When athletics trump business

When athletics trump business

Sometimes the Americans’ unconditional enthusiasm for team sports and school athletic programs can be unsettling for foreigners. Case in point was an experience I had today.

I was invited by Walker Valley High, one of the finest public schools in Bradley County, TN, to be a guest speaker for a session on international business. My friend Lisa who runs the German language program at the school asked me to speak on the differences between German and American etiquette and protocol in professional environments.


What was originally scheduled to take place today had been postponed to another date on very short notice. No problem, of course. Schedules change, people deal with it. The reason for the delay, however, is what will catch some newbies to the U.S. by surprise:

Due to the threat of rain on Friday the school’s football game was moved up one day (today). This also meant that the pep rally for this game was moved up – thereby killing the scheduled intercultural business session.

To make this perfectly clear: I have no problem with this change of plans. I would just like to point out that for most Germans the reason for the rescheduling will be hard to understand. How can a football game be more important than a school lesson? One with a guest speaker to boot? For German business people appointments are to be kept. Cancelling on short notice is usually seen badly.

What Germans often don’t know is how much Americans value team spirit and the relating education that leads to team players. It is fair to say that no public school in Germany has athletic teams like the schools in the USA, where these teams create an identity and a sense of belonging for the entire student body.

So don’t be surprised if you get puzzled looks from Germans next time your school sports event is cause for schedule changes.

UPDATE: Went to make my “guest appearance” at the school one day later. Was überpünktlich (right on time, one minute early – no, I’m not OCD) to be the role model Lisa was hoping for. Met a full classroom of students and Walker Valley’s principal who sacrificed a large part of their lunch break for our session. These kids were listening, asking questions and taking notes. Very nice. Thanks for having me, future leaders.

I never found out who won the ball game, though …

3 thoughts on “When athletics trump business

  1. Very interesting! And true. I have often been amused myself at the emphasis we put on sports (and make no mistake, I myself am a sports fanatic). I do hate that you got “bumped” for a pep rally, though. That does seem rather silly.

    • Silly or not, I found it amusing to get bumped for a pep rally. In fact, I was glad it happened. It gave me the idea for a blog post. However, I do know that many fellow Germans who are new to the States or this area will initially shake their heads.

  2. There’s an old Chinese saying that goes, somewhat, like this: “If you want to hear the gods laughing, make plans.”

    I, personally, sometimes wish I had grown up within a society that valued youth team sports higher than that was and still is the case in Germany. As proven in the U.S. since the late 40s, it does a lot for integration in a modern, multi-ethnic society.

    And since in this country, the U.S., the efforts related to the field – not just the players’ – are team efforts in the best sense of the word, as well as a source of pride for everyone involved, I would not make light of it.

    As for any Germans who may have an issue with that, I’d say loosen up, and start going with the program. Isn’t this was intercultural experience is all about?

    Encountering a less rigid society than that of “Pünktlichkeit” – the ugly twin sister of “Gemütlichkeit” – may even teach them some Chinese wisdom 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s