Social Customs

Most Germans tend to play by the rules and thus appear to outsiders as very conservative. Often humour is taken seriously and sarcasm is often not appreciated. Jokes tend to be made about the system rather than being aimed at individuals.

Like with everywhere else, social behaviour and respect for local customs and susceptibilities will go a long way towards acceptance of an outsider. Public manners are mostly formal and elaborate; titles are used very often and evening dress is usually worn by both men and women for pre- arranged dinners and for evenings at the theatre, opera and concert hall.

In private, Germans are more relaxed and informal. Visitors should try to be punctual; not only is it considered rude to be late but also inefficient in business terms.

It is usual to take a small gift of confectionery or flowers for one’s hostess and to write a note of thanks after a special occasion.

A gift of flowers should contain an odd number of blooms - and never red roses. Guests should never drink until the host raises his glass. Generally there is no smoking until after coffee has been served.

Quiet Hours and Sundays

According to German law, quiet hours shall be maintained from 10 pm to 7 am and from 1 pm to 3 pm. Monday through Saturday and all day on Sunday. During these hours no loud noises are tolerated.

This includes children playing outside, radio, television and musical instruments at any but the lowest volume and lawn mowing. Lawn mowing is also not supposed to be done on Saturday afternoons, Sundays or after 9 pm during the week. Clothes should not be hung outside all day on Sundays and holidays. If you are planning a big party that will go later than 10 pm, it is a good idea to advise your neighbours ahead of time, although this will not excuse you if they decide to complain about the noise.

Sundays are taken as a day of leisure in Germany and the full day should be treated as quiet hours. Theoretically, any work that could be done during the week should not be done on Sundays such as washing your car, gardening, etc.

Having Parties

It is the customary to let your neighbours know in advance prior to holding a party. This is usually done either by speaking to them or by writing a note and putting it in their mailboxes a few days beforehand.

Here is a sample note to let your neighbours know you are having a party:

Dear neighbours,

I am/ we are celebrating (date and event) with my/ our friends. It may get a little loud. We therefore would ask for your understanding and, of course, invite you to come have a beer with us.

Regards, (your name)

In German:

Liebe Nachbarn,

ich feiere/ wir feiern (date and event) mit meinen/unseren Freunden. Es kann daher sein, dass es ein bisschen lauter wird. Wir bitten um Ihr Verständnis. Natürlich lade(n) ich/ wir euch herzlich zu einem Bierchen mit uns ein.

Liebe Grüße, (your name)


When being introduced (and upon answering the telephone), Germans will state their last names without Herr or Frau and shake hands upon arrival and departure (at each meeting). In Germany, when you invite someone out to dinner, it means you intend to pay. When leaving a restaurant, it is customary for you to say Auf Wiedersehen to the staff.


When entering a small store, bakery, etc, it is courtesy to say Guten Morgen or Guten Tag. As you leave, whether you have purchased anything or not, it is considered to be courteous to say Auf Wiedersehen. Shopping hours are limited and stores are often crowded. Germans generally have a different concept of personal space than people have for example in the United States, and therefore, initially you may find some of the crowding stressful.

Shopping bags: grocery stores do not, as a rule, provide free shopping bags. It is normal to bring your own cloth shopping bags. It is also normal for you to be expected to load your own groceries into these bags.

Shopping trollies/carts: for shopping carts, many stores use a deposit/ refund system which insures that people will return the carts to the cart stall located near the entrance. Shopping carts usually require the use of a one Euro coin or a special chip to release them from the locking system. Upon completion of shopping and loading of your vehicle, return the cart to the cart stall, relock it to the cart ahead of it and your coin will be returned.

Moving Day

On moving day it is customary to have bottled water or soft drinks on hand for the movers. As newcomers, it is customary for you to introduce yourself to your neighbours and not the other way around.

The removal of snow and ice: unless otherwise defined by your rental contract, your are responsible for snow and ice removal from the pavement in front of your dwelling and driveway.

Boarding and Exiting Public Transportation

Trains, trams and busses tend to run on very tight schedules and are used by a large number of people. Therefore, people are assertive about boarding and exiting from public transportation.

This may seem rude to you, but again, it is normal behaviour that you should not take personally.

A Question of Time

Official time is the 24 hour clock or what might be called military time. For example 14.00 is 2 pm. Germans are punctual and expect you to be too.

Dates are written in the following order: day, month, year. For example: June 7, 2005 is written as 7. Juni 2005 or 07.06.2005.


The German 1 (one) is written much like the American style 7 (seven) and may often appear to be an inverted “V”.

The German 7 (seven) is written with a short bar through the centre. The use of decimal points and comas is reversed from the American format.

Therefore, the decimal point is written as a comma (for example: 0,10 €) and one would write 10.000,00 € to represent ten thousand euros.


There are a few unique letters in the German alphabet. “ß” is pronounced as “ss”. Normally in a list or phone book, words or names with an “ß” will be alphabetised as if spelled with the “ss”. There are three vowels with Umlauts. The letter “ä” is interchangeable with “ae”, “ö” is interchangeable with “oe” and “ü” is interchangeable with “ue”. When alphabetised in lists, words or names with these letters will usually be found as if the words were spelled with “ae”, “oe” or “ue” although occasionally, in a few publications they may be alphabetised after the non-umlaut versions.

Dress code

Dress is generally more formal than for example in the U.S.

Sport jackets, trousers and dress shoes are more common than blue jeans and t-shirts. Although things are slowly changing, as a general rule, it is better to dress up than dress down.

Woman do not normally wear short shorts on the street, although Bermudas are acceptable, Nice jeans are expensive here and are often quite acceptable as fashionable wear.


Traditionally the main meal of the day is lunch. Dinner is light, usually cold cuts and bread. Coffee and cake are enjoyed in the mid-afternoon on weekends. Many local Konditoreien or bakeries will open for a short time on Sunday afternoon so people can buy freshly baked cake. Some bakeries and cafes are open on Sunday morning. However, both the opening hours and the variety of freshly baked products for sale are limited. You should at least be able to by fresh Brötchen (bread rolls).


Upon entering a restaurant, you should seat yourself, the staff will seldom show you to your seat. It is common to wish the service personnel Guten Tag (Good Day) or Guten Abend (Good Evening) upon entering the restaurant. Do not sit at a table that has a small place card reading Reserviert, meaning the table is reserved.

In a crowded restaurant or bar, it is not uncommon in Germany to be asked to share a table with other guests.

Ask for the Speisekarte (menu) and not the Menü (set meal of two or three courses). Normally give your drink order first and study the Karte (menu card) while the waiter/ waitress brings your drinks.

Coffee is normally served at the end of the meal and is charged per cup, there are no free refills, except at breakfast in hotels. Dishes will be brought from the kitchen as each is prepared, thus there may be some minutes between each member of your party receiving their food. It is normal that people eat as the meals are served. You are not expected to wait until everyone is served.

When paying, you may request your payment getrennt (separately) or zusammen (together). To find restaurants listings in the phone book (white or yellow pages) look under Gaststätte or Restaurant.

Public Toilets

Finding public toilets can be a challenge. In the city Zentrums (centres) look for WC signs or Öffentliche Toilette meaning public toilets.

These may or may not have attendants keeping them clean and paper stocked. Additionally most restaurants have toilets which are meant to be for guests only, but can be used in an emergency. Places such as McDonald’s are easily found and the toilets are generally accessible. In most instances, you will be expected to pay a nominal fee (between 20 to 40 cents) for the use of the facility. Keep some change with you at all times.

Along the Autobahn you will find public restroom facilities. The smaller motorway stops are usually not staffed. Again, these may require either a small fee for usage or in some instances you will find that you must pay to unlock the toilet door, to purchase a few sheets of toilet paper and again, to purchase a box containing soap and paper towels for washing up.

Tips and Service Charges

Restaurant bills and taxi fares will already include a service charge; however, it is common to add a euro or two and round off to an even figure (but not more than ten percent).

Service is normally included at the hair salon. However, it is customary to give 1 € to the person who shampoos your hair and give 1 to 2 € to the one who cuts, colours, perms or styles. You do not need to tip the owner.

For hairdressers, it is customary for charges to include each item of hair care that is provided. This means that you will be charged individually for the use of shampoo, conditioner, hair dryer, etc.

Stories/ Floors of Buildings

These are numbered above the ground floor only. The first floor (street level) is called Erdgeschoß. The second floor is the first floor (erste Etage, erster Stock), and so on.

Speaking English

Here are some suggestions for speaking with Germans and those for whom English is a second or third language: at the beginning speak slowly and clearly, use short sentences and avoid slang. You will discover fairly quickly their levels of understanding and can adjust accordingly. Many Germans, particularly in the city and in areas more populated by native English speakers or who happen to work for an international company, speak English very well. Others here learned it in school and may not have the opportunity to use the language very often and need some time to adapt.

Modes of Address

People should always be addressed by their titles (e.g. Herr Minister, Herr Bürgermeister, Herr Professor) and first names should not be used unless invited to do so.

The address on an envelope should always include, after a persons’ title, his or her initial (or personal name) and surname.


Germans see their country as a Beamtenstaat - a state of officials. There are rules and regulations for nearly every aspect of life and, frustrating though this may be to many expatriates, mastery of or at least knowledge of the system will enable visitors to live more comfortably in the country.

Most bureaucracy focuses upon paperwork – having the right forms completed correctly results in fewer problems.

Drivers should remember to carry their driving licence and relevant car documents at all times when driving since, if stopped by the police one will have to show them.

Some expatriates will have to get a driving licence that is valid in Germany. Your Relocation-Service will be glad to give you all the information you need.

All receipts etc. should be kept as everything has to be proven in writing.

Finding the right official to deal with a particular problem or enquiry can also be a problem, so ask your Relocation-Service or a German friend.

Officials have certain hours when they deal with members of the public so it is wise to call first to make an appointment. Even an official’s signature on an official document is not sufficient - the rubber stamp (Stempel) is essential for the document’s validity.


Germany is strongly Christian, basically split between Protestant, mainly Lutheran and Roman Catholic. Approximately 45% of the people are Protestant, 37% Roman Catholic, 15% of the population has no religious affiliation and 3% are members of other religions. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by law. Religion, both Catholic and Protestant, is still a strong force politically; especially in Bavaria. Voluntary denominational religious instruction is offered in the public schools. Church members are taxed from 8 to 9% for the support of churches; the money is collected by tax authorities and distributed by the government.

Integration of Foreign Nationalities

Germany is foreigner friendly country. 6.75.2 million out of 81.8 million are foreigners (2010). The category of guest workers, initially only consisting of Italians, was extended to include Greeks and Spaniards, then Portuguese, Yugoslavs and Turks. Integration within the European Union and the Western World, the dissolution of the Eastern bloc and the immigration of people from Asian and African countries meant a considerable increase in the number of foreigners of different nationalities in Germany. The Turks (1,6 Millionen) have long been the largest foreign community, followed by people from ex Yugoslavia (798,000), Bosnia and Herzegovina (316,000) and Croatia (185,000). In Germany, there are about 585,000 Italians, 360,000 Greeks, 184,000 Dutch, 99,000 French. The overwhelming majority of foreigners live in the western part of the Federal Republic, about 50% have been living in Germany for ten years or more.


Until 1871, Germany was made up of separate independent states, a situation still reflected in many German’s sense of identity which is often regional first and national second. Germans are a hardworking people who insist on and enjoy order in their lives. They tend to be a home loving nation who take pride in their homes. Most families live in small houses or apartments, and most German families are small with one or two children. Germany has a generous social welfare system that provides pensions, health and other types of insurance, medical care and benefits, welfare assistance and child allowances. The Germans are highly literate and interested in culture. Every city, large or small, offers a wide variety of cultural events as well as cinemas for all tastes.

Fidelio Main Office: +49 69 40 56 499-1 · info(bittekeinspam)