The blog contribution about Jörg Pfeilmeier’s experiences in China is one of the most read articles in this blog. People are therefore obviously interested in MANN+HUMMEL employees’ experiences of work assignments abroad. So I thought to myself, why not share my experiences in a country that sometimes feels incredibly exotic, even though it isn’t even two hours away by plane. Of course I’m talking about The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which is often, and strictly speaking incorrectly, referred to as ‘England’ here in Germany. This brings me nicely to the first little surprise that newcomers to the island get when they arrive. Most citizens over here refer to their home country simply as the ‘UK’, which is the abbreviation for the ‘United Kingdom’. Hardly anyone refers to ‘Great Britain’, and ‘England’ is only used when actually referring to the relevant part of the country.
Clichés in the UK with some truth behind them
From a German or Swabian point of view, the UK definitely has plenty of quirks; and they go far beyond clichés such as the Brits love of fish & chips (this one is actually true) or their incredibly disciplined approach to queuing. Whether they are more serious, however, than the stereotypes that the British associate with the Germans is in my opinion debatable: I have definitely been pleased to see that MANN+HUMMEL UK employees are already accustomed to the traits of German managers thanks to my predecessors. Thanks to these experiences, terms such as ‘meeting deadlines’, ‘goal orientation’, and ‘consequence’ are, at least partly, interpreted ‘the German way’ in Wolverhampton and Chard.
No problems setting in
Generally speaking, after just under three months in the UK, I can say that I have managed to settle in quite nicely. It has definitely helped that in my previous job I was solely responsible for global sales, which improved my English and gave me a lot of exposure to different cultures. However, my wife, and especially my children, who have only been in the UK for a few weeks, have not settled in so easily. First and foremost, this is of course down to the fact that their English is not as strong as mine. My children have also had to get used to a new school system which is very different to ours back home. Some differences involve formalities such as not being allowed to wear your hair down and having to wear a uniform – two things which my 16-year-old daughter is not too pleased about; but much more important than that is the different and more holostic approach to education. In my experience, more emphasis is placed on developing a child’s entire personality here in the UK, whereas the school system back in Germany focuses more on academic aspects. Much more emphasis is also placed on the idea of discipline and instilling values. However, I won’t go into what is better or worse at this point. There is an array of state and private schools, and it is nice to have a choice, although it is not easy to decide which is best.
UK – it’s the little things that make the difference
What differences do my children, my wife, and myself notice in our everyday lives? Ultimately we have found that it is the little things that really matter or that can make life hard. The fact that Brits don’t see their country as part of Europe, but instead talk about ‘the UK and Europe‘? That’s a given! The fact that some typical food combinations perhaps seem a little peculiar to us? Not really, as there is a large selection of local and international restaurants, which means that you can find whatever you are looking for. The fact that foreigners should tread carefully when the conversation turns to football or the royal family? Not at all! My family and I feel most welcome and at home in Great Britain. We feel absolutely no resentment from the British towards Germany and the German people whatsoever. In fact it’s quite the opposite! We enjoy the subtle humour and friendliness of the people that we interact with on a daily basis. The fact that we privately import ‘Maultaschen’ (Swabian filled pasta) and don’t understand the rules of cricket doesn’t bother us one iota. In fact, a few little cultural differences actually make life more interesting and are enriching our stay in the UK.