Etiquette and Social Manners
The German “Knigge” provides us with rules of etiquette and social manners. The word “Knigge” goes
back to a man called
Adolph Franz Friedrich Ludwig Freiherr von Knigge – one of the first who dealt with appearance and
impressions on others
and published a book on good social manners in 1788.
Today, the term “Knigge” indicates everything that is related with manners and etiquette, such as table manners, meeting etiquette, dress etiquette and gift giving etiquette.
In the following, we draw your attention to some things you should keep in mind when going to Germany.
“Du” and “Sie”
While the English language knows only the word “you” to address somebody, German among others differentiate between a formal “you” (Sie” in German) and an informal “you” (“du”). “Sie” is used for strangers and often at work. People say “du” to children, friends, family and it is often used among persons of the same age, especially younger persons such as trainees or students. Sometimes people offer you to say “Du”. Then you should do so. Usually, it is the older person offering the younger one to say “Du” to each other or the person with the higher position at work.
“Bitte” and “Danke”
“Bitte” is used when asking somebody a favour or a question, for example “Kannst du mir bitte meine Jacke geben?” (“Can you pass over the coat to me, please?”). It would also be polite to just ask without using “bitte”, for example in “Können Sie mir sagen wie spät es ist?” (“Can you tell me what time it is?”), but a “bitte” does reinforce politeness. You would also say “bitte” or “bitte schön” when giving something to somebody. The other person then replies with “danke” or “danke schön” or “danke sehr” or “vielen Dank”.
Professional life and private life
Many Germans keep to a strict dividing line between business and privacy. They believe that maintaining this rule provides order and structure which is very important since the German society is a planning culture. Thorough planning provides security, both in business and privacy.
Inviting guests and being guest
Germans mostly invite friends and relatives to their houses. Business takes place on a much more formal level and is strictly separated from private life.
The traditional greeting is a handshake. When entering a room, you should shake hands with everybody
in there and introduce
yourself if necessary. Sometimes, the host or hostess might introduce you to a group of new
With friends and relatives, Germans do usually give each other a short hug.
If you are invited as a guest, bring a little gift. That could be flowers or some chocolate for example. Gifts are opened when received.
It is polite to remain standing until being allocated to a seat or invited to sit down wherever. You should also not begin to eat until the host or hostess starts or says something like “Guten Appetit” (Good appetite.) or “Lasst es euch schmecken.” (Enjoy it!).
What is probably the most important thing when being invited to someone's home: Arrive on time! That provides evidence for good planning and indicates politeness. You don't want your host or hostess to wait. Germans are usually done with preparation 15 minutes earlier and want you to arrive on time or a few minutes later. You should however not arrive earlier and not more than 15 minutes later. If you don't manage to be on time, give your host a call and explain why you have been detained.
When doing business, Germans are usually interested in someone's academic skills and professional qualifications rather than in any personal issues. Personal relationships might of course develop among colleagues, but they are not so openly shown during work time. This is allocated to their free time activity after work. Moreover, Germans are not the biggest small-talkers.
There are clear hierarchical structures at work. Employees treat people with leading positions with great deference. Decisions are only made in agreement with people in authority. When speaking, it is always good to maintain eye contact with your dialogue partner.
Office doors in Germany are usually closed. You should always knock and not enter the room until being invited.
Written communication is taken very serious. Germans love to document, to structure and to file. This way, they can look up everything at a later time.
What is also important concerning all fields of business and administration are deadlines. Germans love deadlines and they even love it more when people keep to them. Being on time when having a meeting is something that goes without saying. As Germans love to plan, they always draw up schedules with certain time spans which are usually kept to very strictly.
For dress etiquette in job interviews and at work see Interviews
Good to know- Differences within the EU
We might all feel "European", but are still a group of so many different people. Even in a single
country it is difficult to say what is typical of its
inhabitants. One could say, that there is actually not anything like "the Germans" for example,
since each country is made up of millions of individuals
each having his or her own character.
However, there are some things or behaviours that are generally accepted or rejected in one country.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when crossing the national boarders within the EU.
Being on time
As already mentioned above, this is one of the favourite subjects in Germany. Of course, not all Germans are always on time. But it could be regarded a general value and is especially important regarding working life. Other countries might have different priorities though and people there might not feel insulted at all when one arrives a few minutes later.
There are many occasions when flowers are given, such as dates, being invited to someone's house, weddings, birthdays, funerals and so on. While yellow roses are totally okay to give as a gift in Germany, you should avoid yellow flowers at all in Ukraine and Russia, especially at weddings, since they symbolize unfaithfulness there. In Germany, you should not give chrysanthemums or lilies though. They are common at funerals.
Talking about money
This is probably a subject that most people would agree on: Talking about money is a taboo. You should not mention the exact amount of salary, especially not at work as this might make your colleagues feel treated unfairly if they earn less. Among close friends and family, one can of course talk about that, but even here, the exact figures are often not given away. One rather talks about having “enough” or being content or discontent with one's income.
Taking off shoes
In most countries it is appropriate to take off your shoes when you enter a private house. In Germany, for example, people take off their shoes and wear slippers when being in their own home. When they are invited to someone else's house they would usually keep their shoes on though. This sometimes depends on how good you know the people. In any case, you should better ask in order to avoid any awkward situation.
The "Driving Culture"
All European countries except Britain, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus drive on the right side of the street. But this is not the only difference concerning driving in Europe. When driving accross the boarders one easily notices that there are different driving behaviours. While people in the mediterranean countries are the more "emotional" drivers who do not dare to hoot, drivers in Germany are usually (there are expections as always) quite calm and easy-going.
Speed limits and compulsory equipments vary in European countries. This is why you should inform yourself about the local rules beforehand.
When using an escalator in the Netherlands, France, Spain, Russia and the United Kingdom, it goes without saying that people stand on the right and walk on the left. It is somehow an unwirtten rule. In Germany, this is not so clear. People are not used to it and therefore, there are sometimes signs in large department stores where many people depend on escalators.
In the UK, Ireland, Finland and Sweden citizens queue in straight lines. Cutting the line or asking someone to go ahead is regarded impolite. If you leave the queue, you must be prepeared to go back and line up again. Also holding space for friends is not appropriate. In Germany or other countries, this is of course also not a really good thing to do, but people are often more relaxed about it. When you queue at the supermarket till and you just have a few articles to pay, people in front of you might offer you to pass.