’s not necessary for a passenger to show his ticket or pass to the bus driver. Neither do they have turnstiles in metro stations which validate your entry...


People here are expected to be honest.. It’s a virtue which is given extreme importance and people DO follow it most of the time. Ofcoz there are occasional ticket checkers in the metro but you would hardly find anyone traveling ticket less. I felt it was amazing that most people follow it inspite of the tempting scenario where you could actually travel without a ticket. Infact I have not seen this system in other European countries where the system wouldn’t enable you to board any public transport facility without a ticket. You may ask why Germans do it this way.

1) People are generally honest and obey the law.
2) The penalty on getting caught is huge. You could actually be denied a loan even after 10 years if your past record shows an indication of unlawful practice. It’s not a ‘one time pay the fine’ affair. A crime done, its baggage carries for a lifetime and people don’t think its worth to break the law.
3) Germans have a fascination for law and uniform. Infact they respect it so much which partly explains why Hitler managed to get people follow him with apparent ease.

Work Culture

There is no half baked approach to work here. Infact even the simplest of trade has to be mastered in perfection. To quote an instance, if someone has to start a saloon the person has to go through a three year full time course on hair dressing. It’s a system which makes you perfect at what you do. Infact here, there is no rush to finish school. They have 11 year schooling system instead of our standard 10. The result of this system is any work given to a german from painting a house to creating aircrafts is beau idéal.

In comparison the Indian instinct is to make things work somehow. The onus shifts from quality of work to how fast you do the job. Impressive in the short run but not long.

Another behavioral trait which is considered highly back home...”Not to say NO to anything” doesn’t work always here esp. as we Indians tend to overuse it to impress anyone. Germans expect you to be realistic and therefore it’s not considered offensive to ask for a pragmatic estimation. But they don’t appreciate if you don’t manage to finish the job in agreed upon time. A mistake often happening to many first time onsite software engineers.

This is an area where we need to draw valuable lessons. I remember our ministers blaming short life span of our roads on the monsoons. Our instinct is to put the blame rather than find the solution. Here, where the roads are punished even more due to the vagaries of nature, they still last for a lifetime because for them they perceive it as a challenge to create lasting quality infrastructure. Infact I could assume the german skills in heavy machinery was a result of shortage of manpower which forced them to innovate and create machines for every task. We are much better blessed manpower and weather wise and hence we haven’t been really ‘forced’ to innovate. At the same time the classic ‘our fate’ attitude for anything non-positive makes us settle in comfort submission zones.

Nationalism and Practicality

Germans have a unique sense of nationalism. They had consciously shed the German race theory and quickly resorted to nation building after the war. Ofcoz since a large number of Germans died in the war, they used auslander’s (outsiders... mostly Turks) for that. There was an inherent desire to catch up with the victors of the war and practical nature of Germans can be seen in subtle examples like the stark difference between the architecture in comparison to France if you notice comparatively newer design seen in Germany. France since it was less destroyed still carries the old European charm whereas Germans preferred the functionality over the charm. That doesn’t mean Germany is any less beautiful…Infact elegancy wise I think the squares and countryside here beats the French any day.

We still stick to beauty of grandiose designs than over practical use. We spend more money on monolith statues or pillars than the roads or public facilities. Sadly we even scuttle useful ideas from implementation under the clause of financial viability. Last year in the city where I live, they celebrated 100 years of the metro network (in a city with one sixth the population of Bangalore)… The price we pay for laid back and short sighted approach to infrastructure can be seen in our big cities. What they foresighted 100 years ago may not have been financially back then, but the results paid off. Our city administration should take cue from em and stop wasting years on “financially viability” studies for public infrastructure projects. Long term nation building should be given precedence over short term financial or political gains.

Relation with other European countries

I guess most of you might think that I have been supporting the Germans over the French in this post. I agree partly due to the fact that I have been living here and my friends here are Germans who have historic hatred for the French and that feeling is mutual. ;-D
Most Germans are sad that they are the portrayed the classic villains in Europe. But historically speaking almost all European countries have their shades of grey. Racism is prevalent in shallow mindsets just as much we would feel for other Asians living in our country and probably its least in Germany. If you go further back in history the supposedly peace loving Swedes and Norwegians were equally brutal during the thirty year war which most of us are not aware of.

There is still a rivalry between all the European countries which is not much in open ever since the European Union became functional. The practicality of co-existence dawned on them which keep this rivalry in small talks over a beer.

India needs to find the solution to the Kashmir problem. What we now have is a peaceful existence of co-hatred for which we spend hell lot of money and yet to no real solution.


I must admit this country is not what it used to before...There is a huge disconnect between old timer Germans and the new generation. The new Germans did not have to struggle or work hard as the old timers…They are threatened by Indians and Chinese who are fast catching up and trying to excel in what they did previously. But am sure they will re-invent themselves considering this is a country which gave birth to people like Nietzche...Goethe...Einstein and Porsche.

We are almost in the same situation like the Germans were in late 50’s... There is an Indian dream in most of us to be successful. But the dream is restricted to a small percentage of population and a vast number still haven’t moved much between the 70’s and today. There was an inherent desire among germans after the war to be a dominant force in the world albeit in a different way, which the succeeded. What we need do to is mature as fast as they thinking and practice with a zeal which goes beyond our definition of a multi-religious democracy which we are justifiably proud of. A nation which should be able to survive based on what we make, what we can offer and beyond fluctuations of currency conversion which we are currently heavily dependant on. Although we have made a progress over the last decade, it still got a lot of change to happen to be a force to reckon with.


Ps said...

Very well written and analysed Mathew.But one thing you forget is that we have made LEAPS of progress but it seems like baby steps because of our burgeoning population which stems up from Illiteracy, Attitude to girl child, attitude in the Society, and lots more.
How many of us do voluntary work on week-ends, esp teaching in a country where education is the need of the hour?
Also this crazy system in India, where an underprivileged child can hope for a better life only if he/she speaks English, a language totally alien for him/her.Thts is a mammoth task--trust me.

In Germany even MBBS is done in German which is the mother tongue.
We really cannot compare Germany and India as the sets of problems each one faces is totally different.
But yes--we can learn from them.
A good post.

Rada said...

Nice, thought-provoking post!

Having worked for a German company for more than two decades, I can agree with most of what you are saying...

A not-so-pleasing aspect of the German personality is their inflexibility, their stubborn refusal sometimes to be less rigid and more creative!

How do we know said...

This is a wonderful, insightful post. You know, you'll be surprised, but Indians, at least from the area where i come from, used to place a premium on honesty too. In fact, in my house, you could kill, but you could not lie. The same principle... the punishment for lying was such incredible alienation that we kids learnt fast enough that there is no such thing as a "small lie" . till date i cannot lie. So guess we Indians can do it too.

silverine said...

Really well written and astute analysis of Germany's emotional and economic roller coaster ride from the 1950s and '60s to the present. Great read and very insightful too as we have never seen or thought about the other face of the Germany that took hits and casualties like the other Allied countries.

...nIShAntH... said...

Great Post.Infact i usually thought Germany was a unfriendly nation taking into account the image created by english novels ,movies.Their honesty is really remarkable when i think of it such a honesty can never be expected here or in any other country as a matter of fact.
well done mathew and thank you for opening my eyes.I am glad that i blogrolled you... :)

guten tag!

mathew said...

Yes..I agree we have our limitations..But thats exactly what we need to weed out in the first place..our limitations..

This post was not intended to be a comparison with Germany...Just wanted to highlight some traits which could be useful for us as well..

The english skills are necessary coz thats our market is driven by services we sell..whereas german economy is driven my products where language skills are not as critical..

And yeah challenges we face are more huge than what we might percieve...

thank you...
I agree they are quite inflexible and there instincts to take risks are quite low...But somehow they have managed to make it work..

Though I would disagree on the comment germans are uncreative...they are creative in areas where the beauty of it is overshadowed by sheer efficency...You cannot make cars like Audi coupe or Porsche carrera without being creative..;-P

@How do we know
Honesty gets generalised from the kind of people you see around...Its just one instance that can belittle our faith in general goodwill..

Thank you....
It just helped that I was always fascinated by this country even before I came here..and I was not having the stigma which many people have about this country..

Yeah..probably if a country has strictly laws and it pays off to be honest, people might be actually have faith in it..

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

I'll leave a few points to ponder:
On law and order:
In Germany as in the United States, it is the stringent law and penalties enforced that make the people law abiding. To assign those virtues to the people instead of the system might be misplaced. This can, for instance, be substantiated by the the fact that the people who spoke the truth at concentration camps were never sent home with a certificate commending their virtue and a medal but just as brutally gassed to death.
To assign a quirk such as 'a fascination for uniforms' to a population of 82 million might be a very broad generalization.

On work culture:

While you have rightly mentioned how thorough the system is, there are other things I'd like to point out: The thoroughness comes because the people don't have a choice. The German education system is largely free and almost entirely state sponsored(except for may be very recent developments that I am not aware of). In grade 4 the students are separated into three distinct categories according to ability, at an age when they can barely make a willful choice, and then they are stuck with that line for the remaining 'compulsory' 9 years of education. Occassionally they can change their track but such cases are rare. So the student future is effectively decided either by his performance at an age when he is barely aware of what he is doing or by the will of his parents. Also, the penalties for dropping out of the 3 year vocation training are high and it is very very difficult to find a job if you don't complete the mandatory 9 years as required by the state. Now that I have stated the facts I shall give an opinion. I find this a highly undemocratic system of education and I am not entirely convinced I would've appreciated being in such a system even if I did become the perfect hairdresser. Because I might very well have become the perfect scientist, if my future weren't decided in grade 4!

On nationalism and practicality:
I'm not sure how you say the Indian mindset in construction is not practical when you just stated early on in the same write up that Indians try to be more practical about doing things than the germans who are more perfect. Moreover, even if we were to start with the arbitrary assumption that the Indian mindset in construction is not about functionality, I would point you to the 1 billion rectangular box like buildings that span every city in India, and have no purpose if not functional.

On Future:
I am not sure why it should be assumed that 'There was an inherent desire among germans after the war to be a dominant force' while 'But the dream is restricted to a small percentage of population' of Indians. The German grit to recover is no doubt admirable, but Germany is a very different country in terms of size, geography and population. It would be hard for me to make a comparison with India. Also, it must be remembered that Germany was an industrialised nation before going into the Wars. So backed by the United States which was worried about the consequences to its domestic economy of a major economic slowdown in Europe, and supported by some good fortune in the form of the constant turmoil between Russia and United States West Germany made an impressive economic recovery. The circumstances for India today are in no way similar.

Sorry, I was merely highlighting some points which I thought were a little suspect. You have made many other good points though and it is a very informative post. I have a long thanksgiving weekend ahead of me with nothing to do hence the length :)

~==[[[ Abhi ]]]==~ said...

Very insightful post. Got to know a lot about the German way of life. Quite a good set of examples too. I feel that we've a lot to learn from the countries which were ravaged in the world war, be in Germany, Japan or the numerous other nations that made progress at such a fast pace. I still love the climax in Anniyan where he show's the examples of such nations and then tells what's lacking in India. But as preeti said we can't show much progress on the charts because of the burgeoning population. Hope that now India will make use of the growing population for it's progress.


anN-series said...

your friend asks very thought provoking questions!
....lets hope we learn some good lessons from the germans....

anN-series said...

our attitude to 'never do things on time', 'take strict action' etc are all being tested today, when i sit in mumbai knowing that exactly 10 kms from where i sit, the situation is equivalent to war! but i doubt if i can complain, cause i never vote....

Destination Infinity said...

Right from the 19th Century, Germans were dominant in various fields like for eg. Chemicals, Mining etc. Even a company like Du Pont, had to obtain reselling rights from the German companies back then because they lacked the expertise of the Germans! Precision and efficiency are two traits that I admire with them. I quite admire another country too when it comes to the point of "rising from the ashes" - Japan.

I do think that the basic virtues like honesty and integrity go a long way in shaping a nation. The change must come from within ourselves. But still we cannot defeat the west in their game of technology. We need to make them play ours. Identifying our strengths as Indians, is somehow so tough for all of us!!

Destination Infinity

Mishmash ! said...

Hey u' re half German now :D

Quite a well written post and the comments to the posts were also insightful......I was quite impressed by their penalty sys u mentioned....

POOJA NAIR said...

interesting read.

its fascinating to see how different countries in differnt continents function.

One faces one's future wiht ones past.

India had a differnt past. Our present is therefore different too.

Lets just hope we have a brighter future... :)

you think it is possible? - for India to be free from corruption, and communal tension and poverty and illitracy?

sigh lets see...

scorpiogenius said...

Interesting Analysis Mathew...

You seem to be writing up more on deutchland now a days... Falling in deep love with the Germans? :)

mathew said...

@ Karthik

On law and order:
I have mentioned here the penalty is huge for breaking law. I wouldn’t mind people following a law either by virtue of people or system. After all a system is defined by the people themselves.
And regarding fascination for uniform ..I haven’t mentioned ‘ALL Germans have’. It’s a generic attribute I have seen as here based on how people behave towards uni-formed people..

On work culture:
I agree to your points. Though as you have guessed state sponsored education is free. But ofcoz people have option of private education which would be charged.
I clarified the educational system with a friend of mine and he agrees quite a good deal with your opinions, I am copy pasting his response:-

“very difficult and controversial topic indeed!

In fact its correct that traditionally the German education system was divided into
- Grundschule (primary school) - 4 grades
Afterwards choice of secondary schools:
- Sonderschule (special schools for kids with - I don't know the politically correct term ;-) - mental "limi-tations" etc.)
- Hauptschule (4 to 5 grades, I believe) --> gives basic education (graduates from such school often are qualified only for simple jobs)
- Realschule (6 grades) --> more qualified education (graduates qualify for most qualified non-university job trainings in companies)
- Gymnasium (9 grades in west, 8 in east germany) --> qualifies for university access (Abitur)
In fact its correct, that changes between the school types are possible (upwards and downwards) based on performance. But its also true, that it is quite infrequent. Most common possibility is for tal-ented kids to change from Realschule to Gymnasium when finished in Realschule and add 3 grades to reach Abitur. And the remark in your text below, that the age where the choice is made is not ideal, is not wrong, I think...

Then, since the 70's there is the model of "Gesamtschule" (Common School), where the 3 main types of the secondary schools are under 1 roof. However concept was very political (had a slightly "socialis-tic" twist;-)): Result was that requirements towards learning success were slowly lowered in these schools, so that in the end even the most untalented ones had the chance to get an Abitur.

That resulted in universities getting into trouble with their applicants. Had funny side effects, like good bavarian universities not accepting students from certain ohter states of the federation with known Abitur quality problems any more, or the idea to implement admission tests (normally the Abitur was considered as the "general university admission qualification").

Well, and then, the international study PISA struck hard a couple of years ago, and gave the german education system devastating ratings!

Since then, the education politicians and professionals are in panic mode and are trying out a lot of things (not all of them with success, but at least something has started to move). Problem is, that edu-cation is in the responsibility of the states of the federation, therefore 16 different parties can do what they like, which leads to a very non-uniform system especially in this transition phase.
Main ideas indeed include
- better qualification of teachers
- better care for immigrant children (in workers quarters often a majority in the classes, with lots of language problems because their old people don't speak German)
- increasing the number of grades of primary (joint) school from 4 to 6, to avoid that the choice be-tween the secondary school types has to be made at a too young age
- merging Hauptschule with Realschule (as Hauptschule reputation is seen so low, taht it automatically turns kids into loosers), I just wonder what the impact on quality of education in Realschule will be (see remark about Gesamtschule).
- improve school equipment (education seems to have been financially neglected for a while)
- implement "whole day" schools, programs for special care for weak students etc. .....

Of course many of those things are also a matter of cost. So we'll see what comes out. Hamburg is also currently trying a big reform.

Where cost is concerned in general:
- school is normally free, however some states charge parents a bit for books etc.
- university was also free traditionally, however lately they have started to collect fees per semester (not major, maybe 500 per semester). Is also designed to repell "long-term" students (some university start charging only after 10 semesters or so): however deeply unpopular (understandably) for stu-dents.
- on the other hand there is also possibility to get "Bafög" which is a interest-free credit to sustain stu-dents during their studies (up to I think 500 or so EUR a month) - but its dependent on parents income (normally parents are expected to support their kids on university, but in fact many work as waiters and similar jobs...)”

On nationalism and practicality:

” when you just stated early on in the same write up that Indians try to be more prac-tical about doing things than the germans who are more perfect.”.. Where did I say that?

Am talking about general attributes where we spend unnecessary money and nothing to do with construction patterns…

On Future:
This post is not about which country is better in comparison…Its only about learning lessons which might be useful for us…The circumstances may not be same but we are trying to make it big in the world stage and that’s where the similarity is…

Thanks for the comment….

mathew said...

Probably after the turn of events in the last week...I wish we change for the better..

I do vote...:-)
Yes these words have become cliched journalist lingo these days...

@Destination Infinity
Thats an interesting piece of info..:-)
Yeah am a big fan of Japan too...

"But still we cannot defeat the west in their game of technology."

Its not that we are incapable of being technoligically as brilliant..its just that we dont have establishment or private industries that cultivate such skills...

hahaha..aarum kelkandaa..

Oh I sincerely wish so as well..Probably the recent turn of event might help people ask some questions that could be chanelled into nation building.

A postive thing is that people have begun to realise how horrible our politicians are as much as these terrorist!!

Maybe my second love....;-D

Dhanya said...

I came in late here I guess. Having worked closely with Germans for so long I can agree with every point you told. I was totally in awe of them and have wished the same way about India too. But after the Nokia Siemens merger I'm got a chance to get to know the Finnish culture as well and the first feeling that I got was that Germans have a laid back attitude. In the sense they focus more on process and quality and is not very aggressive.. So there will be good and bad in every culture and what we can do to absorb only the good :)

Rachel Christy said...

This is an amazing and wonderful post. Very well said. Good Job. I actually dropped by for your biriyani recipe :-)

starry nights said...

A very well writeen post and an insight to German work ethic and honesty.

Anonymous said...

Considering I work in a German company I see the difference between the German, Indian and American way of working and life:

1. Germans are formal and very businesslike.
2. They are quite racist. Very few Germans are open to something simple as talking nicely to Indians or wearing a sari. They are still proud of the aryan heritage.
3.They are efficient, process driven and planned
4. They aren't very good with english
5. They are very cosncious of their history - of hitler and the holocaust
5. I would say we are more flexible than any other race when it comes to work. We are deemed lazy but trust me we are more flexible when it comes to hard work and recognition.
6. I think Germany is not an easy place to live in (from what I have heard). Indians tend to be uncomfortable in culture where they are always kept under the microscope and scanned.

mathew said...

I agree that german mentality is afraid to take risks....but surprisingly they have done well inspite of that pulling on their other strengths...

@Rachel Christy
thank you..

@starry nights
I think every person will have new insights to share about people living in each country..but not much is known about germans..atleast back home..

I agree to all except the statement that germans are quite racist..atleast in the last 2.5 years I have hardly had any such experience..but ofcoz there might be pockets of it somewhere...

I agree that we are very flexible and adaptive to any work culture...thats why we are successful abroad..

I love living in this country..maybe given a choice of living in a european country i would choose this place...but ofcoz i want to go back home...:-)

thanks for visiting...

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

@Mathew: Glad you took the interest to learn :)

Radhika Ganesan said...

nice post ! Corruption is a deep rooted evil in our society. Arresting one politician will lead to the eventual arrests of almost every politician around !! Population gives rise to lack of jobs and hence poverty, Poverty makes people cheat others , Dishonesty makes distrust in the society . So many religions , caste , community spreads hatred in for others . With lots of ambitions and a inner surge to be rich,I wonder where i will see my country after a decade !!!!!

Sonja said...

Nice perspectives, lots of good thoughts which you have put forward. Germany had though initially immense financial & integrational support from the leading countries, whereas India was for long mainly isolated. But good to read through it :)