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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?

7 Answers 7

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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.

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  • Quote: "increasing internal complexity/competition without overall development" My argument against this answer is: Ironing this phenomenon flat means The German social system prevents people from fighting among themselves within a small circle and not improving the health of the economical development. Which is not the way to keep salary men down. Also, 内卷 is a Chinese concept and the vlog is about German society. 内卷 is what you want to see if you want to stop common salary men from raising up in the social classes
    – Tang Ho
    Oct 10, 2022 at 3:02
  • @TangHo First, from the question alone I do not assume the vlogger is saying that the German system is trying to keep people down. "烫平" can simply be a wordplay with regard to 卷, it might even be a subtle allusion to "躺平". Second, I don't understand how 内卷 being a Chinese concept prevents it from being used to describe German society. The vlogger is Chinese, of course they would apply concepts they're familiar with to other situations.
    – EEQ
    Oct 10, 2022 at 3:51
  • @TangHo I don't think your interpretation is invalid, but I'd like to point out that a more conventional way to say that would be something along the lines of "你刚开始想往上爬,它一下子就把你踹下去". Afaik, “卷” is not conventionally associated with upward movement. Regardless of the vlogger's point, I think it's highly unlikely that their choice of the verb was not influenced by “内卷”.
    – EEQ
    Oct 10, 2022 at 4:02
  • The vlog was in response to the question about the possibility of working and earning money in Germany. 内卷 is a phenomenon that keeps the salary men down. Why would the German social system flatten it? and how?
    – Tang Ho
    Oct 10, 2022 at 4:03
  • @TangHo First, there's a difference between the system actively seeking to keep people down and the system making people stay complacent as a result. Second, a rational society would want to reduce 内卷, as it does not create actual advancement. But all in all, I cannot make further comment since I don't have the full context of the vlog.
    – EEQ
    Oct 10, 2022 at 4:08
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德国的社会制度就象一个熨斗,当你刚开始想的时候,它一下子就把你烫平了

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

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  • This is interesting. As you surely know, the Chinese, (especially among the Cantonese), the colloquial term for being sacked from a job is 炒鱿鱼, (pan-fried squid), because when squids are fried, they "curl up" immediately, which depicts the depressed, inwardly sad mood of the sacked employee. I just wonder whether the selective Internet use of 卷 has any originating connection? Oct 10, 2022 at 3:11
  • @Wayne Cheah The slang "炒鱿鱼" (fire from a job) came from an older slang "執包袱". When you 炒鱿鱼, the squid curls up like a bundle (包袱). In the olden times, employees very often lived in their workplace, when they were fired, they have to pack up and leave, and that's why 執包袱 means "be fired"; 炒鱿鱼 means "to fire". 炒 someone 鱿鱼, is a metaphor for someone curling up like a 包袱 which intern is an expression for "be fired" (even in modern times people don't usually live in their workplaces, 執包袱 still makes sense because the fired person still have to pack up his personal items ans leave
    – Tang Ho
    Oct 10, 2022 at 3:20
  • see chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/39364/… the A well done 鱿鱼 not just curls up, it actually rolls up
    – Tang Ho
    Oct 10, 2022 at 3:33
  • Ah, yes. Thanks for making the connection between "炒鱿鱼" and "執包袱". The sacked employee's "bundle", when rolled up in a piece of white cotton clothe, does look like a curled up fried squid. Oct 10, 2022 at 5:56
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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.

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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..

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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.

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  • Quote:- "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" Really? I am sure you are mistaken. From what we hear, the People's Republic of China is a veritable paradise for workers, so sorry, I meant the proletariat? Oct 10, 2022 at 11:12
  • If "those high-level leaders" means leaders of enterprises, that' s appropriate. Chinese have a famous online excel called "996 ICU" records the list of companies which want their employees to work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and 6 days per week. Of course it is illegal, but they just do that.
    – Krahmal
    Oct 11, 2022 at 2:10
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It mean if the one plan to compete viciously , the social system will prevent him.

It is a compliment to the social system of Germany.

The literal meaning of '卷' is rollling ,it's extended meaning is competing viciously.

The '平' is the opposite of '卷'.

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"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。"

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.

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