This is now the second time I see an answer here where my first impulse as German was "What the heck?"

The first answer was How to tell a colleague to take care how he looks. It has many answers which I personally find totally off the mark with a high number of upvotes where people admitted that they neither belong or have experience with German culture (doctordonna said that the is the Canadian perspective). What even more irritated me was that people tried to discuss with me from their own cultural viewpoint.

The second answer is How to ask cashier out of date where the most upvoted answer from Tinkeringbell is extremely aggressive and, more serious, shows a lack of cultural knowledge, the answer is as stated not acceptable. According to her profile she is from the Netherlands, but Germans and Dutch people are different (And in fact I am bit surprised because she reacts quite unusual for a Dutch person).

I will tell the reasons and cultural differences in an own answer, but I really want to ask the obvious question:

Shouldn't we people remind that for a good answer for a cultural specific question it is an obvious precondition that the answering person belongs to the culture or has extensive experience with it (spouse, long stay)?

Shouldn't we give some kind of indication in the answer what our actual experience is?

The thing is there are many other Germans with a totally different viewpoint, they may disagree with me, even in different directions (!). But our answers together give a quite good picture what we all find not ok and where there is some interpretation room.

I must also say that distance is also not a good indicator for similarity of cultures. I can drive in less of one hour over to Denmark, but Danish people are in general much more reserved and cautious than Germans.

What in my opinion is not ok is giving advice from cultural ignorance, it brings people in trouble. If such answers are upvoted, many people will see them, hold them for true and likely don't look further down where they may get warned that it the suggested behavior sounds nice, but is culturally not acceptable.

I do not think it needs saying, but this concerns naturally all groups: Italians, Chinese people, Nigerian people, Christians, Jews, LGBT, whatever.

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    Possible duplicate of What should we do about answers based on the 'wrong' culture? (or possibly the linked questions e.g. this or this one)
    – Em C
    Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 23:09
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    There seemed to be some discussion about the cultures in the second question and it seemed like OP agreed that it did apply to where he lived. It was a concern that got addressed in comments, probably before the OP accepted the answer.
    – JMac
    Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 23:16
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    @JMac What discussion? The one who was likely deleted :/ ? Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 23:42
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    The big thing I would note in this instance is that if you can convince J.Doe to accept your answer (by drawing their attention to it), great. That means that your specialized knowledge is the better solution, and the system works. But if they'd still rather accept Tinkeringbell's answer, then that's the best answer for them, regardless of whether the answer comes from a Dutch, German, or Martian cultural context. And the system still works.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 4:30
  • @Obie2.0: On technical sites like SO, the regular process is to try a solution suggested in an answer, and if it works, accept the answer. That is, the answer that is confirmed to be valid gets accepted and your reasoning applies. However, I suspect it may not work like that on some more "socially" oriented sites - depending on the problem, implementing am answer from IPS can well be a process of several weeks without a clearly measurable endor success. It may be bad practice, but I suspect a considerable portion of the answers here are accepted before getting implemented by the asker, ... Commented Aug 3, 2019 at 2:42
  • ... i.e. the answer that sounds most valid (and that is apparently "approved of" as per its score) is accepted. With that in mind, a lack of at least noticable hints about an answer possibly targetting a mismatching cultural frame can be truly misleading to the asker and to future visitors. (Note that I'm not saying IPS is very bad at this; IMHO some other sites such as The Workplace can be much worse in this respect, as answers over there can end up very US-centric and completely drown out anything else, even if they take totally unfitting legal and contractual assumptions for granted.) Commented Aug 3, 2019 at 3:03

1 Answer 1


I think these concerns are very legitimate, but I see the proposed solution as causing more problems than it fixes:

  • It isn't correct that the only good advice can come from someone with personal experience with a matter, or with the culture or mores in question, as you seem to imply. Sure, it's more likely that someone without personal experience with a matter will get things wrong, but it's not guaranteed. For instance, Barack Obama is generally considered to be more in favor of women's rights than the late Phyllis Schlafly. Your proposed suggestion would eliminate many good answers in the interests of narrow compartmentalization. Answers should be evaluated on their content.

  • Expanding on that point, how far do you want to take this? Should we have IPS (Britain) and IPS (USA), where only British or US citizens ask and answer questions, and any other answers, no matter their quality or the questioner's opinions, are deleted?

  • How granular should these top-down requirements be? Maybe, if we accept your hypothesis, different regions of Germany have such different mores in this regard that we can't even be sure someone who is German is "qualified."

  • Further, we may simply not have any, say, Jewish Indian women to answer the peculiar problems arising in that context. Do we simply leave those questioners to flounder about on their own (seems a little unfair), or do we make a good-faith effort to give them advice (even though we may only be Indian, or women, or Jewish, or even none of those)?

  • That said, oftentimes many of the most upvoted answers on this site do come from people who put their personal experiences in the forefront, even if not as polished as other answers. I'd say that such experience is valued.

  • You run the risk of forcing people who don't want to reveal their sexual orientation, gender, etc. online to either do so (and be uncomfortable), pretend to be someone they're not (and be dishonest, besides being against your proposal), or simply be excluded (perhaps the worst possible outcome).

  • That people are explaining that their solutions may be culturally limited is, I think, a good thing, not a surprising admission of ineptitude. It actually shows some awareness of potential limitations, as well as informing potential voters.

Here's what I think people should do instead:

  • For answerers, if they think it's relevant, explain the cultural context behind their answers. They shouldn't be afraid to do so, or to not do so—the questioner knows their own context better than anyone, and can point out flat-out wrong answers. It also might help if they do some research into the cultural context before answering a question from a background they're not familiar with.

  • For questioners, be ready to call out answers that are incorrect due to an incorrect context. This can be in the form of a comment advising improvement, a comment explaining lack of applicability. Also, one can use the tool of the accepted answer to ensure that a poorly-voted answer that's correct shows up before an incorrect but well-received answer.

  • For everyone else, this is another good opportunity to leave comments. Either point out the flaws in a comment on the question, or bring them to the attention of the answerer. Even better, post an answer! If you really do have a much better understanding of the context, and so does the questioner, they should see that pretty quickly, and your answer is likely to get accepted.

As a side note, I have some more specific reservations about some of the arguments here:

  • You're surprised that Tinkeringbell's answer doesn't seem very "Dutch." Doesn't that indicate that there's perhaps a wide diversity of opinions among Dutch people?

  • Similarly, you think there would be Germans who would disagree with you in every which way. If that's the case, I don't see why to treat the same answer differently from a German person or a Dutch person. And, if there's a German person who posted a similar answer, it's still going to be that one that gets all the upvotes. Except then you'll have a harder time getting your answer ahead.

  • This argument can very easily be turned around. E.g. maybe a woman should be answering a question about how a woman would respond to something, and not a man (German, Dutch, or otherwise).

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    First thanks for making a nice fleshed-out answer with arguments which do address the potential flaws in the solution. Unfortunately I cannot easily [..] point out the flaws in a comment on the question, or bring them to the attention of the answerer because in IPS such comments or even answers (see mine!) are deleted or modified (Hopefully you can read this comment before it is deleted). I could not even look up the discussion mentioned.by JMac. [continued] Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 22:42
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    I sincerely believe that answers should be honest and should reflect culture issues truthfully, especially if they go against deeply held beliefs. Not how the people should think is important, but how do they think and act. Giving good-sounding advice which earns much points and confirm pleasant beliefs, but is in no way fitting a culture is at best embarassing, at worst it brings people in mortal danger. Sooner or later someone will ask a question about a not-so-nice culture and I fear that a cosy answer will people bring in trouble. Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 22:57
  • @guest271314 - heh, well Pence is a good example of ignorance, sure.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Jan 27, 2019 at 21:40

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