German Customs

Germany is a country rich in national customs, many of which have to do with traditions hundreds of years old. After you've lived in the country for a while, you'll find that the best way to make friends and get along in general with the people of your host country is to respect and understand these rules of their culture. Some may involve signs of politeness, while others refer to expected behavior. Whatever the case, a knowledge of the basics will allow you to enjoy the differences that "living abroad" in Germany has to offer.

Looking Different

The first time you walk down the street in Germany you might notice people staring at you a little longer and harder. This should not be taken as an impolite gesture but as curiosity about you. Remember, in Germany a man or woman in traditional Bavarian dress is not considered unusual, but a man or women wearing a cowboy hat could be.

Greeting People

Germans give a greeting when first entering small places of business, even if the person working there is busy with another customer. A simple guten tag, "good day," does nicely.

It is also customary to say Auf Wiedersehen, "goodbye," when leaving, even if you haven't bought anything or been waited on.

This custom also holds true for entering and leaving such places as waiting rooms and train compartments. Though you might find it a bit uncomfortable at first to call attention to yourself by using these phrases, by German standards it is considered impolite not to say "good day" and "goodbye" at such opportunities.

Lining Up

You'll see another side of your hosts the first time you have to line up, such as at a supermarket cash register or a street car. People often object to lining up, and you may find yourself elbowed out of the way if you don't politely stand your ground. No matter what happens remember to keep smiling.

Shaking Hands

One interesting custom of Germans is that of shaking hands. When first meeting people you may be introduced to each person individually and be expected to shake everyone's hand. When meeting friends or acquaintances you will be expected to shake hands.

Meeting Germans

You will probably have to make the first effort to meet Germans in your apartment building or neighborhood. Don't expect anyone coming around like the Welcome Wagon. One way to alleviate this problem is to take a course in the German language at the education center on post or at the Volkshochschule (courses similar to adult education) downtown. Even learning a few words can help greatly in getting to know Germans. Most will be highly receptive to your attempts to speak the language.

Eventually you will encounter the "Sie" and "Du" forms of greeting. Germans may know each other on a formal Sie or personal Du (both meaning you) basis. As a sign of friendship, you may even be asked to address the other person as Du. The younger the German is whom you met, the more quickly the change from Sie to Du often takes place.

Inviting Friends

When one friend suggests to another that they go someplace to have a drink, it is customary that that person pay for both of them. Such a statement as "let's go, I'll pay" is often not necessary.

This can also be the case for such activities as going to see a movie and dining at a restaurant.

Visiting Friends

When visiting your German friend for dinner, it is customary to bring flowers. Don't bring red roses, however, because this is regarded as a romantic gesture. A mixed bouquet is best.

Another gift that is customarily brought to dinner is a bottle of dry wine. However you will want to make your selection carefully, because a wine that is perceived by your host as being "inferior" will surely sour your good intentions.

Resting on Sunday and Holidays

Germans take their days off seriously, and one example of this is the law that assures no unnecessary noise is made on Sunday and holidays. No one is seen working outside as well. You cannot wash your car, make repairs or even hang up laundry. This so-called Sunday quiet law is just that, a law.

Quiet Hours

Where you are expected to be quiet all day on Sunday and holidays, all other days of the week have what are called quiet hours. This time is from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. (practically nap time) and 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. As on Sunday and holidays, there should be no noise made during these hours. This by the way, is also the law.

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