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General


Structure and protocol are highly valued in Germany, as are good manners. In the south of Germany, it may seem as if the people are more relaxed and informal than in the north, however, it is best to err on the formal side until you are aware of the social or business circumstance.

Contrary to popular belief, Germans can be relaxed and do have a sense of humor.


Greeting


Guten Tag!" is the usual daily greeting.

When you enter a room full of people (doctor’s waiting room, small shop, even an elevator) it is proper to give the general greeting “Guten Tag”. If someone else walks into the room with a greeting, it is nice to return the greeting.

"How are you?“ or “How do you do?” – (Wie geht es Ihnen?) should only be used with persons you know well. “How are you?” is meant literally and would be answered as such.

Use last names (surnames) when addressing someone:  Mrs. Schulze and Mr. Schulze – Frau Schulze and Herr Schulze. If this person has a title like Doctor or Professor you should add this title: Guten Tag, Herr Doktor Schulze or Frau Professor Schulze.

Shake hands with everyone when arriving and leaving. Persons higher in rank offer their hand first, except if you welcome someone into your office or home. As you are shaking hands and if you are introducing yourself, say your last name — never use your title. It is important to maintain eye contact during greeting. At work, it is not uncommon to shake hands with your co-workers every day.

Before you address a person using the informal „du“ or by first name, make sure this is agreeable for both parties. It is usually the older person or the one with higher rank who offers the "du" to the younger person. It is quite common that longtime acquaintances, neighbors or business associates continue to use the formal "Sie" — it should be seen as a sign of respect.

Touching people is common among friends only — otherwise Germans like their personal space  — typically about an arms length.


Small Talk


Germans are not known as "Small-Talkers" and it is not part of the general business culture — although there are exceptions, depending on your workplace. There is a feeling that "Small Talk" is superficial.

If you do engage in Small Talk, be aware of some No-Gos:  politics — religion — ethnic background — private matters. Weather is usually a safe topic.

Most Germans, especially during business meetings, come directly to the point. This might seem harsh — Germans see it as efficient.


Punctuality & Appointments


When you make an appointment, you are expected to be on time.

If you must cancel an appointment, do so as soon as possible — in some cases you may be charged for a service if you do not show up or if you do not cancel in a timely fashion.

If invited to dinner, call if you will be more than 15 minutes late. On the other hand, do not arrive early — this puts undue stress on your hosts.


Invitations


Personal invitations are to be taken seriously in Germany and require a formal response.

If you use a vague phrase like "We should meet for coffee sometime,"  Germans will pull out their calendars and look for a convenient date.

An invitation to a German home is usually given to friends. If you have been invited, you should reciprocate the invitation at a later date.

It is common to bring a small gift of flowers, sweets or a bottle of wine when invited to a German home.

As a visitor to a German home, you normally do not take off your shoes.

Do not arrive uninvited, especially at lunch or dinnertime. If you do, you will probably not be asked to sit down at the table.

 

In the neighborhood


It is good manners, to introduce yourself to your immediate neighbors — just knock on their front door and say "Hello". Sometimes your neighbors will invite you in for a cup of coffee; sometimes they will just say their name, shake your hand and say goodbye. It is not common for neighbors to bring you a cake or offer any immediate help, but with time a friendship may form — it all depends on the people involved.

 

Random tips

 

When toasting, make eye contact as the glasses clink.

Face the people when entering or leaving a row of seats in the theater.

At the table, always keep your hands visible and don't put your elbows on the table.