Hot on the heels of the last post, this one is about the cogs and wheels of an indigenous system, about learning its specifics, its subtleties, its tools and its limits and making it work for number one. In the last post I used one apparently anodyne example to show how working the system can be profitable for the Joe on the street: Flea-markets. Here, using e-commerce as context, I want to show why stereotypes can be gaffes and misjudgments costly.
Before re-localizing my wife and I realized that something existed in Germany that we just couldn’t seem to find in France, a sort of “Get on and do it” attitude that doesn’t need an Investment Angel or Richard Branson’s PR team to get started but rather an understanding of a system and exploiting its tools.
I’ve probably said this before but in Germany if they (that means everyone, not just the Germans1) do well they show it. Generally, in France, when you see someone in a Mercedes AMG C 63 you tend to think, to put it politely: “It can’t be legit”. In Germany you tend to think “Damn! I want one too!”, at least that’s what I think2. That said, not everybody’s so inclined in Germany, there are some who wonder how any normal law-abiding citizen could possibly afford a 100k€ car working 40 hours week and if they do it’s because they haven’t a clue, but then that’s pretty much the same in any country.
1Depending on where you live, you’ll find that “They” are not just German but Turkish, Russian, Polish, Balkan, eastern Mediterranean, to name but those.
2 The boss at my last job in France had an Audi A7. People at work grumbled saying he got it at their expense. When I left the company (on good terms, I’ll add) they asked “Why? The answer was as simple as it was spontaneous “Because I want one of those too!” I said, meaning the A7!
Any old iron
In France it never occurred to me to clear out my attic either physically, in some corner of a flea-market, or virtually, online. That’s changed. Since coming we’ve had the occasion to go through our jumble and bric-a-brac, or what remained of it after re-localizing3, selling and replacing items we no longer needed with more stylish, functional, or ergonomic objects that may end up on eBay at some future point in time as well as we move on to where we ultimately want to go.
My wife recently did a check between eBay.fr and eBay.de and was amazed to see how different they were. There’s absolutely no comparison, like day and night, so the question begged asking: Why should there be such a difference? The only explanation we could find was that it had something to do with the culture and the system, seemingly more favourable in Germany towards online private, peer to peer commercial activities4. And us? Well my wife is becoming quite adept at seeking out bargains and selling items online we no longer need or want and I’ve no hesitation buying certain bona fide new or used OEM5 parts for cars and PCs online.
3 Knowing that we would be moving into an apartment with a fitted kitchen we junked a lot of items. In Germany we would have auctioned them online5. Now if that isn’t ecology at work!
4 Yes the French have a number of peer to peer, small ads websites, such as “leboncoin.fr”, but I was never tempted to use them, possibly for security reasons. That’s changed. eBay.de also offers a small ads service, we use it quite a lot and I have no qualms about using the German variant, mainly because of the payment process (ex: PayPal, direct bank transfer (unimaginable in France) or payment by cash at the door)
5OEM: Original Equipment Manufacturer.
Tangents and tools
Going off at a tangent, you’d think the German system with its respect for order, conformity and team spirit, not to mention its love of exactitude, would frown on mercurial private, peer to peer initiatives such as buying and selling online, for fear it escapes control, apparently not. While there are very specific rules governing “Freelancers” in commerce they’re clear cut, applicable and accompanied, with the obligatory penalties just in case.
For all the stereotypes you can think of to say about the Germans if you have a product and are ready to work you can actually do quite well, as do the German Tax authorities too, judging from their rudely healthy state of affairs!
Another point where the German and French administrations seem to differ is the way they integrate foreigners. I’ll skip the sociological, geopolitical, historical, colonial talk, enough to say that a certain number of non-EU foreigners arrive in Germany every year and they need to be integrated… I repeat integrated. So what’s the first thing the German administration does when a non-EU person registers with them? They organize an “Integration” course6, which must be completed otherwise no certification and no chance of obtaining a decent job afterwards, unless, that is, you want to work permanently as a vendor’s assistant on a Flea-market or doing a so called “450€” job7. But if you follow the integration course through to its end you get a) a certificate of integration, b) sent on a higher grade language course (optional, depending on your goal), c) de facto sent on a professional training course with ultimately another certificate proving your are apt to work in Germany, which, if you coming to Germany with say a university diploma in business management from a Central Asian university, is the cherry!
The integration course is an example but it’s not the only initiative available. What it does show however is that if you’re clever, know where to look and are resilient you’ll find the right kind of assistance to help you get where you want to go but beware, the system has its guardians who keep track and if you don’t feel comfortable with that then go somewhere else.
6 Enrollment is quasi unavoidable, mainly because everyone needs an ID and an attestation of domiciliation from the local authorities to get anything done and before you go thinking you can get work on the “Black” (as happens in some countries I know) think twice. The administration is vigilant and woe betide those caught who are, a) not native and b) not legally registered, the sanctions are swift.
7 Due to be introduced in 2015 Germany doesn’t yet have a minimum wage. In the meantime the labour market is doing nicely thank you as do the host of temp, interim or Personnel agencies offering what the Germans call “mini-jobs” or “450€” jobs ( part time, 15 hour/week jobs. that, if so inclined, you can accumulate). “Vive le libre enterprise!”… or, in other words, “I want my Mercedes AMG C 63 and I want it ASAP”.
Flea-market or e-commerce
Before closing there’s one thing that still needs clarifying. Why do people go to Flea-markets and not just sell everything online? Well, I’m glad the question got asked. There seems to be a tacit market share with some Flea-markets selling furniture but generally such objects get sold online (Auctions? You bid, you win, you pay, it gets delivered or you pick it up). With Flea-markets half the charm is rummaging around in boxes for small treasures, the other half is the atmosphere of the place. While most online sites have got their services (e.g. payment and delivery) down to a “T” nothing beats a Sunday morning stroll around a Flea-market but whatever your choice you just can’t deny the practicality of, who’d have thought it, a system equipped for optimized functionality and minimum complication.
A famous author once wrote “Systems – living or otherwise – have to learn how to evolve…“ As systems go you get the impression that this is one system that, while maintaining firm control of its direction, is none the less capable of evolving and adapting to new situations and requirements, be they technical or human. Perhaps there lies the secret of its apparent success.