View Full Version : In Europe, Everything is "Impossible"

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016, 08:41 AM
The other day in Geneva, my wife and I wanted to split a single serving of fondue, rather than get enough for two. The waiter at the restaurant responded: "It's impossible." Ultimately though, that's what we got.

Last night in Davos, a group of us tried to get into a shuttle to be taken from a party to the main center here. There were only five seats in the back, yet six people tried to squeeze in. The driver responded: "It's impossible." Ultimately it was very easy to squeeze in an extra person, and the driver relented pretty quickly.

One person in the car — who was American but lives in Belgium — commented that he hears the phrase "It's impossible" all the time in Belgium. I've heard it several other times in just a few days. Never has the situation actually been "impossible" or even close to impossible. The situation's just always been kind of slightly against the rules.

You don't really hear this much in the U.S., so I'm wondering: Does the prevalence of this phrase actually represent some kind of cultural thing whereby people take rules more seriously? Or is it just a language thing, where people who don't speak English natively use it to just mean "you're not supposed to do that." Genuinely curious which one it is.

My wife and I took a bike trip through the Rhone valley. Stopped at 2:30 PM for lunch. All restaurants were closed. Went to a bar, saw a loaf of bread and some cheese. Asked for beer and a cheese sandwich. Not only "impossible", but the guy looked at us like we were child molesters. He pointed out that the gas station down the street sold chips and soda. Very helpful. We ate at about 5:30 in the next town.

Having lived in France, where Impossible is the mantra, it became easy to interpret. It more or less means "yes, it is possible, yet I am not going to do it".

However, trying to do it yourself, as the above examples, can be met with a shrug, or a strike. So there are 'choices', as the Americans like to say.

Having lived, gone to school and worked in Belgium and France I can tell you that while the statement of 'it's impossible' means more so 'it's not permitted' it is reflective more so of how much creativity of thought and action has been systemically organized out of the European consciousness.

Everything in mainland Western European life has been so metered and people have been so tracked and directed for them for so long that a novel and inventive solution to anything such as squeezing 6 passengers into a 5 person cab is treated with near awe.
It's a language thing. The word is used for something slightly different than its pure meaning. It's a bit like in the US where the phrase "have a nice day" often means "this transaction has ended and I have no further interest in you".

In USA they would say, "No, you can't do that". And it might turn into an ugly confrontation, because the guy who says this will have his ego on the line. He'll feel affronted and insulted when people disobey his order. But in Europe, saying "It's impossible", makes it very impersonal. There are no egos involved, and this means that you have some room to do what you want anyway, without insulting or affronting the person who says it.

In Europe's eastern, ex-communist countries (e.g Romania) people are used to fight for their basic needs, they have been out of their comfort zone many times, they are used to taking risks and much more open to deal with "impossible" things. But in Europe's western, developed countries, which have a better living style, people aren't used to doing things which are out of their comfort zone or think that are inappropriate.

It is in fact something you hear quite often. But it's never clear cut black & white. It has different meanings. In Northern Europe (namely: Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Poland and Germany) and Switzerland, impossible' means 'it doesn't work that way, so it's not possible'.

Whatever gets outside of that implicit order is essentially frowned upon. By asking something slightly off the normal tracks you are breaking their routine. And these guys don't like at all when their routine is broken. It is not how they run things, so it 'impossible' otherwise.

[...] most waiters, cab drivers, and other blue collar positions in Europe are career positions that the person has likely held for a long time. So, they consider it their little area of control. When one tries to change something seemingly easy, like putting many people in a cab, one is treading on that worker's area of control, and one gets pushback.

In France, where everything is more complicated than necessary, one runs into the "it's impossible" barrier all the time. I hear "c'est pas possible" many times per day. Foreigners joke that it's their motto.

I lived in two of the so-called "best" countries of Europe (Sweden and Germany) for more than 7 years. I speak Swedish, German, and some Russian as well. I heard variations of "it's impossible" all the time, and it became very frustrating. Get a job? Impossible, your papers are not right - your work permit is not correct. Day labor as a farm hand for a week? Impossible, the tax regulations are too complex.

[...] most Americans over 40 years of age know that with HARD WORK many difficult things are indeed possible. Unfortunately, in our current age of immediate self-gratification, too many people do not know the meaning of EFFORT, WORK, or SUCCESS AFTER REPEATED FAILURES.

I believe that it is more likely to do with the cultural norm of following the rules. It's impolite to ask others to do something out of the rules, as it then involves them having to act on a personal level rather than to simply provide the service they were employed for. I believe these aspects of culture do have a real impact on how society develops in these countries.

You should try to get in touch with some entrepreneurs in Vienna and see how they feel the laws are shaped for them. 'Creative destruction' is not a term that fits well with the German language, and the mood is more towards 'give everyone a comfortable living' as a priority and those seeking excess must work within this parameter first.

For instance, if you want to create a company, you're going to have to invest Eur 20,000 in order to qualify for a type of company others will trade with. A Facebook or even an Apple wouldn't have happened here and isn't likely to in the near future.

In Italy, it's less of a cultural norm to follow the rules (unless they are about food - ever try to order a cappuccino in the afternoon?). Usually, when an Italian says "it's impossible," he really means "that is not the way it's done," or "I don't want to do it." This is often followed by a great deal of discussion ending in a compromise where he does indeed do it, but not until you acknowledge that he's doing you a great favour.

It's definitely a cultural thing. Think about it- who came to settle America? The people who thought it was possible. Who stayed behind in Europe? The people for whom it was not possible.

Your ancestors likely left everything they had behind and got on a boat to America to start a new life because they were inherently optimistic, positive thinkers. The ones who weren't stayed behind in the old country. You are dealing with their offspring.

Any questions?

Source: BusinessInsider (https://forums.skadi.net/redirector.php?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.busi nessinsider.co.id%2Feverything-is-impossible-in-europe-2014-1%2F)

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016, 09:13 AM
I hate the West though E Europe is better. Still Weimar West actually brings hope.

Good times create weak men, but weak men create bad times, which create strong men...

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016, 10:39 AM
I've always been sick of that ugly, pessimistic, narrow mindset the Europeans have...
This is one of the main differences between Europeans and Americans. Though one can make many criticisms of America and Americans, many most of us on this side of the Atlantic admire of people in the US is the can-do attitude and industriousness they have.

That's the reason why America is much richer than most of Europe, only rivalled by Switzerland. It's also the reason why, eg, almost no major tech companies are originated in or headquartered in Europe. Even Skype, originating in Estonia, now is owned by Microsoft.

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016, 11:13 AM
The sad thing is the can do attitude is changing in America. It has been changing since the counter culture or the 60s. Some decades have been worse than others, but all in all it is still changing.

I believe that Americans, Canadians, Australians and possibly Kiwis and people from SA ( never been there yet ) have this attitude because we had to. Folks who went abroad and settled these lands had a sense of adventure and a sense to build something. They passed this sense down to their children. Though as our lands are now explored and settled we are slowly losing this can do idea.

Even recent immigrants from Germanic countries have a strong sense of adventure or risk taking attitude. An example of this is myself, my father was very adventurous and all my siblings have a strong sense of that attitude we are scattered around the world. One part of me says " stay work the land " another part of me says " go and see and experience ". I want to live in another place far to the North, but I remain here, perhaps very soon I will make the decision to stay or go on the big adventure and resettle.

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016, 04:35 PM
I think in East-Europe the people live worse but they automaticaly hate the "West" because they commonly believe that the "West" is decadent. It is not a jealously, I think that if the East live better they just hate the West too.

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016, 06:37 PM
By the time Europeans get to me on the west coast, they are full of can do attitude. Maybe that is why they are here. One of my friends was an Eastern European, a Bulgarian, and had many thoughts on east vs. west thinking.