Cultural differences can sometimes cause misunderstanding. What may be considered polite in your home country may be seen as bad if you do the same in Germany. That’s why it is essential to learn about German culture if you are planning to move to Germany. Read on to learn more about the do's and don'ts of German etiquette.
German Etiquette: Do's
Do #1. Shake hands
Germans love shaking hands. When joining a group, it is common to shake hands with each person for greeting. Similarly, German people also shake hands when they leave. This practice is not limited to the business environment but also happens on social occasions.
If you meet close friends or family, you can give hugs instead. Do not give hugs at work, though. A handshake is more appropriate in business.
Do #2. Say hello and bye
When you enter a shop or a waiting room at your doctor's office, greet the people there. You do not need to initiate a conversation afterward. Just move on with your shopping, or sit down quietly.
You can say Auf Wiedersehen or Tschüss when you leave, which means bye.
Do #3. Be on time
After moving to Germany, you will probably notice that German people are very punctual. When a German person wants to meet you at 3 p.m., they really mean 3 p.m., not 3:15 pm or 3:30 pm.
It may be acceptable if you are a few minutes late. But if you are going to be later than that, make sure to call the other person and let them know beforehand. It is rude to be late without a valid reason.
This rule also applies to business meetings and social situations. If you have other important appointments, such as a flat visit when looking for a rental flat, it is even better to arrive a few minutes earlier.
Do #4. Make an appointment
Germans love appointments. This does not only apply to business meetings. You should also make a Termin when visiting a doctor, a hairdresser, or any governmental body. If you want to hang out with your friends, it is better to call or text them shortly before seeing them. This is to make sure that they have time for you.
Do #5. Separate your rubbish
Germany is a very environmentally friendly country. People separate their rubbish at home (e.g., organic waste, paper, glass, and plastics). It may be a bit confusing for foreigners at the beginning. Ask your roommates or neighbors how it works if you are not sure.
Never throw your rubbish randomly into the bins. This practice is considered very bad, and you may even receive complaints from other people if they see you doing so.
Do #6. Make eye contact with clinking glasses
In Germany, it is common to have alcohol with lunch or dinner. When you are in a group, you should wait until everybody has their drink and only start drinking after clinking glasses. When clinking glasses, it is essential to look into each other's eyes. Believe it or not, not doing so will result in seven years of bad sex. You probably won't want to risk that.
Do #7. Bring your own cake
If it’s your birthday, don't expect your friends to throw a party for you. Should you want a party, you will have to host it yourself. You are supposed to provide food and drinks for your guests. And they will give you birthday gifts in return.
It is common for the birthday person to bring a cake for their colleagues at work. Sometimes, the colleagues may have a small gift for the birthday person. But it is not always the case.
Do #8. Bring a gift when you visit someone
You should learn about gift-giving in Germany when living here. For example, if you visit someone, it is polite to bring a small gift. If you are not sure what to get, just buy something general like a bottle of wine, chocolate, or flowers. Those will go well in most situations. Please note that gifts are usually opened when received.
If you are invited to a house party or a dinner at home, you can ask the host if he needs something. For example, he may want you to bring some drinks, snacks, or dessert.
German Etiquette: Don’ts
Don’t #1. Cross the street when the traffic light is red
German people are very disciplined. Even when no car is coming, they do not cross the road on the red pedestrian light. This “don’t” is fundamental when children are around. You should be a good role model for the children. Breaking the rule and crossing the street on the red light is very frowned upon.
Don’t #2. Make loud noise in public
Compared to many other countries, German people are very quiet. When you are on public transportation or in the doctors' waiting rooms, you are supposed to stay silent. Having a loud conversation, talking loud on the phone, or listening to loud music are considered very impolite as you will disturb other people.
Don’t #3. Open closed doors without knocking
German people love to have their privacy. If you see a closed door, it doesn’t mean that the person inside does not want you to come in. However, it is very impolite if you just open the door. You should always knock first before entering the room. This rule applies to office spaces and also at home.
Don’t #4. Call people late in the evening
Unless you are very close friends, you should not call people late in the evening. If you will be working in Germany, it is essential to learn the German business culture. You should not call your colleagues after office hours or on the weekend. German people like to keep their private and business lives separate.
Don’t #5. Make jokes about nazism
Foreigners could associate nazism with Germany. And some people may bring up this topic during a conversation with other German people. However, you should know that this theme should only be discussed seriously. Until today, World War II can still be a very sensitive topic to many German people. Never make jokes about nazism or the war.
Don’t #6. Stare at naked people
In Germany, people may be more open to public nudity than in your home country. You are allowed not to wear your swimming suits in certain saunas. You may also see naked people in restricted lake areas. And you could see people walking around naked in the changing and showering area when joining a gym. German culture does not always associate nudity with sex. And you should not stare at naked people, as that is considered rude.
Don’t #7. Expect everyone to speak English with you
German is the official language in Germany. Even though many people in Germany can speak English, not everyone will necessarily speak English with you. You should try your best to speak some German in your everyday life. If you really cannot speak the language, ask politely in German if you can have the conversation in English.
Learning German is essential, especially if you want to stay in Germany for the long term. You could take intensive German classes or use some apps to learn German to adapt faster in the country.
Don’t #8. Wish someone a happy birthday before their birthday
In Germany, it is considered bad luck if you wish someone a happy birthday before their actual birthday. It implies that the person may not make it until their birthday. Make sure you say happy birthday only on the day of or after their actual birthday.
When living in Germany, you should be thoughtful about the German culture and the habits of people living in the country. That is why it is essential to learn how things work in Germany before moving. We hope that this article helps you to have an understanding of basic German etiquette. Following these rules will help you adapt faster to your new life in Germany.
About the author: Sindy came from Hong Kong and moved to Germany in 2010. Her blog My Life In Germany provides helpful info to expats about studying, working, and living in Germany.