Well there’s the obvious thing first. Y’all speak a different languages and I can’t understand you so you must be saying something profound and sophisticated.
That works the other way round, too. When I was in the U.S., I marveled at children who were so much younger than me but could speak English way better than I could – even though I had been learning English longer than they had!
Also, most Europeans speak more than one language while most Americans are still busy trying to master English!
This is not our fault! We have to learn a foreign language at school, there’s no way avoiding it. The absolute minimum for German students is five years of English. (I had English for nine years, Latin for six, and French for three years at school – but that’s much more than you have to learn. I just liked languages. But if I was in 7th grade again, I would choose French instead of Latin so I could learn Spanish, too.)
Speaking several languages is much more important for Europeans than for Americans. For example, if I travel 400 miles in any direction, I’m not in a German-speaking country any more. (In fact, if I go west, it’s only 50 miles.) On the other hand, you can go on and on without leaving the U.S.. Or if you do, you are in Canada, where they speak English as well.
Also, many things in Germany are influenced by the U.S. (or Great Britain), for example music. 95% of the songs you hear on German radio stations are in English – by Americans, Britains, and Germans!
So I said to George, in English: “Listen to those people in front of us. I think that’s what good French is supposed to sound like! Damn I wish I could talk like that!”
At which point the young lady who was speaking at the moment turned and said to me in completely perfect English: “Thank you so much! I am pleased that you enjoy it.” And the other two nodded and smiled.
I can add a nice inner-European cliché to your story: I would have doubted that a French could speak English so well. If he can speak English (or another foreign language), he will not reveal it to you but try to get you to speak French instead. Or if he does speak English, he would have such a bad accent that you could hardly understand what he was saying.
[My apologies – please forgive this very bad prejudice. I don’t mean to offend anyone! (Just in case you didn’t notice: I’m not being serious!)]
Europeans dress better. I always felt poorly dressed by comparison. I eventually realized this didn’t matter too much but at first it was quite intimidating.
I didn’t realize that. I was in the U.S. twice so far, but the thought never occured to me. (Maybe French people dress better than Germans?) Anyway, what does dressing have to do with being mature? Or is it just looking more mature?
And Europeans know how to dine. Heck even in McDonald’s people sit and talk while they eat. No-one snacks between meals. No-one eats at their desk. I don’t know why but says “mature” to me.
No one snacks between meals, and no one eats at their desk? This is not true! I invite you to have a look at our daily routine – you would discover that we are not really different from Americans. When either André or I are not home, or we don’t have much time, for dinner we just throw a frozen pizza into the oven and eat it in front of the computer.
By the way, we bought a hot-air (low-fat!) popcorn machine two weeks ago. Since then, we’ve been feeling like a real American household!
And as we all know, the educational system is better across the board. I went to kindergarten and first-grade in France and my Dad swears it was years after coming back to the States before I learned anything new in US schools.
I agree with you. I went to an American Senior Highschool for only five weeks, but my impression was that when you graduate from highschool after 12 years, you are at about the same level as the German Realschulabschluß which you get after the 10th grade.
But it also seems to me that Americans make up for this at the uni!
Scott‘s first thought was that Europeans are forced to make more choices younger than Americans do. Frauke, like all Germans, started to specialize her schooling already in the 5th or 6th grade. I didn’t start to specialize until my 3rd year of college.
He is talking about the three different schools we have in the German school system. Depending on your abilities (or diligence), you go to Hauptschule, Realschule, or Gymnasium. (Only the Gymnasium enables you to go to University after school.) But this decision is usually made by the parents, not the child aged 11 or 13.
Later, you can choose which language you want to learn in 7th and 9th or 11th grade, but I thought American students have choices, too. (Don’t they?)
John Marden says: It is funny, but I, too, assume Europeans are more mature. Maybe it’s because European kids are allowed more freedom as they grow up. Schools in the US spend a lot of effort on “controlling” students. Colleges are supposed to be in loco parentis. […]
I don’t know whether the impetus to control is a cause or effect of lack of maturity, but I bet there is a relationship.
The question is: What came first – the chicken or the egg?
After the Abitur (what you get after finishing 13 years of school), most German students consider themselves to be grown-up. They choose their university, and most students leave their parents’ home and start their own life. The “in loco parentis” thing would most definitely not work in Germany.
Well, these are my thoughts so far. Feel free to discuss!
Maybe someone else from Germany or Europe could add his/her thoughts?! I don’t like being the only European involved here; it puts too much weight on what I say. Ich habe auch nicht die alleinige Wahrheit gepachtet!