German Realism versus American Optimism at the World Cup


Those of you who have been following the World Cup might be aware that the US won against Ghana on June 16, giving hope to the US team’s dream of beating Portugal on Sunday and securing a place in the top 16 teams. Thus, allowing them to stay in the game that much longer.

What some of you may have missed, is that the US team’s coach, German-born Jurgen Klinsmann, was initially less than optimistic about their chances at the tournament.

You have to be realistic. Every year we are getting stronger. For us now talking about winning a World Cup, it is just not realistic. If it is American or not, you can correct me

Harsh words for Americans, who as a culture, don’t take too kindly to anything perceived as defeatism. Americans are legendarily optimistic and Klinsmann, seeming to be aware of this, goes as far as to qualify his statement as potentially un-American. US sports publications were still quick to take offense, but some fail to note the role Klinsmann’s German cultural heritage plays in his very direct communication style. From Klinsmann’s cultural vantage point, it’s likely that he’s not being pessimistic, but is merely telling the truth.

Despite Klinsmann’s comments, the US team and their fans were undeterred. Their motto for the 2014 World Cup is “I believe that we will win.” (Note that they say, I instead of we in truly individualistic fashion.) For Americans – many of whom learn from childhood that grit and determination make all things possible – believing is half the battle. For a German like Klinsmann, who hails from a culture so fact-oriented, this unbridled optimism might seem rather imprudent. After all, the American team hasn’t even made it to the quarterfinals since 2002, and holds a middling #13 spot in the FIFA World Ranking.

The fact that the US is not yet a force to be reckoned with is the very reason they imported Klinsmann – to “de-Americanize” and bring a European sensibility to the team. This represents not just a slight change to American soccer, but a total overhaul, and suffice it to say that US players and their fans might just have to get used to the Teutonic trainer’s communication style if it means the betterment of the team.

What do you think of Klinsmann’s statement? What elements of culture were at play in this situation? Have you ever been in a situation where your levels of optimism or pessimism were not a fit for your cultural surroundings?