When meeting Germans, expect to shake hands. If meeting a group of Germans, you will need to shake hands with every member of the group.
Do NOT try to kiss Germans on the cheek when meeting/greeting them – this is strictly reserved for close friends and family.
Address Germans with the more formal ‘Sie’ until they tell you it’s OK to use the less formal ‘Du’. It’s normally the older person, or the person of highest rank that suggests the switch – but as a foreigner, it’s often advisable to allow native speakers to take the lead.
You should use ‘Herr’ (for men) or ‘Frau’ (for women) plus their family name to address people, unless they invite you to use their first name. ‘Fraulein’, once used to address unmarried women, is now considered outdated.
Titles are also taken very similarly in Germany, whether they’re a mark of nobility or academic achievement. So, include them when you address people, e.g. Herr Doktor Klopp or Frau Professor Müller.
If the restaurant is particularly busy, you may find yourself seated at a table with strangers. Before sitting down, it’s polite to just double check that the seat is free (‘Ist dieser Platz noch frei?’). You won’t be expected to make conversation with them, but it is polite to wish them ‘Guten Appetit’ and to bid them farewell when you or they leave.
Whether at a restaurant or a dinner party, you should wait until everyone has received their food before you start. Take the lead of your host.
Germans almost never eat with their hands. This includes food such as pizza. Hold your fork in your left hand, and your knife in your right. Keep your hands above the table and do not rest your elbows on the table.
Finished your meal? Place your knife and fork at the side of the plate, parallel to one another. Just taking a break? Crossing your knife and fork lets your waiter know that you’re not yet finished with your meal.
If you visit a German home, you may be asked to remove your shoes. And if you are asked to remove your shoes, you may be provided with some Hausschuhe – house shoes! This does vary from household to household, so just be prepared!
If you do visit a German home, you will want to take a gift. A bottle of wine always goes down well. Flowers are also a nice gift, just make sure you don’t bring lilies, chrysanthemums or carnations, as these are all associated with funerals and mourning.
This really goes without saying, but it’s worth reminding all members of your group – making the Nazi salute, shouting ‘Heil Hitler’ or displaying other Nazi symbols is actually a criminal offense in Germany.
Do NOT jaywalk – not only will you get some very disapproving looks, but you could even be bit with a fine. So make sure you wait for the Ampelmann!
Do NOT walk in the bike lane – you could very well be shouted at, or even run over!
When entering a shop, particularly a smaller shop, make sure you say hello to everyone (‘Guten Tag’, ‘Guten Abend’ etc.). And remember to say ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ when you leave.
The Germans are very environmentally conscious and so take recycling very seriously. Make sure you recycle where possible and do NOT litter!
There is no such thing as ‘fashionably late’ in Germany – you’re just late. Punctuality is a serious thing in Germany and you’ll also be judged if you arrive too early. If you really cannot make a meeting/appointment/rendez-vous on time, you must call ahead to inform the person expecting you.
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