There's Vegans, and Then There's German Vegans

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American public radio highlights a recent report by German nutritionists warning about the potential risks of a vegan diet: 

Berlin resident Moza Kabbar ... says there's a huge boom in enthusiasm for veganism in the city.

But not everyone in Germany is on board. In a new paper, the German Nutrition Society says a vegan diet can't provide everything your body needs.

"With a pure plant-based diet, it is difficult or impossible to attain an adequate supply of some nutrients," states the German Nutrition Society's new position on the vegan diet. "The most critical nutrient is B-12," which is found in eggs and meat. The group says if you follow a vegan diet, you should take supplements to protect against deficiencies.

According to the German nutritionists, other "potentially critical nutrients" that may be a challenge to get in a vegan diet include omega-3s — found in fatty fish — as well as minerals such as calcium, iron, iodine, zinc and selenium. So the group recommends that vegans get advice from a nutrition counselor and be "regularly checked by a physician." In addition, the society recommends against a vegan diet for pregnant women, women who are breast-feeding, children and adolescents.

Advocates for veganism say the new position from German nutritionists goes too far.

"With a little planning and knowledge, rest assured, you can get everything you need from a vegan diet for great health ... at any age," Jimmy Pierson, a spokesperson for the Vegan Society, based in England, told us by phone....

But to make sure you're covering all your bases, "I would recommend [taking] a standard multivitamin," [U.S. dietitian Lisa] Cimperman says. It's a good insurance policy for vegans.

As for putting kids on vegan diets, the American Academy of Pediatrics says children can be well-nourished on all kinds of vegetarian diets, "but nutritional balance is very difficult to achieve if dairy products and eggs are completely eliminated," the position states. The academy recommends that if your child is following a vegetarian diet, "you need to guard against nutritional deficiencies."

Allow me to engage in some armchair sociologizin' here. Notice that this American news source quotes a Brit and an American, who both say perfectly sensible things about veganism. The target audience for the German nutrition report is not people like this. The target is German hard-core ideological vegans. These exist in the UK and US also, but I'd wager there are more of them here in Germany.

Why? Because Germany is the land of philosophical Idealism, deontological moral absolutes, and sayings such as "To be German means to do a thing for its own sake" (g, Wagner) and "A German is someone who cannot tell a lie without believing it himself." (Adorno). And, since the late 1960s, a public discourse which is drenched in moral judgment.

Many German vegans are vegans not just because it's healthy, or because they don't want to see animals exploited. They think in rigid ideological categories. They are fundamentally convinced, like fundamentalists, that mankind was fundamentally never meat to consume animal protein, and that doing so is fundamentally immoral. Not only that, taking supplements would be an admission that a vegan diet is not fundamentally sufficient, weakening its claim to be the only fundamentally morally acceptable way to feed oneself.

You encounter the word fundamentally a lot in German. Also the word konsequent, which describes someone whose actions align scrupulously with their stated principles. I have met many German vegans. The majority are sensible and take supplements. But there's a pretty large minority who absolutely refuse to do so, seeing it as an unacceptable ethical compromise. The notion that they would change their habits when they have children is also seen as...an unacceptable ethical compromise. After all, what is more important than passing on your own fundamentally morally superior values of absolute nonviolence and sustainability to your children, so they will continue the lonely, voice-in-the-wilderness crusade for a better world? Assuming, of course, that the neural tube defects leave them able to communicate.

These are the people the German nutritionists are trying to reach. Of course, hard-core ideological German vegans will ignore the message, because that's the kind of people they are.

As Wickham Steed put it: "The Germans dive deeper -- but they come up muddier."


Behold! I Shall Fish the Bottles Out of the Düssel

Take a look at this:

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This is the Düssel river, the local Rhein tributary that gives Düsseldorf its name. Some rivers are so big, cities are built around them, not over them. The Düssel isn't that big. The city fathers of Düsseldorf did actually keep the river, mind you. However, it flows underground most of the way through the city, only popping into view occasionally. But when it does come into view, it's a refreshing change. And as here, near the Karolingerstraße, a bit of riverbank has been preserved, creating a nice park-like atmosphere.

Granted, it's only a little brook, and the riverbank is only about 5 meters on either side before the streets and buildings begin. But even a small bit of nature and green in the city does a surprising amount to make a place more livable. Trust me, I've lived in cities which don't know how to do this.

But here's the thing: you see those shapes in the water? No, they're not fish. There are fish in the Düssel, but they're much smaller. Those things are bottles. 

Fucking bottles.

Over the years, subhuman fucksticks have finished their bottles of cheap beer and casually tossed them into the river. Even though there's a bottle deposit in Germany, which poor people rely on, scouring the city for deposits. You could simply put the bottle on the bridge over the river, and it would be gone in literally 5 minutes, collected by some retiree living on a miserly pension. Also, no more than 2 meters from where I shot this photo, there are not only trash bins but a fucking glass recycling box.

But did Jackass McShitforbrains (or perhaps Güldüz Al-Antisocial) use any of these opportunities? No. He just threw the fucking bottle into the cool, clear, pristine water of the river. So every single time a human crosses this bridge and pauses to enjoy a nice view, he's reminded of the fact that certain humanoid entities exist who would fuck up a nice little view out of sheer laziness or spite.

I have never actually seen anyone throw a bottle in the Düssel. Actually, that's pretty fortunate, because if I did, I would probably fly into a rage and try to beat them to death. I'm not joking. One of the reasons Northwestern Europe is such a nice place to live is that people take care of public spaces. One of the many curses of the developing world is that people in those countries have no understanding of why it's important to keep public spaces clean. They are often scrupulously neat in their private homes, but think nothing of throwing garbage anywhere in the open. This is one of the key conflicts that arise when immigrants from the Third World arrive in Germany: they go picknicking in the park and leave a mound of dirty diapers, trash, bottles, plastic bags, disposable barbecues, and food remains just sitting in a pile in the middle of a pristine meadow of luscious green grass. 

Now, part of this is because the countries they come from don't have functioning garbage-disposal infrastructures, etc. But there's also a cultural component, as anybody who's ever lived in a country like India can tell you. Even in middle-class families, there's a sense that the interior of the home is a focus of pride and should be kept spotless, but if you don't own the land -- especially if nobody owns the land -- then it's fair game to just throw anything away there. As a 2013 book call The Concept of the Public Realm puts it:

Take something as simple as streets and public parks. Since they lie outside the family home, they are seen as a no-man's land, an empty space, almost a wilderness. While the Indian home is clean and tidy, streets and even parks are unacceptably dirty. Streets are used as garbage heaps, and rubbish and leftover food is thrown around in parks. Even the front of the house is sometimes turned into as a garbage heap. Since public spaces are not seen as theirs, Indians generally take no care of them and expect the civic authority to do so. And if it does not, as is generally the case, things are left as they are. It is striking that few Indians protest against dirty streets and lack of pavements and zebra crossings, almost as if they cannot see how things can be otherwise (Kakar and Kakar 2007, p. 21).

Not that India deserves to be singled out. The problem also exists all over the Arab world and even in Italy, although it's much less serious there.

In any case, I've had enough. I already have a really long pole which I use for certain camera shots. I just ordered a pool net strainer. When the weather cools down, I am going to go out there and clean out those bottles. You'd think some German would have done this already, but there's an old German proverb -- as accurate now as it ever was -- which goes: "A German is someone who, when he sees a mess, sneers in disapproval (die Nase rümpfen) instead of cleaning it up." 

Well, fuck that shit. Just as Tyrell Corporation's motto is "more human than human", mine is "more German than German". I am going to clean out those goddamn bottles, and post before-and-after pics to prove it. If that doesn't earn be the German Service Cross, I don't know what will.


How Germans Make Way for Emergency Vehicles

This video shows you how Germans create a "rescue path" in a traffic jam. The cars pull over to both sides of the street, letting the rescue vehicle through.

I've seen it happen; it's a small miracle of spontaneous social co-ordination. One of the many inspiring aspects of living in an orderly, well-organized society.

Of course in this video, morons fuck everything up and the accident victims die horrible deaths. There's a message in there for all of us.


The U.S. Is Much Less Xenophobic Than Europe

Foreigner poll

Here's another cultural difference to add to the others.

If you believe it's a good thing for a country to have a generally positive attitude toward diversity, then you must acknowledge that the USA is morally superior to any European country. European elites overwhelmingly think diversity is a good thing, which makes the results of this survey problematic to them. How can a country which embodies so many things they disapprove of 'score' so well on a value they desperately wish their countrymen shared?

If you're neutral on that question, as I am, this is just an interesting difference. Doubtless the main factor here is that the US is a nation of immigrants, while European nations all have native traditions and populations and thick, deep cultures and identities.

 


Golden Rules for East German Teachers

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Courtesy of the DDR (East German) Museum Pirna, a plaque with guidance for teachers: 

Golden Rules for Teachers' Work

Make an Effort to Maintain Ideological Clarity!

Take Up a Firm Fundamental Position!

Be Optimistic!

Be Humble!

Be Balanced! Guard Against Cynicism!

Judge Your Work Realistically and Be Critical of Yourself!

Recognize Successes! Use Scolding Rarely!

Trust and Love Children!

Respect the Pupil! Give Him Responsibility! 

Convince, Don't Browbeat!


The World's Most Pro-Immigrant Societies Have Strict Border Controls

A Canadian friend sends me this op-ed from the Globe and Mail with a hearty endorsement:

Fortunately our policy makers ... know that support for immigration is highly conditional, and that the social contract with the public can easily be broken.

What is that contract? People want immigration policy to serve the national interest, not the immigrants’ interest. They want skilled immigrants who have something to offer Canada, who work hard, learn one of our official languages and won’t be a burden on the welfare state. Immigrants who have already settled here are among the first to agree.

People don’t sour on immigration for economic reasons. As a recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out, they sour on immigration if they feel it is a threat to national identity. Nor is race a big factor. The biggest factors are culture and assimilation. People want immigrants who will embrace our values – Western liberal values – of tolerance, inclusion and women’s equality. We also expect newcomers to put down roots and pledge their loyalty to Canada first. (If they embrace hockey, so much the better.)

Europe is in crisis because too much European immigration doesn’t look anything like this. The British ran into trouble because they’ve had too much immigration, too fast. Countries that can’t control their borders always face a backlash.

...Australia solved its border problem by diverting asylum-seekers to remote offshore processing camps. Humanitarians and refugee advocates are outraged, but Australians aren’t. They must be doing something right – Australia, like Canada, is among the most successful immigration countries in the world. About 28 per cent of Australians are foreign-born, according to the Pew Research Center.

When a boatload of Tamils arrived in Canadian waters in 2010, the Harper government detained them (some were eventually accepted as refugees), and the public heartily approved. This was widely taken as a sign that Canadians are racist. In fact, we’re no more racist than the Australians or the English. We simply think it should be up to us to choose who gets in.

As I've said many times, neither this blog nor its author is anti-immigrant. The questions, as always, are How many? Which ones? It would probably be a good thing if Germany simply copied Canada's immigration policy. Literally translate the laws into German, and be done with it. If Germany did that, it would soon begin attracting capable, talented immigrants who have the intellectual and cultural qualities that will enable them to adapt quickly to German society. Soon, they will begin finding and creating jobs.

Instead, Germany seems perversely dedicated to inviting huge numbers of immigrants who lack any of the prerequisites for successful integration. They will enter the social-welfare system, and many will never leave. The ones who do leave will compete with working-class Germans for low-skilled jobs, sparking rage and resentment. This is the worst immigration policy imaginable. It will drive ever-deeper wedges into German society, and will permanently associate immigration with crime and dependency in the minds of German voters. It will also lead to crumbling support for the welfare state.

This policy continues to be supported by the delusional belief that there are no significant cultural differences between potential immigrants -- that there is essentially no way to determine whether any immigrant is likely to adapt successfully to life in Germany. Therefore, it is impermissible to discriminate among potential immigrants -- inviting the ones who are likely to succeed, and keeping the others out. Although just about every other nation on earth (like Canada) agrees that this kind of selection is possible and is in fact essential to sound immigration policy, large sections of the German political elite cling to the opposite belief.

The idea that there is something wrong with choosing among immigrants is one of the most dangerous political delusions shared by the German political class. Fortunately, the number of people in power who believe this seems to be dwindling every day. I will keep blogging occasionally about the issue until it dwindles to a tiny fringe belief, and Germany finally abandons its dangerous Sonderweg and adopts an adult immigration policy.

That may take a while, but progress is slow and steady. To paraphrase something Churchill once said about the US, Germany always does the right thing -- after trying everything else first.


"A large swath of the Muslim-majority world has a serious problem with gays."

In the New Republic, Omer Aziz takes up a theme I've posted about before many, many times:

Growing up, I attended Koran classes in Toronto every day between the age of 6 and 16. I have traveled around the world and discussed Islam in Geneva, Jordan, Jerusalem, Iraq, and Turkey. I harbor no resentments towards Islam, and despite my current agnosticism, I still call myself a Muslim because the world of Islam has been an integral part of my identity for my entire life. I confess that when discussing Islam with white people, the writer in me tussles with the spokesman who seems to overtake the wheel of my mind, responsibly steering the conversation away from moral gray areas. The offer to become an informant on one’s culture will be familiar to any minority writer, as well as the guilt that comes with confirming a white person’s presumptions that a non-white culture may be inferior. The native informant trap is all too real for any non-white writer and must be avoided; it is doubly real for Muslims who can easily cash in by criticizing their own kind.

With all of that being said, the Orlando killer was a Muslim, and so it is worth stating this in the clearest possible terms: A large swath of the Muslim-majority world has a serious problem with gays. No, Islam does not have a monopoly on homophobia. Countries like Jamaica, Honduras, Uganda, Russia, and China have all passed anti-gay legislation. In America, Lawrence v. Texas, the pivotal Supreme Court Case that struck down the ban on homosexual sex, was decided just 13 years ago, in a 6-3 vote. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton opposed same-sex marriage in 2008. During the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, gays were evicted from their houses, fired from their jobs, and turned away from hospitals. Even after they had left this earth, their dead bodies were rejected by funeral homes. The great Martin Luther King thought homosexuality was a mental illness, which is probably why the great James Baldwin never spoke at the March on Washington.

Still, there is no getting around the truth that homophobia is rampant in the Muslim world. It is clerically justified and socially defended. Fifty-one states constitute the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and ten of them punish homosexual activity with the death penalty, including Afghanistan, where the Orlando killer traced his roots. Nearly all the others have criminalized homosexuality with sentences ranging from one month to life in prison. Gays and lesbians are viewed as demonically inverting nature, as sinners, freaks, deviants, corrupters, insurrectionists, miscreants. Their sexual orientation shames whole families into denouncing them. They live in perpetual fear and perpetual hiding....

Even among far too many Muslims in the West—especially young Muslim males—homophobia takes on either a passive, silent form or an aggressive, vociferous one. In all those years in Koran classes, there was no end to the round-bellied mullahs opining on the Jews or the gays as we children unthinkingly nodded along. The word “faggot” was used as a routine epithet in our vocabulary, a stand-in insult for anything—what did it matter what the Koran said about swearing? Even as an adult, I have found myself time and again in conversations with young Pakistani or Indian or Afghan or Iraqi or Somali men (women tend to be more open-minded), and have heard such grotesquely homophobic comments in such casual tones that it was clear that homophobia was encoded in their—our—brains. I recall one such conversation from a few summers ago when a young Muslim man my age justified the stoning of gays because he said it was in the Koran. When I pressed him on whether he would stone gays himself, he said no, because the Koran stipulated four witnesses to the act and so corporal punishment for gays would never be a concern. (The Koran actually says nothing about stoning gays.) If you are a Muslim and think I am exaggerating about Muslim attitudes towards gays, walk into your local mosque this Friday and inform the imam that you are gay and watch his response. A shield of white liberal guilt protects socially conservative minorities from having their positions challenged, and this shield is harmful—it turns the intellectual space into a cultural ghetto where stale ideas become barriers impermeable to dissent and diversity....

Sexual repression breeds maniacal obsessions. The old men who spend all their waking moments trying to veil women are themselves responding to the self-hatred that comes from self-abnegation. The young men who are tormented by the thought that two gay people might be in love somewhere are, in fact, bedeviled by the belief deep in their hearts that others are free but they themselves are chained to an antiquated morality. Something has gone terribly wrong in the mental and sexual life of a culture—once rich in diversity—when it is hijacked by a conservative puritanism that is autocratically enforced by repressed men.

Laws that are both impossible to follow and impossible not to break create a terrorizing bipolarity in the minds of individuals and the societies they inhabit. Such customs are passed on from generation to generation, abetted by an elaborate facade of traditional purity. These facades are exposed the moment they are challenged, but challenging them comes with consequences, often fatal. Thus, many Muslim families in the West still practice first-cousin marriage despite the many health risks this carries. In what twisted morality is dating bad but borderline incest ok? Homosexuality sinful but grandfathers marrying teenage girls virtuous?...

The fact that a gay bar was attacked by a Muslim man is not to be brushed aside or understated—it is the unconscionable but predictable consequence of a deep-seated homophobia. Which brings me back to the alleged homosexuality of the Orlando killer. His sexual orientation is not a laughing matter, nor is the Muslim-majority world’s attitudes towards gays “irrelevant,” as Yasir Qadhi said. Mateem’s sexual orientation and what Islamic culture says about homosexuality are central to this massacre. The killer’s unrelenting homophobia was a lethal synthesis of what he knew was true about himself and what he knew his fellow Muslims thought of gays. He appears to have been rejecting his own homosexual impulses, which are as natural as heterosexual impulses. His father was himself ruthlessly homophobic. Mateem was afraid of his god, of what his family would say, of how his culture would condemn him, and so his visceral shame became visceral hatred.

Muslim leaders have repeatedly been silent on the sufferings of LGBTQ individuals. They have treated them as though they were unworthy of god’s love. But in debasing gays, Islam’s homophobes have only debased themselves. The battle for civil rights and for dignity will never be won, peace in the Muslim-majority world will never be won, freedom of thought and conscience will never be won, until and unless a sexual revolution accompanies an intellectual one.

One of the reasons to oppose the uncontrolled mass migration of hundreds of thousands of young uneducated Muslim males (all of those adjectives are important -- let's abbreviate them as the suspiciously gay-sounding YUMMs) to Europe is because it will be bad for gays here. I know plenty of gay people, and I appreciate the fact that Germany is one of the most tolerant places in the world. Mass immigration of YUMMs will impair, and possibly destroy that. There are already hundreds of reports of gay or effeminate migrants being threatened, harassed, and beaten in German migrant shelters.

Pro-immigration groups have responded in three ways to this urgent problem.

The first is to denounce anyone who refers to it as xenophobic and racist. However, this strategy quickly ran into a buzz-saw of enraged opposition, and has shown rapidly-diminishing returns. If you spend enough time denouncing reasonable people as xenophobes and racists, the tables quickly turn and you begin to look like the screeching fanatic.

The second is to point out that there are anti-gay people and groups in Germany, as well. While this is certainly true, it's easily countered by two observations. First, while some Germans privately disapprove of homosexuality, it is quite rare for them to openly insult or attack people merely because they are gay. Germany is without doubt one of the most tolerant societies for homosexuals in the world today, and anyone who disputes this has lost touch with reality. Second, the observation that there are Germans with backward views is hardly an argument to import more people with backward views. If you're in a hole, stop digging.

The third response is to call for 'integration' courses in which a pony-tailed social worker explains why it's wrong to insult, beat, or kill gays. This course, it is assumed, will magically cause hundreds of thousands of people to abandon their most deeply-held convictions. This assumption is, of course, a fantasy. No self-respecting European urban liberal would ever agree to despise homosexuals simply because they relocated to a country in which that attitude is common. They may say they believe YUMMs will do the converse, but they probably don't. The question of what happens if the YUMMs don't change their mind is never addressed by pro-immigration groups.

Anyone who wishes to immigrate to Germany for any reason should be grilled extensively on their attitudes toward homosexuals. They don't need to agree to dance in a Christopher Street Day parade in crotchless chaps, but they must endorse complete tolerance toward gays and a categorical rejection of any form of persecution of them. If they show any deep-seated antagonism toward gays, they should be put on a permanent blacklist. Period.

Does this policy hold immigrants to a higher standard than Germans? Yes, and that's a feature, not a bug. As noted above: if in hole, stop digging.

Would this policy result in the exclusion of genuine refugees because they hate gays? Yes, and that's a feature, not a bug. If their hatred of gays is so important to them, let them seek refuge in a country in which that attitude is common. Providing asylum is a humanitarian duty, but it is not absolute. It can and should be balanced against the host country's legitimate needs.

Does this policy privilege gay citizens and residents of Germany above foreigners? Yes, and that's a feature, not a bug. The needs of people already in your country who have rights should always take precedence over the needs of outsiders seeking to make use of the mere privilege of immigration.

Will this policy privilege worldly, educated, tolerant Muslim immigrants over YUMMs? Yes, and that's a feature, not a bug.

Why is any of this controversial?


Anglosplaining and the Amusingness Gap

The Economist looks at why the most high-middlebrow shows and books about Germany are written by Brits:

This popularity of Anglo-Saxon storytellers “really is astonishing”, says Hermann Parzinger. He is a German archaeologist (best known for his work on the Scythians) and president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which owns museums, libraries and archives in Berlin. He is working with MacGregor in dreaming up how to curate the Humboldt Forum’s exhibits.

German academics, Parzinger says, write books to impress the five most important experts in their field. Popularity is suspect in German academia. The German word unseriös, etymologically the same as “unserious”, in fact means “lacking credibility”. But Anglo-Saxons, Parzinger thinks, “have it in their blood to make these things suspenseful and interesting even for lay people”. In particular, they know how to integrate into their storytelling “both the high and the low, without anything being banal”. Thus MacGregor effortlessly mixes Luther and Goethe with sausages and garden gnomes into one analysis that makes Germans feel they’ve understood something about themselves.

The Anglos also come across as likeable rather than belehrend, says Parzinger. That German word means “lecturing”, and is often used by Germans of Germans. The greatest fear of intellectuals in Germany and other continental countries is to appear shallow. The greatest fear of Britons is to seem pompous, says MacGregor. So they enliven their knowledge with good delivery and showmanship....

But even among outsiders the Anglos have the edge in Germany over, say, French, Polish, Dutch or Danish intellectuals. These neighbours were often part of German history – as enemies, victims or collaborators. German audiences expect them to reflect that perspective. A French historian talking about the 1940s, say, should probably also expound on Vichy and French collaboration.

The Brits, however, were always “geographically more outside”, says Parzinger, which makes them appear credible. Since the 1960s, for example, it has been all but taboo for German writers to argue anything other than that Germany bears sole responsibility for starting the first world war. Clark gleefully ignored that taboo in “The Sleepwalkers” – and outsold all the Germans, even in Germany. Clark can say the question of guilt is complicated, says Parzinger, but hearing it “from a German would have been more difficult”.

This goes back to a fundamental cultural difference which virtually every Anglo-Saxon picks up on quickly in Germany: Most Germans just aren't funny in ways Anglo-Saxons recognize, and a substantial minority aren't funny at all. Free-floating, value-neutral absurdity; obscene wordplay; sarcasm and irony; casual teasing insults among friends -- these styles of communication are much rarer in Germany than in the Anglo-Saxon world. Unless you know someone fairly well, the safest mode of communication is straightforward communication about mundane details of everyday life or anodyne remarks about current affairs which do not reveal a controversial personal opinion.

This is not to say there ain't no funny Germans, etc. etc. As with everything in life, this is a matter of probability distributions and bell curves, not of absolutes. Behold this scientific-looking graph:

DddThe more to the left you are on this graph, the more sincere and loyal. You become more entertaining as you move to the right. Germany is the bell curve with the peak of 52. England with the peak of 76. The separation is too wide, but it still makes the point. There's plenty of overlap (i.e. decent and funny people) in both directions, but the average Brit you meet is likely to be more entertaining than the average German.

The canon of values the average German has been raised with tend toward sincerity, honesty, credibility, punctuality, and loyalty. You can be a worthy, admirable person on this scale while being crushingly boring. In fact, being crushingly boring can actually be a helpful strategy, since humor, used inappropriately or at the wrong time, can undermine your reputation. Leave humor to the professionals. Or if you are called upon to be funny yourself, have a few memorized jokes or sayings on tap, just in case. Even if they're crushingly unfunny, people will laugh. Out of politeness.

Maybe I can't make you laugh, says the German, but I will take time out of my busy schedule to visit you in the hospital, and bring a thoughtful gift. Which is more important?

Growing up in the Anglo-Saxon world, there's a premium on being entertaining. Your cultural heroes are likely to be comedians rather than violinists or human-rights activists. You're likely to spend hours each day consuming humor. Dull people are ostracized. Unlike in Germany, where you might bring them along even though you know they'll just sit there silently, in England and the USA you will simply avoid them and mock them.

In this atmosphere, even renowned historians often learn to be decent storytellers and amusing chaps, because everyone is expected to be a decent storyteller and an amusing chap. In Germany, you can live a life that you and others would consider rich and full without ever (1) intentionally provoking (2) sincere laughter in another human being.


Patriarchy, Social Trust, and Smiling

The Atlantic summarizes a recent study:

Why do some societies not encourage casual smiling? I got my answer, or at least part of one, when I stumbled across a new paper by Kuba Krys [Kuba Krys? Didn't he lay down a smokin' freestyle on that Kendrick Lamar album? - ed.], a psychologist at the Polish Academy of Sciences [Oh, that Kuba Krys - ed.]. In some countries, smiling might not be a sign of warmth or even respect. It’s evidence that you’re a fool—a tricky fool.

Krys focused on a cultural phenomenon called “uncertainty avoidance.” Cultures that are low on this scale tend to have social systems—courts, health-care systems, safety nets, and so forth—that are unstable. Therefore, people there view the future as unpredictable and uncontrollable.

Smiling is a sign of certainty and confidence, so when people in those countries smile, they might seem odd. Why would you smile when fate is an invisible wolf waiting to shred you? You might, in those “low-UA” countries, even be considered stupid for smiling.

Krys also hypothesized that smiling in corrupt countries would be, um, frowned upon. When everyone’s trying to pull one over on each other, you don’t know if someone’s smiling with good intentions, or because they’re trying to trick you....

He found that in countries like Germany, Switzerland, China, and Malaysia, smiling faces were rated as significantly more intelligent than non-smiling people. But in Japan, India, Iran, South Korea, and—you guessed it—Russia, the smiling faces were considered significantly less intelligent. Even after controlling for other factors, like the economy, there was a strong correlation between how unpredictable a society was and the likelihood they would consider smiling unintelligent.

In countries such as India, Argentina, and the Maldives, meanwhile, smiling was associated with dishonesty—something Krys found to be correlated to their corruption rankings.

I've lived here in Tschermany long enough to witness a change or two. One is the increase in smiles on websites. Just anecdotally, I think the percentage of people smiling in websites about firms and universities has risen steadily. At one point, smiling too much in German would get you the reputation of being 'unseriös', but that seems to be fading these days. Also, cosmetic dentistry is becoming mainstream and affordable here. With the standard delay -- about 20 years after this happened in the USA.