Be aware that Germans are direct communicators and can interpret gestures literally, even when they are made as a token of politeness. For example, if a German asks if you want food and you respond ‘no’ to avoid appearing greedy, they may accept your first answer and not ask again. This can put some foreigners in difficult positions when their refusal or protest of an offer is taken at face value. As such, it is best to give straightforward honest answers rather than being indirect out of modesty or shyness.
In relation to this direct communication pattern, do not press a German on a matter if they have already given you their response. For instance, if you have offered them a beverage and they decline, do not insist further that they have one. Though this may seem generous on your behalf, this can make them feel awkward and pressured.
- It is rude to chew gum or keep one’s hands in one’s pockets whilst talking with someone.
- Cross your legs by putting one knee over the other.
- It is impolite to rest your feet on furniture.
- Tight punctuality (Pünktlichkeit) is expected in most professional and social situations.
- Recycle or reuse materials and minimize waste whenever possible.
- Knock before entering a room if someone has shut the door. Germans are often happy to receive people even if their doors are shut, but one should enter respecting their privacy.
- It is common for Germans to share tables with strangers in public places, asking “Ist dieser Platz noch frei?” (Is this seat free?).
- Dress neatly and suitably for the occasion. Very casual clothing, such as singlets and thongs, are not usually appropriate to wear in public.
- Men customarily walk on the left side of a woman when travelling side by side.
- Do not cross the road on foot while the lights are red. ‘Jaywalking’ is frowned upon in Germany.
- It is sometimes preferred to socialise in public group activities rather than in people’s homes. Hence, Germans generally do not invite people to visit their house on a regular basis unless they are very close.
- Organise your visit in advance. Germans rarely visit each other without making plans to do so.
- Be punctual on arrival. Tardiness of around 10 to 15 minutes can be forgiven.
- It is a nice gesture to bring flowers, wine or sweets when visiting a German home.
- Hosts usually serve refreshments, even if the visit is only going to be short.
- Do not enter into other rooms of the house unless the host invites you to. Guests are expected to respect the homeowner's privacy.
- Visits to one’s house during the daytime are usually short, between one to two hours long. However, they are usually more prolonged in the afternoon. This is considered ‘Kaffeeklatsch’ time when refreshments are served as an afternoon tea.
- Only start eating once the host has said that it is time to begin. The German term for this is “Guten Appetit”.
- Germans rarely drink tap water with their meals. They prefer mineral water, a soft drink, juice, beer or wine. Sometimes these beverages are cheaper than still water.
- If an alcoholic beverage is served, wait until the host makes a toast before drinking. A common toast is “Prost” (Cheers).
- It is very important to look people in the eye as you toast.
- People generally serve themselves from plates of food that are passed around the table.
- Traditionally, Germans cut fish, potatoes and other similar foods with the side of their fork instead of the knife as this indicated that the food was tender and properly cooked. However, not many people follow this rule of etiquette anymore.
- Do not rest your elbows on the table and always keep your hands in view above the table.
- If you are still hungry after the first serving of food, it is not rude to ask for a second serving. Germans are generally very hospitable, offering refills of drinks and food, but guests are also expected to speak up if they want something.
- It is the best practice to eat everything on your plate as this shows that you enjoyed the meal and that the host provided enough food. Leaving food on your plate is considered wasteful.
- Germans usually open gifts upon receiving them.
- If gifting flowers, the bouquet should count to an odd number. They should be unwrapped before giving them to the recipient.
- Red roses have romantic connotations, while carnations, lilies and chrysanthemums are given at funerals.
- Avoid giving personal items such as toiletries unless you are close friends and know the person will appreciate the item.