The husband of one of my cousins was in Germany for business. His name is Bart. We hadn’t seen each other in several years. He is a good guy, intelligent, open, hard working, and a good husband and father. Bart had meetings in Düsseldorf and he asked me to come up on the train and meet him for dinner. I take the train up from Bonn. It is a quick, comfortable, efficient ride. From the central train station in Düsseldorf it was only twenty minutes with the Strassenbahn, the tram. It was enjoyable winding through the tree-lined streets.
I enter the restaurant, turn left, go up a few steps and see Bart at a table with two men. They are his German business partners, or at least partners in this particular investment project Bart is working on. I sit down, we order food and talk. Bart does most of the talking. The two German guys aren’t terribly talkative. After about ten minutes I realize that they’d prefer to be somewhere else. At home with their families. At the gym getting a workout. Or even at their desk working. They made a very professional and focused impression.
Bart doesn’t really notice that they might rather be somewhere else. They’re polite, nodding to what Bart says, asking a question or two. They discreetly glance at their watches. I feel bad for Bart. He isn’t aware. I also become angry at the Germans for not putting a little more effort into the conversation.
Americans like to do business with people they like and who like them. They do not distinguish as clearly as Germans do between business and personal. Getting to know each other on a personal level is important. What could be better than enjoying a dinner together?
Arrogant Germans, I thought. They were being mean to my cousin, who was unknowing and perhaps a bit naive. My anger didn’t last long, though. From their perspective, perhaps it was selfish of Bart to invite them to dinner. They were supporting him with their legal expertise, thus not in a position to say no to dinner. Maybe they had a sick child at home or an important report to prepare for the next day. They most likely were good guys, also. Intelligent, open, hard working, good husbands and fathers.