Each country has its own set of customs and etiquette. Some are not so important, while negligence of some can raise eyebrows in a foreign land. Germany is no exception. Let’s find out more about the different cultural etiquette prevalent in Germany.
With international travel becoming so essential and affordable, learning about a country’s culture and etiquette, before visiting the place, has never been so important. Being well-informed about the customs and etiquette prevalent in that region, can help prevent blunders, visitors usually make in a foreign land. Ignorance may lead to offending somebody’s beliefs or hurting someone’s emotions. Thus, it is better to be well-versed with the same. Germany, being the third largest economy in the world, is a great platform for international business. People from all over the world, come here for business meetings. Thus, scores of people are looking for information about Germany’s culture and traditions.
Cultural Dos and Don’ts in Germany
- When introduced to a person, shake hands. Never give a hug. Moreover, maintain eye contact. It is considered impolite if you don’t do so. Continue maintaining eye contact as long as the person is talking to you. When introduced to a group of people, wait for your host to introduce you, then shake hands with everybody; men, women and even children. Only friends and family members greet each other with hugs and kisses on the cheek.
- Since Germans like their space, stand at an arm’s distance or so from them, while conversing. Moreover, avoid touching them, because this is considered as an invasion of privacy.
- As far as addressing people is concerned, never address people with the first name, unless specifically asked to do so. The title Herr (for men) and Frau (for women), should be used before their last name.
- While conversing in German, make sure you address the older generation by the word ‘sie’. Only friends refer to each other as ‘du’. ‘Sie’ signifies respect and must be used in all formal settings, while ‘du’ is used as an informal tone.
- Don’t greet people with ‘how are you’, unless you want to spend the next fifteen minutes listening to their personal problems. A ‘good morning’ in German, like ‘guten tag’ will do.
- Do not ask any personal questions or ask their salary or age.
- Never eat with your fingers in Germany. Only bread is permitted to be broken by hand. Even pizza and fries are eaten with a fork, so watch out!
- Place your hands on the table while eating (not the elbows). Moreover, don’t let your hand rest on your lap while eating. Nevertheless, it is not that great a sin even if your hand slips to your lap.
- Do not begin eating, until your host says ‘guten appetit’, which means good appetite or ‘bon appetit’, which means enjoy your meal.
- Placing your knife and fork side by side, indicates you are done with your meal. If you place them crossed, it means you haven’t finished with the meal.
- When dining at a posh restaurant, you need to wait to be escorted and seated. In a regular restaurant, you can choose your table. Sharing tables is common in Germany, so if you enter a restaurant and do not find a vacant table, join somebody. However, make sure you ask them if you could do so. Moreover, don’t strike a conversation with that person. He or she will not appreciate the intrusion.
- Water has to be ordered separately and has to be paid for. Do not ask the waiter for regular tap water. Germans consider this a sign of stinginess. They serve both carbonated mineral water and still water.
- At the time of bill generation, the waiter will come to your table and ask ‘all together’ or ‘separate’. This means if you want the bill divided individually or together. This is beneficial if you are sharing a table.
- The tips for services and VAT, are mostly included in the price on the menu. Check the menu for details. If it is included, then you can just round-up the bill amount and leave the rest as tip. If the bill amount is high, a 5-10% tip can be left. However, during the holiday season, like Christmas or Easter, leave a larger tip.
- When invited for dinner, never be late. You don’t have to show up exactly at the allotted time. A delay of 10 to 15 minutes will do. If you will be later than 15 minutes, call up and explain the delay. However, never arrive early.
- It’s considered appropriate to take a bouquet, box of sweets or a bottle of wine for the host. You can also take a souvenir from your country, as gift.
- However, while giving flowers, avoid white chrysanthemums, carnations or lilies, which are funeral flowers. Avoid red roses, because they are considered to be romantic flowers. It is best to stick to yellow roses or tea roses.
- While taking wine as a gift, make sure you purchase Italian or French wine, because if you take German wine, it implies you don’t believe your host will serve you good German wine.
- Take off your shoes before entering the house, unless advised otherwise by the host.
- In case you are a vegetarian or are allergic to a particular food item, it is good to inform your host in advance. This will save both your host and you a lot of embarrassment.
- It is important to finish everything on your plate, unless you want to offend your host.
- Send a thank you note to the host, the next day to express your gratefulness.
- Don’t be late for a business meeting. This can give your professional relationship a very bad start. The Germans value punctuality and being on time is expected.
- Never skip a scheduled business meeting or cancel it at the last moment. This is inexcusable for the Germans and they find it very rude. If there is no way you can make it for the meeting, call ahead and let them know why you need to reschedule the appointment.
- Germans are straightforward people and do not like idle talk. They get to the point quickly. They are also professional in their dealings. So don’t ask anything personal.
- Since Germans are perfectionists, they usually take time to finalize a deal. Be patient in such cases. They prefer to analyze every detail before signing the agreement. However, once the planning process is through, they are quick in executing the needful.
- Moreover, once the deal has been finalized, there are slim chances any changes can be made to it.
- At the end of a business meeting, Germans generally rap their knuckles on the table, instead of applauding. So don’t be taken aback!
- For business meetings, formal attire is expected. For men, it is dark-colored suits (with tie), and for women it can be formal suits or conservative dresses. But this is mainly applicable to senior managers. The others should just ensure they dress smart.
- Women are also expected to wear delicate jewelry.
- Shoes are expected to be clean and polished.
- In an informal gathering, you can wear trousers or other casual clothing. But shorts are not considered appropriate.
- The law forbids stores to be open on Sundays, so if you want to buy your groceries, finish it off on Saturday evening. Sunday is supposed to be the day of rest, which you spend with your family and friends.
- Credit cards are not widely accepted in stores. It is better to fill your wallet with cash before going shopping. There are some stores that do accept credit cards, however, make sure you confirm with them before making your purchases.
Things you should absolutely do in Germany
- When visiting the country, it’s important to try German bread. They have about 300 different types of bread, in all shapes and sizes.
- Germany produces a large variety of beer as well. They rank second, after Ireland in worldwide consumption of beer per person, with over 1500 brands in the country. Beer is served in large quantities in huge mugs, and so Germany is the cheapest place in Europe to purchase beer. If you attend the beer festival ‘Oktoberfest’, you will be served one liter mugs of beer. So make sure you try this too!
- Do learn a few German words before visiting the country. Words like ‘bitte’ (please and welcome), danke (thank you), auf wiedersehen (goodbye), guten abend (good evening), etc. These words will help you a ton!
Things you should never do in Germany
- Never shout the Nazi salute or raise your hand to the Hitler greeting. This is considered a grave offense in Germany and can even get you arrested, with a 5-year prison sentence. Moreover, it is better not to mention Hitler at all and even if the subject props up, do it respectfully.
- Never throw water bottles in the bin, after use. You will end up losing 25 cents. This is because when you purchase a bottle of water, you pay 25 cents more than the rate mentioned on the bottle. Only when you return the empty bottle to the shop, do you receive the 25 cents back. This additional charge is taken to ensure you return the bottle for recycling and not throw it into the trash.
- Never cross the street when the traffic light is red. Wait for the green man. Jaywalking is not tolerated in the country. You can be fined for doing so.
- Never walk on the bicycle lane. Firstly, it is strictly prohibited and secondly, you don’t want to be hit by a cyclist. Keep to the sidewalk.
- Never point your finger to your head. This is considered an insult, which means you are saying the person is crazy.
- Chewing gum, placing one hand in the pocket, etc. while talking to someone can be considered very impolite.
- Never get drunk, as public drunkenness is not acceptable.
The customs and etiquette will vary from one part of the country to the other. These were just some commonly followed customs. The crux is to keep your eyes open; be alert and observant. Observe the people around you and imitate them more or less. This will help you avoid major cultural blunders. All the best!