In our family Disney comics are appreciated but by no means are we huge fans of the Mouse House or Mickey and his adventures. We are strong supporters of Walt Disney’s doability declaration, “If you can dream it, you can do it,” however, being German, we never really embraced the “cult” of Disney we observe with some of our American friends. We don’t dress up as Disney characters on Halloween, we don’t travel to Disney World once a year, and we don’t have an entire shelf of Disney DVDs at the house.
Growing up in Germany, we did get plenty of exposure to U.S. culture in general, and to all things Disney. I remember reading the comic books that my dad bought at the newsstand. The Mickey Maus Hefte were in German and the translated version had a remarkable influence on colloquial German vernacular. For some reason I was always drawn more to the adventures (or rather, mishaps) of Donald Duck than to Mickey. So when I realized that today was the Underduck’s 80th birthday, I looked online to find relevant news material.
What I found surprised me a little: A quick Google search for “Donald Duck 80th birthday” yielded less than two dozen articles in English. Search for Donald’s Geburtstag in German and you’ll get literally hundreds of results.
This made me wonder: Why would German news media run several feature stories on the anniversary of a pants-less duck while it went almost unnoticed in its native land?
Is it possible that Germans can better identify with a character that continues to fail and never gives up? Do they like him perhaps because he’s the one that many of them can relate to, thanks to his almost human personality? He is sometimes envious of Mickey’s popularity, he gets easily agitated by his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie and he can be a little obsessed with money at times. His flaws are what make him adorable and despite of his shortcomings his friends and family know he’s a top-notch guy at heart.
“One of the greatest satisfactions in our work here at the studio is the warm relationship that exists within our cartoon family. Mickey, Pluto, Goofy, and the whole gang have always been a lot of fun to work with. But like many large families, we have a problem child. You’re right, it’s Donald Duck.” — Walt Disney
All these points should make Donald a likable character in the U.S. as well. So why is Mickey so much more popular in America? Because he is a winner? Because he has a more positive attitude than the often grumpy Donald? Because Mickey always achieves in what he sets out to do, while Donald is not as successful as his uncle, Scrooge McDuck?
I sense a cultural difference. What do you think? Leave a comment.
Christian is a cultural trainer, coach, and consultant with extensive experience in working with multinational companies and especially in developing global leaders. He is the President and CEO of The Culture Mastery, LLC, where he leads a team of dedicated training, destination services, and expat support specialists. Christian works with global organizations (or those who are going global) to help their employees overcome cultural differences. Typically he only uses the word “normal” in quotation marks and he is an advocate for helping people understand the why of behaviors – not just the dos & don’ts. Most just call him “The Culture Guy”. Find out more about Christian here and follow him on Twitter. You can also see him, listen to him, and experience his work – just invite him!