I have just completed my first work week in Ireland, after working in Germany for most of my adult life. My most recent stint was at a large German company that was known for being relaxed and friendly, two qualities that are not always associated with other sorts of German companies. Now I am working at a large American company with an office in Ireland, and the differences are vast and amazing to me.
For a short while in the 90s, I did work in the US at a large automotive company, but for the most part, my working life has been spent in Germany. My first job was at a small publishing company that focused on the exciting world of roofing tiles and ceramics. There were four or five of us Sachbearbeiter, all of whom actually translated, edited and desktop published. When I joined the company, almost everyone used the formal Sie with one another, from the CEO down to the cleaning lady. After two years, my American openness had filtered out a bit and our whole department finally managed to use first names with one another. When I interviewed there, the CEO actually asked me whether I planned to have kids in the near future. Of course this was and continues to be illegal, but what can you do, poor and desperate for a job and fresh out of college? As a fresh-out-of-college feminist, this pushed my buttons. I was astounded that jobs in the newspaper were directed at either men or women.
At the large US automotive company, we had cubicles. Cubicles have a few advantages, but generally, I am not a fan. In Germany, we all complained about the “open plan” offices, but they were not open in the true sense. We had separate rooms for three or four people in them and walls between offices went almost up to the ceiling. You couldn’t hear every word your neighbor said unless he or she wanted to share, which is not the case in the cubicle. Here in Ireland, I am paranoid about being too loud, but have found I almost need noise-cancelling headphones for my phone conferences because the room is full and the Irish are almost as loud as Americans are purported to be!
In Germany, generally you are friendly with your colleagues, but it could be years before that acquaintanceship stretches to the point that someone invites you into their home. Once a colleague becomes your friend, though, they are your friend for life. This applies outside of work as well. Here in Ireland, my mentor invited me and my family over for lunch after only a week of working together. I know she was being especially friendly because we are new to the country and know almost no one, but it truly made me feel welcomed in my new office.
One of the hardest things for me to get used to is the lack of “controls” here in Ireland. In my German company, there was an online system for everything from requesting vacation days to keeping an hourly record of how you spent your time at work. Here I am told to tell my boss when I am planning on taking holidays and how I organize my time is my thing. I do appreciate that. But it was quite difficult to find out how my pay advance was calculated and where to send my tax forms. There was no orientation explaining all of my various passwords and computer systems. I just keep on asking until I get the answers I need. The German efficiency certainly has its advantages! I am sure that the cultural differences will become clearer and even more interesting the more experience I gain in my new environment. Meanwhile, I’m certainly enjoying the adventure!