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Germans, perfectionism and Ordnung

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Last update on December 09, 2018

If you offer a German a piece of advice like ‘Leave well enough alone’ or ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, they will assume you are British, or in need of psychotherapeutic aid.

It is axiomatic in Germany that everything needs sorting before you can achieve anything: the good needs to be sifted from the bad, the necessary from the contingent.

What is yours must be clearly separated from what is mine; the public must be demarcated to prevent it getting confused with the private, the true must at all costs be distinguished from the false.

Reliable definitions must be drawn up regarding what is masculine and what feminine (not to mention the characteristic German complication of the neuter). It goes on and on.

Only when everything is comprehensively compartmentalised can anything truly be said to be in Ordnung.

The ideal

‘Nobody is perfect, but we are working on it,’ said Baron von Richthofen optimistically. Perfectionism is a prime German characteristic which benefits their auto industry, but can be a trial at parties. Compromise and settling for what is good enough is not good enough. Strictly speaking, only the epitome, the best, the ideal will do.

Furthermore, there is no doubt in the German mind that the ideal, or rather, the Ideal, exists and is out there somewhere in the ether. Naturally, here on earth, we can never achieve the Ideal, only a pale imitation of it. Plato may have been a Greek, but he thought like a German.

A parody of the idea

It’s not surprising that many Germans relate to ideas more than to people. As Goethe put it, ‘The Experience is always a parody of the Idea.’ Ideas are beautiful and don’t let you down; people are unpredictable and do. Clashes between ideas and reality are inevitable, and Germans are quite resigned to this. It is part of what makes life tragic.

For more, read The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Germans.