Why Trump-style overselling doesn’t work in Germany or France
When you listen to Americans, everything sounds like it’s awesome and amazing. Does this come from genuine enthusiasm, or is this only pure exaggeration? During the last presidential campaign, President-Elect Trump regularly overpraised his own successes and those of his Vice President. However, this tactic does not work in Germany, where people prefer facts to bragging, or in France, where boasting doesn’t fit with the cultural style and manners.
Being born in France and having spent much of my life between France and Germany, I wondered about this contrast during my first year in the United States. In comparison to my countrymen, Americans have a strong tendency to show exaggerated feelings and to oversell their successes. Everything is awesome, great, or amazing. Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE American enthusiasm and optimism! However, in business, this style is barely compatible with German objectivism or French courtesy.
Trump-style overselling doesn’t work in Germany
In Germany, being objective is highly praised and viewed as proof of professionalism. Germans will enter a meeting well prepared and support an argument with facts. They get straight to the point and stick to their facts. As a result, in order to establish a good working relationship in Germany, you have to demonstrate deep knowledge in your field.
When Donald Trump introduced his running mate Mike Pence last July, he largely oversold his records in Indiana. Of course, nobody really noticed in Germany, but this would never work for German business.
Bragging about success make Germans feel uncomfortable. Without neat facts and figures, you’d never get far. At the same time, exaggerating may make you sound untrustworthy or suggest you’re following some hidden agenda. In Germany, logic has a higher priority than feelings! If you want to be taken seriously in Germany, a strong academic degree and detailed intelligence will open many doors (since everyone respects a Doctor or a Professor).
The German press was not sympathetic to Donald Trump during his campaign. Besides his excessive statements, his exaggerations and proclaimed “management by instinct” are too distant from the German love for details and preparation.
Trump-style overselling doesn’t work in France either
The French press wasn’t nice to Trump as a candidate either. But, his offending words are only part of the vision French people have of the president-elect.
In France, business is not a high-prestige occupation. Graduates, and particularly those of elite schools, seek to enter government service more than a large and successful French company. For example, university professors and top public servants enjoy greater prestige than business managers. When Trump points out how successful he is, that doesn’t impress French people at all.
In Understanding Cultural Differences, American cross-cultural researcher Edward T. Hall interviewed many French business people about their perspective on Americans. This quotation sounds harsh (it’s a quote, and I’m not the author!) but may also give a clue on what the French think about Mr. Trump:
“Americans don’t know how to present themselves. They sprawl and slouch and have no finesse.”
My French countrymen are probably more relaxed with the womanizer image of Donald Trump. According to legend, in 1899, French President Félix Faure died during sexual intercourse with his mistress. In 2012, François Hollande, the current president, moved into the presidential residency with his girlfriend. She left him less than two years later after his cheating on her went public.
However, the words recorded in the ugly video in which Trump bragged about groping women are more damaging. According to Hall,
“Style and élan are very important to the French. . . . In general, it’s the overall effect that matters to the French, not the details.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Why are Americans generally so enthusiastic?
I remember reading somewhere that this phenomenon is as old as the Revolutionary War. In contrast to cool and controlled Englishmen, Americans wanted to be different and started to overstate everything. Is this really so? I couldn’t find any reliable sources about this topic.
In my humble opinion, Americans are genuine people who enjoy simple things in life. It’s not so complicated, it’s not so calculated, and I like it (at least most of the time).
In my professional life, I had to adapt quickly to life in the United States. I competed with self-confident Americans raised in an environment where overselling is nothing to reprimand. Believe me, at first I had a really hard time trying to adapt given my German love for logic, facts, and figures. I wanted to be taken seriously and maybe tried too hard to demonstrate how capable I was.
Now, I am more relaxed. I have trained myself to find everything awesome, and more importantly, I can now sell myself in a less German way!
Thank you for reading my blog. With your help, we just passed the mark of 4,000 readers per month, and that really is AWESOME!