For a while now, I have been using essential oils around the house in place of OTC remedies. I got into them through my sister in the US, who was selling them as a sort of side venture. She teaches yoga as her main job. After talking about the oils to all and sundry, and having friends and strangers ask me how they could get them, I decided that I might as well try to make a bit of money to cover my oil “habit.” I have had some success, but I have also learned a lot about how Germans view money, sales, and commitments over the past few months.
I had assumed it would be really easy to get the oils business moving here. People are very open to alternative, natural treatments. My regular GP often offers me homeopathic and plant-based remedies before she gives me the “real” drugs. And it is true, most Germans that I know are very interested in essential oils, especially when they see how well they are working for us. When my older girls had issues with ADD and concentration years ago here in Germany, the therapist (and psychiatrist) quickly offered them various versions of ritalin, which surprised me. We were sort of desparate at the time, but the medicine was not a great choice for either of them. Now we are battling those issues with an oil mixture. I have had huge problems with sleeping in the past year or two. In Ireland the first thing they did was offer me sleeping pills. Here we tried all sorts of other approaches first. When it all failed, I finally was able to get a prescription for Ambien, but only if I promised to take it no more than once a week. I get it. I don’t want to fill my body with chemicals and I certainly don’t want to do the same with my kids. So I am trying something else. And I was never a believer in the homeopathic remedies, for example.
The approach to sharing essential oils works differently in the US. Most of us grew up with all sorts of OTC meds, from cold medicine to Tylenol to allergy meds to antibiotics. Plant-based medicines were considered the realm of the hippies and the crunchy people. So when you tell moms who are already thinking carefully about the type of foods they are putting into their kids that you can help them replace those OTC meds with something more natural, they are all for it.
Here people are very wary about taking any medication unless they really need it. Cold medicine? Nah. My husband only rarely even takes aspirin. His grandma was a pharmacist, so he knows the names of lots and lots of remedies, but uses them only when he is really ill. We Americans pop a pill at the slightest sign of pain or a cold. And it has to taste good as well. Germans believe that medicine needs to taste bad. Kids don’t need fake strawberry flavored stuff (although it does exist). Most of the plant-based remedies my doctor gives me taste horrible. That’s part of the process, it seems.
So when I started talking about my oils and how they have helped us, people were interested. They wanted to try them too. When they did, they had great success. But a lot of this business is referral based, and if a person is looking to do the business side of the oils, that person has to commit to spending a certain amount of money on oils themselves each month. If they do, they make commission. But that is where it gets difficult for my German friends. Everyone knows someone who got stuck in some contract like a magazine subscription or BahnCard that seems to be able to be cancelled once a year, and six weeks before the end of the year, otherwise you are screwed. If it sounds like they have to commit to anything, they run away. Most Americans are much more willing to do that. Maybe money talks. Also, the easiest way to get a starter kit for the oils is to sign up on the website and pay by credit card. Many of my German friends don’t even have credit cards! So we have two strikes against us, signing up for something and putting your personal data into the internet to make a purchase. Germans are risk averse, and many see online shopping and online banking as a huge risk.
I have been talking to the company about changing the approach for the German market. Much of the marketing material they have is testimony based. People are successful by simply talking about what has worked for them on Facebook (and again, quite a few of my German friends don’t even use Facebook). Germans want cold, hard facts. Olivia’s teacher in Hort bought some oils just because she saw that Olivia was able to concentrate and get going on homework 8 minutes faster when the oils were applied. My dentist bought them for use in her practice to help people with stress and she loves them – even to the extent that she put one the mixes into my daughter’s tooth during a root canal. I had sent her studies about the molecular properties of each oil. It has been a learning curve for me. I now really understand why my husband had to really fight with American colleagues for a Texas-based company about how their American approach wouldn’t work here. The cultural subtext is simply very different and it affects everything we do and our perceptions of the world around us. Now is my chance to put all I have learned in the past twenty years of living in Germany to use! Now pass that lavender!