Shawn Applegate says, “I’m going back to Germany and am taking my wife and our two children, ages 8 and 9. There’s so much more I want to see: more of the Alps, the Black Forest. And I’m going for two weeks this time.”
Applegate was on a plane heading for Germany on March 22, 2016, when the bombs went off at the airport and the metro station in Brussels. “It scared me, and security was enhanced. In fact, on the return flight, the airport in Frankfurt had been evacuated because of an unclaimed, suspicious bag and cops were all around with handguns.
“And in Stuttgart, we saw groups protesting the Syrian immigration, group pro and con. The police presence was high.”
I’m particularly interested in Applegate’ s recent trip to Germany because he is enrolled in my Wednesday evening class in communication at Edison State Community College. In that course we explore multi-culturalism and discuss the global nature of business.
Once we learned that Applegate, a fifteen-year employee of United Technologies, was being sent by his company to check out an expensive piece of equipment in Germany, we used a part of the class for the next three weeks to discuss business protocol in Germany. Before Applegate departed, I put together a 50-item quiz on doing business in Germany. Let me share a few items on the quiz so you can see if your company could send you to Germany, knowing that you wouldn’t be tagged as an “ugly American”:
True or False: Keep both hands on the dining table at all times.
True or False: Never give gifts of flowers in groups of 13.
True or False: The highest ranking person in a business group enters the room first.
True or false: Shake hands on arrival and departure.
In spite of all our study, Applegate experienced a little culture shock: men clad in dark skinny jeans; women in tight jeans, leggings, and yoga pants; both men and women wearing scarves; younger people speaking English very well; restaurants in small towns with no McDonald’s or Wendy’s; and many people carrying flowers.
The castles and the churches amazed him with their size, their age, and their attention to detail. One of the several castles he visited was the Neuschwanstein Castle which served as a model for the castle at Disneyworld. He also was fascinated by the Glockenspiel clocks and the characters that spin around and dance on the hour.
At the factory where the equipment his company was purchasing was located , everything was spotless, organized- even in the machining area. If that company needs a machine, it has the technology to make it – no need to order from another company. The equipment he was there to check out needed a few minor software changes which personnel made immediately.
Applegate reports that In Germany the work week is 36 hours, and the hierarchy in American businesses was not evident as the owner of the company, worth millions, ate lunch in the cafeteria with the workers. And he observed that what we had studied in class about a broad acceptance of a tradition of correcting fellow workers was evident.
Something that surprised Applegate was that the factory workers were not wearing safety glasses and steel-toed boots.
His fascination with German cars took him to the Mercedes Benz and Porsche museums in Stuttgart. Especially thrilling was a rental of a Porsche Panamera and a ride in a Skoda with a drive on the Autobahn at 130 miles per hour. Courteous drivers- and they do drive on the right side of the road in Germany- made this part of the trip, Applegate reports, “ an awesome experience in an awesome vehicle.”
And there is always the food with any international experience. Breakfast was salami, bologna, cheeses, breads, and pastries. Applegate tried to eat the
European way with the fork in his left hand and knife in the right but found that uncomfortable.
One evening he and his business partner sat at a “real big table and two men returning from soccer sat down as did others as they entered the restaurant . In Germany, it’s the custom to invite others to sit with you, to socialize. We talked about the soccer game, where they lived and how far (600 kilometers) they had travelled just to see a soccer game. We compared their football and ours.
“The custom is to eat everything on the plate you are served, and if you don’t, it’s a signal for rain. The one time I was able to eat everything, it rained for the next two days.”
As one of Applegate’s faculty members , I am proud that a grown man who works long hours , has a family, and is enrolled in three courses at Edison is committed to creating a phenomenal future for himself and his family and that his company, United Technologies, recognizes his immense potential. It is never ever too late to make decisions that will have such positive impacts, and all of us can always find the time and courage to do what is truly important.
Answers to quiz: All are true.
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