Understanding German cultural norms is so important if you are planning on moving to Germany. Unfortunately, there are a lot of stereotypes out there that can be misleading. No need to stress about it because today we will give you an overview of everything you need to know about how to successfully start navigating Germany as an expat so that you can create positive experiences!
How do I greet people?
In Germany, greetings play a significant role in daily interactions. Depending on which region you live in, you will hear different greetings. Here are a few of the most common greetings you will hear around Germany:
- “Moin Moin” – This is a common greeting in Hamburg and the surrounding northern regions.
- “Moin” – Similar to “Moin Moin,” this is a casual greeting used in Friesland, another northern region of Germany.
- “Grüß Gott” – In Bavaria and parts of southern Germany, it is customary to greet with “Grüß Gott,” which means “Greet God” or “God bless you.” It reflects the strong religious influence in this region.
- “Servus” – This is a popular greeting in Bavaria, Austria, and some parts of southern Germany. It is a casual way of saying hello or goodbye, similar to “Hi” or “Bye” in English.
- “Hallo” – Just like in many other countries, “Hallo” is a widely used greeting throughout Germany. It is a friendly and informal way to say hello.
- “Guten Tag” – “Guten Tag” is the standard formal greeting used throughout Germany. It translates to “Good day” and is appropriate for any time of the day.
- “Morgen” – This is an informal and short way to say “Guten Morgen” or good morning.
How do conversations work in German?
You should understand that while Germans can be very friendly, they often get a bad reputation for being cold or reserved. The truth is, Germans value genuine and meaningful conversations, and they tend to prioritize substance over small talk.
Engaging in casual chit-chat or superficial conversation for the sake of filling silence is not as common as it might be in some other cultures. Instead, Germans appreciate directness and authenticity in their interactions. They prefer conversations that have a purpose, depth, and substance. When a German asks you how you are – they really care and they are not looking for a simple “good” or “fine” response – it is important to give the same respect when you ask how they are doing by being prepared to actually listen to how they are doing.
When engaging with Germans, it is helpful to keep in mind that they often value efficiency and getting to the point. This direct communication style is not meant to be rude or dismissive but rather reflects a cultural preference for clarity and effectiveness.
While small talk may not be as prevalent, once you establish a connection with Germans, they can be warm, loyal, and engaging friends. Building relationships with Germans may take some time, as trust is often earned through meaningful interactions and shared experiences.
To foster positive interactions with Germans, it can be helpful to engage in conversations about topics of substance such as culture, history, current events, and shared interests. Showing genuine interest in their perspectives and actively listening can help create meaningful connections.
Direct communication is greatly valued in German culture, so being straightforward and honest is appreciated. If you are not used to this, it can make you feel a bit uncomfortable with how direct many Germans can be but on the flip side – you can feel more at ease with hearing the truth without it being sugar-coated. You don’t need to be rude when practicing being straightforward, be kind and respectful without beating around the bush. This will go a long way.
How do I know when to speak in a formal or informal tone?
The use of formal and informal language (Sie vs. du) depends on the level of familiarity and respect between individuals. Determining which form of address to use can sometimes be a delicate matter, especially in the early stages of a relationship or when interacting with individuals significantly older or higher in rank. When in doubt, it is often safer to start with the formal “Sie” and let the other person initiate the switch to the informal “du” if they feel comfortable doing so.
It is also important to note that there are specific situations where the use of formal language is expected, regardless of familiarity. This includes formal events, business settings, academic environments, or when interacting with individuals who prefer to maintain a more formal level of communication. In formal situations like school, once the teacher switches to using “du”, then it is okay for you to use “du” as well.
Another thing to remember is how to ask “what?” if you are unsure about something someone said. In general, you will say “Wie bitte?” instead of “Was?”. A good example would be when you are ordering a coffee to go and you are unsure what the cashier said after you ordered. DO NOT say “Was?” this is considered very rude unless you are very close to someone – instead say “Wie bitte?” or “Noch einmal, bitte langsam” which means “one more time, slower please”.
How early should I arrive for an appointment?
Punctuality is highly valued in German culture, so being on time for appointments, meetings, and social gatherings is highly regarded and seen as a sign of respect and professionalism.
Time is viewed as a valuable resource that should not be wasted or taken for granted. Germans place great importance on planning and organizing their schedules, and they expect others to do the same. Arriving on time demonstrates reliability, efficiency, and a sense of responsibility.
When attending appointments or social events in Germany, you should make an effort to be punctual. Germans generally have a strong adherence to schedules and expect others to do the same. Being late, even by just a few minutes, can be seen as disrespectful and can create a negative impression – so the best advice we have here is to plan to be there a few minutes early!
Of course, things happen and sometimes you just can’t help being late. If you find yourself in this position or something comes up that makes it impossible to make it to a scheduled appointment, you should inform the other party as soon as possible and offer an apology for the delay or cancellation.
What about cultural norms and social etiquette?
Respecting privacy and personal space is paramount in German culture. You must remember to be very careful when photographing in public. You need to avoid capturing other people in your photo without permission. If you happen to have captured someone’s face in a photo you will be posting on social media – you should blur out their face. Germans appreciate orderliness and adherence to rules in public spaces. Be aware of your surroundings and respect other people’s privacy when navigating public spaces.
Germans value environmental consciousness, so participating in recycling practices and maintaining cleanliness is expected. It is also important to recycle correctly, but we will save that for another article! For today, we will just say if you are out and about and you cannot find a trash or recycle bin – you can keep a small bag in your purse or bag until you find the appropriate recycle or trash receptacle. NEVER EVER should you just throw your trash on the ground – especially when exploring green spaces like the forest, the lake, or even the beach.
What else should I know?
Learn German and use your German as much as possible – even if it is broken and not at all fluent. This demonstrates a genuine interest in embracing the local culture, and people will be happy to see you are at least trying. Sometimes, they may even surprise you and switch to English – especially in cities like Berlin and Hamburg.
A frequent complaint expats often express is feeling isolated – get involved when you can in cultural activities. Join community groups, and attend local events to connect with Germans and deepen their understanding of the culture. Finding a sport or two to join can really help you to start meeting people and help you integrate into the vibrant tapestry of German society. By immersing yourself in the rich German culture you can create meaningful connections, foster relationships, and truly embrace and make the most of your expat journey in Germany.