WEST GERMANY: A Civil Tongue

Bureaucrats learn manners

In a nation with an all but obsessive concern about self-improvement, one institution so far has remained relatively impervious to change: the bureaucracy. Otto von Bismarck inaugurated the German civil service in 1871, an innovation that many of his countrymen now regard as the Iron Chancellor's least admirable accomplishment. There is hardly a German who has not been humiliated at one time or another by the uniquely imperious attitude of public employees—a maddening amalgam of officiousness, condescension and cantankerousness. A recent West German telephone poll, for example, showed that...

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