In a vlog made by a Chinese vlogger about the possibility of working and earning money in Germany, he said, “德国的社会制度就象一个熨斗，当你刚开始想卷的时候，它一下子就把你烫平了。”
What does the sentence mean? What does the word 卷 here mean?
If the vlog is made recently then most likely 卷 is short for 内卷，an economical/sociological concept that has become popularised in China in recent years. "卷" itself has become part of the daily vocabulary of many people (presumably of the younger generations).
You can search 内卷 for more information, but in short it refers to the phenomenon of increasing internal complexity/competition without overall development. The most often used example is the overtime work culture in China: you don't want to work overtime? Sure, someone else will be willing to take that job, and because there's always someone else you can't even ask for more salary. The end result is that everyone works more without getting paid more.
卷 by itself can be used to describe a person who over-achieves, in the context that their overachievement forces others to do more work as well. If an environment is very high-competition, you can also say it's "太卷了". And of course it can also be used as a verb.
So the sentence would mean that Germany's social system prevents over-competition, perhaps by having strict labour laws, a good welfare system, etc. Considering the context, the vlogger might also be trying to say that this makes you complacent and less likely to work hard for a fortune (I cannot say for sure without the full video).
P.S. There are some different stories regarding the origin of the concept/word 内卷, most of which I find suspect. However the concept itself is useful and its popularisation in China is quite telling.
The German social system is like a hand-held iron, when you start to curl up, it flattens you in one fell swoop
卷 here is short for 卷曲 (curl up)
卷(curl) VS. 平(flat)
The fact that iron flattens curls on a surface is used as a metaphor for the German social system actively putting down any upward movement. It keeps everyone on a level field, no one can raise above others. Meaning salary men in this system will never make a fortune
I would say both EEQ and Tang Ho are correct. 卷 originally means curling up. This sentence uses the iron as a metaphor, so the society prevents people from "curling up".
But what does the author mean when they says a person curls up? That's related to EEQ's explanation of 卷 as a Internet shorthand for 内卷 (involution, involute).
So there is a little Chinese wordplay here. In sum, it means "when the involution is about to emerge, the society immediately prevents it from happening".
But it depends on the vlog content... Probably a people "curling up" follows Tang Ho's explanation instead of EEQ's. But if it is a recent vlog, then 内卷 is a common topic among Chinese Gen Z. So I assume EEQ's explanation is correct.
I would confirm what EEQ said, 卷 means someone who tries hard, with the negative effect of putting pressure on those around him or her to compete.
In German, that is called a Streber. That word sometimes has negative connotations, especially among those not inclined to work hard, but my friends in Germany don't think Streber is bad, and certainly not to be 烫平 (no metaphor in German, just held back, zurückgehalten), they would encourage streben v..
I am a newly graduated Chinese student. This question is related to social problems. It is very simple on the surface, but the deep problem is about social operation and working environment.
First, what is a 卷? On the surface, it means volume. In Chinese society, it is an adjective, which can be understood as fierce competition.
China has a large population and is in the stage of development, so the per capita resources are very few. The opportunities for further education and jobs have become scarce resources. For students, China has the high school entrance examination and the college entrance examination. Every student wants to go to a good high school and university. Therefore, parents of students spend a lot of money to sign up for training classes. Otherwise, over time, their children will learn much less than other children. Students must also become smarter. Only by doing more difficult questions can they strengthen their thinking ability and stand out from a crowd of people, leading to many high school knowledge, Some students began to study in junior high school, and others did the same when they saw it. Many unnecessary and inappropriate knowledge was learned, which led to the gap between them. The questions of China's annual high school entrance examination became more and more difficult, and the score of universities rose.
For workers, it is a job that they can be competent after learning a skill, because everyone wants some people to learn relevant skills and knowledge in this skill development. For example, C++engineers, some candidates can use JAVA or speak other languages, and other candidates will not be eliminated because of these skills. As a result, the eliminated will also learn these unnecessary knowledge, leading to higher job threshold. In addition, some candidates recite interview questions for the purpose of disturbing the recruitment market, so the post salary will also be reduced. But people will still do this, master a lot of expanded knowledge, just to get a job.
In addition, in order to get jobs, people require to work overtime, even for a small amount of overtime pay. However, Chinese enterprises have very low illegal costs for workers. Workers need to spend a lot of time and money on labor arbitration, and finally get very little compensation. Therefore, many workers are disappointed but do not protect their rights. Therefore, enterprises frequently break the law on overtime, wages and other issues
Compared with Germany, China has no trade unions or other organizations to supervise enterprises (in short, I have not heard of them). Moreover, the process of arbitration and prosecution is very complicated and takes a long time. The compensation received has not even been expensive to hire a lawyer. As far as I know, German shop owners who open their own shops will be fined for any work incident There is a strict evaluation process for dismissed employees. However, the reason for a Chinese enterprise to dismiss an employee can be very simple, and it can generally dismiss an employee within one month without any penalty. Of course, now the enterprise is in compliance with the rules in terms of dismissal. However, there are still many problems in overtime and salary.
For example, recently, Tesla Motors CEO Mask said, "Chinese workers don't even want to leave the factory. They can work until 3 am." Because few Chinese local enterprises pay so much overtime.
So people are 卷 themselves to get jobs, while enterprises are trying to reduce the treatment of employees and exploit them. In recent years, the Chinese people are rushing to make money. The pace of life is fast, and people become very impetuous. There is no time to entertain and accompany your family.
However, those high-level leaders, by exploiting the people, indulging in extravagance, pampering themselves and spending a lot of money, bought luxury houses and accessories. Even to raise prices, housing prices, let the appointment of the bottom more efforts to make money to buy their own houses and goods.
German's social system is like a smoothing iron, when the society(you) starts to roll up/curl(卷), it will immediately iron/smooth it(you) down.
The sentence means, in Germany, when a new societal trend/wave goes against the norm (卷), it is likely will be put down/straightened(烫平) by the value carried by its social system.