The Formal and Informal Manner to Address Someone

One of the more obvious cultural differences in Germany for speakers of the English language is the formal way of speaking to strangers, acquaintances and business colleagues. The German language makes a clear distinction between people who are family and good friends and those who are not by using “Sie” and “du” in place of the English “you”. First names are only used with family, friends and children. In all other situations, people address each another by their last names.

Although there are some exceptions, in the professional world, your boss and colleagues will address you by your last name. The “Sie” form is seen as showing respect. Germans tend to somewhat separate their social lives from their business lives, it is important to know that this is a cultural difference and by no means should it be taken personally.

It is a bit more difficult for speakers of the English language to get used to the formality between people in every day private life. People you may see on a regular basis, even people your own age will most likely use the “Sie” form and address you by your last name. Germans do not use the word “friend” the way English-speaking people do. You will most likely be called an “acquaintance” even if you spend a fair amount of time with a person and see them on a regular basis. The transition from acquaintance to friend needs time in Germany. Once you have made a true friend here, it will be for a lifetime!!

Greeting People

Germans shake hands to say hello in both the business world and in social settings. This is quite different for people living in English speaking countries, who only shake hands when meeting someone for the first time. Some people may be offended if you do not offer them your hand, as it is a very important custom and seen as proper etiquette to do so. In new settings it is very important to introduce yourself by shaking hands while repeating your last name.

It is not common to ask someone how they are when greeting them. Germans misunderstand this very English-speaking custom as being superficial. This question is only asked when there is time for a proper answer.

Being Invited to Someone’s Home

If you have been invited to a party or to dinner it is nice to take a small gift of appreciation for the host. Appropriate gifts are flowers, chocolates or a bottle of wine or liquor.

Germans always say “Guten Appitit” before they start eating. It is customomary, as in many other countries, to wait until the host or hostess starts eating before you do. Germans eat holding both their knife and fork at the same time using the knife not only to cut, but to push food on to the fork as well. They do not, as apposed to British tradition, cut with their knives, put down their knives and change hands with the fork to eat! Putting one hand under the table while eating is seen as rude!

Please don’t take a sip of your wine until your host has raised his glass. While making a toast, it is very important to look the person you are toasting in the eye!

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