Being a German in Silicon Valley is like being a rabbit in a fairy tale. Whereever you go, other Germans have already been there. And just like in the race between the rabbit and the hedgehog you end up confused.
There is this shop in San Francisco for example, “Lehr’s - German Specialties”, a supermarket for German products. The minute I walked in recently, I found myself surrounded by an aura of deep desperation. The 60-year old with pink lipstick behind the counter looked tired and exhausted. When I wandered all along the small abandoned shelves I didn’t find one product I used to buy in my country. Boiled sausages, Thuringian Sauerbraten with dumplings, scuffed old leather trousers, Eau de Cologne – does Silicon Valley think Germans still live in the 60ies or behind the Wall?
The second phaenomena happens the minute a product manager at a random tech company discovers that you work for a German newspaper. He starts to talk about privacy and data protection which of course is incredibly important. A lot of Silicon Valley companies, Google for example, might have underestimated that for too long. But for some reason now everybody thinks data protection and privacy are the only things German reporters are interested in.
“What do you know about your users?”, I for example asked the product guy at a very interesting media company which is about to disrupt the media market. I was interested in how their users already changed their behaviour. The manager answered: “Of course we protect the privacy of our customers.” I tried again: “What can you say from the data you have?”- “And we don’t sell the data.” - “Great, but what can you tell me about them?”- “I want to specify here: We don’t sell the data to anyone.”
We talked at cross-purposes. It was an interview like a domestic quarrel. Does Silicon Valley think Germans more or less feel like a betrayed wife who lost her privacy? A wife in love with Thuringian dumplings?
Clearly I had to ask my American friends for their opinion on the overprotective Sauerbratens. When they got back to me, their answers quite surprised me, they were very positive!
In Silicon Valley’s view Germans are “methodic, good looking and well-dressed”. We are “ambitious, maybe a little bit self-interested and not idealistic”. That’s why people in the Valley long time had an “image of German entrepreneurs not being innovative”. We were more or less only known for “the copycat companies from Rocket Internet”. But that has changed.
Germans have „solid character“ and when they think you're wrong you’ll know it. And - funny thing – Silicon Valley obviously likes our interest in data protection. “Germany is very morally driven and progressive. It’s definitely good that Germany fights for privacy”, one friend told me. Another, that most Germans he knew were hackers. After all, I think, it could have been worse.
Es gibt auch eine deutsche Version dieser Kolumne.
Immer Dienstags schreibt Britta Weddeling, Korrespondentin für die Themen Internet und Netzwirtschaft des Handelsblatts im Silicon Valley, über die neusten Trends und kleinen Kuriositäten im Tal der Nerds.@bweddeling folgen