Germans are intelligent now?

Screenshot anime Minami-ke.

“You can just go to America!” The USA has the highest proportion of people with a long education, but Japanese schoolkids do as much homework in a day as American kids do in a week, and a German high school diploma is roughly the equivalent of a Bachelor’s Degree in America.

More fun with Quora! Humans can ask the most amazing things. “Why does Germany tend to have a large amount of intelligent people?” This question is correctly marked with the label “Questions that contain assumptions” but is answered with great seriousness. There is even a short answer-wiki that sums up the consensus of the answers.

My first reaction was pretty much today’s subject heading. Germans are considered intelligent now? That was certainly news to me. But then I am Norwegian, while Quora is still somewhat America-centric. And in Norway, Americans are considered stupid (and fat and lazy). Of course, these are simply the stereotypes, we are well aware that there are many who are not. Even that stereotype may be wrong, since it is largely based on tourists. For a long time, America was the only country rich enough that even stupid people could afford to go abroad for fun. Therefore, the observation of stupid Americans.

As for Germans, the observation here in Norway is that they seem to be suicidal. German tourists rent a small boat and go out to sea when a storm is coming, then drown. They decide to hike in the mountains when a blizzard is coming, and freeze to death. They fall into raging rivers, or into cracks in glaciers, or drive with summer tires on icy narrow roads. Not what we consider intelligent, but I suppose they do well enough in their homeland, where nature is largely reduced to decorative parks rather than a main player in everyday life.


The generally agreed answer is that Germans are not more intelligent, exactly, they just have better education and live in a society where intellect is regarded more highly and money less, compared to the USA. German schools teach children many seemingly useless things, because a cultured German is supposed to have broad interests, including things that rarely earn money, like literature and arts. And because of that culture, they keep up with this knowledge later in life as well.

If I may here, I will point to my previous entry,  where I mention that children who learn many different things will have a head start on learning later, because as an adult you can associate things with what you already know, which is much more effective than learning something in a void, isolated from the rest of our life. I am surprised if American children don’t also learn many “useless” things, but perhaps these things are chosen differently, and the role of school in America may be more similar to daycare for a longer time than in Europe and specifically Germany.

One point that is mentioned repeatedly is that higher education is free in Germany. Actually I was of the impression that this is the normal in the civilized world, except if you want to attend an elite university and you don’t have any particular qualifications to commend you other than money. Well, it is that way here in Scandinavia, and evidently also in Germany. Of course, it is still not a life in luxury – you usually need to take a part-time job or borrow some money for your living expenses, even if tuition is free. Unless you are lucky enough to live with your parent(s) or working spouse within a short distance from the university, it may not be exactly literally free, but close enough that it won’t hold back those eager to learn.

But perhaps more important than the formal education is a culture where coming across as “cultured” is looked up to and respected, in much the same way as being rich is in America. You want to have a number of fully stocked bookshelves in your living room when guests come over, including classics you may not actually have read. You want to be seen at the opera or theater, and you want to be able to discuss arts and sciences instead of just the weather.

This is not just Germany. The Japanese are very much into this cultural refinement, and being intellectual is a badge of honor even if in many cases it earns you substantially less money than those who are less academic. There is some of it in much of Europe as well, and it used to be some of it here in Norway too when I grew up. We have always been a bit Americanized for a European country though, and we still are, although we may hesitate to admit it.

One thing however where Norwegians and Germans are on the same side, is the feeling that being exceptional is a bit suspicious (unless it is in sports, then it is great). If you are resourceful, you should be a little better at everything, not committed to one thing where you are the best of the best. People who specialize are referred to in Norwegian as vocational idiots (loosely translated, the original Norwegian word would probably be stopped by most English profanity filters.) This is a typical European attitude. An American may ask: “If you are so smart, why aren’t you rich?” but in Europe, we might ask: “If you are so smart, why do you only speak two languages?”

One thing is the same on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean: The day still only have 24 hours, and you cannot do everything in a lifetime. You have to choose. Germans often choose differently from Americans, and this is probably why many of them come across as more intelligent. They have used their time differently.

11 thoughts on “Germans are intelligent now?

    • I hope that website is helpful for you, but I don’t think it can make use of someone whose main concern is that being mortal sucks. Especially with the no religious proselytizing clause.

    • This entry is largely a reflection on the Quora discussion linked to right under the caption, where praise for the German education system is the single most recurring feature. Part of this was an observation by Judith Meyer that the jobs that in the USA asked for “any bachelor degree”, in Germany asked for a high school diploma. Obviously this would be different for more specialized jobs, and I notice that Meyer’s claims have later been contested by one (American) reader.

  1. Very funny post. But as far as nature being “reduced” to decorative parks, my viewpoint as a half-English half-German native American is that Mother Nature is a murderous bitch. She should be put in her place, tamed, and made into a decorative park so humans can enjoy nature in safety. Because give her half a chance and that bitch will kill you. And no, I am not joking.

    • I agree. Whoever came up with the notion of “Mother Nature” must have known very little about nature, or else had a thoroughly disturbing childhood!

  2. P.S. perhaps the reason german towns and cities are so orderly and beautiful and the reasons American towns are cities are ugly filthy disgusting vomit-inducing piles of drek is because of the difference in education? Perhaps the reason Americans put up with shit like R&B “music” which sounds like some dog being castrated while the Germans have schlager, volkmusik, and blasmusik is because of education? America is a great country in many ways, too bad that culturally it is horribly ugly, smelly, nasty, disorderly, and basically a huge steaming pile of animal droppings.

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