Cultural Taboos to Avoid in Germany
Guest post by Thom Jackson
So you're off to Germany ay? Besides needing to know a bit of German to fit in and get around, it's important that you understand their culture as well. Things are not uniform around the world you know! Something completely normal at home could be extremely rude elsewhere. Make sure you don't do any of these no-no's while in Germany.
Avoid meaningless small talk
Let's start with conversation. Feel free to get into a debate, talk about politics, or crack a joke at the expense of the Italian national football team. All of these are likely to be well received, and odds are you’ll find yourself engaged in a passionate conversation.
But don't try and make casual small talk about the weather. Germans find this boring and a waste of time. They’re not much for the subtleties of the American conversation. If it isn’t worth saying, don’t say it. Everyone around you also knows what the weather is like.
Also, with that said, they are very honest and have no problem telling you exactly how they feel. Don't get all blubbery if they say something you don't like. Get over it and move along. After all, they are just being truthful with you.
Show up on time
Germans are punctual, and they expect you to be the same even if you’re visiting. Meeting someone for dinner? Plan to beat your reservation time by a good ten minutes because even walking in as it’s called is pushing the limits here.
No matter where you’re headed -- be it work, a football match, the pub -- keeping someone waiting is seriously frowned upon.
Even traffic is no excuse -- leave your hotel or flat earlier than you need to, just in case something comes up. If you arrive early, use the extra few minutes to brush up on the news so that your conversation points are ready to go.
Keep those annoying habits to yourself
The American A-OK hand sign means something far different in much of the world, including Germany. Don’t ever make the sign at another person. Chewing gum, blowing your nose, winking at someone you don’t know well, rolling down the window to chat with someone outside -- all of these minor infractions are taboo in Germany.
The best way to avoid falling into the trap of these seemingly harmless habits is to do as the locals do -- try to blend in as much as possible.
Always raise a toast at the pub
So now that you have a great conversation going, go ahead and order another beer for yourself. Just be sure to say prost before that first sip! In Germany, drinking beer is a pastime of the utmost respect, and the toast is the ideal way to acknowledge that you’re enjoying your time with those around you.
However, don't end up getting super messy and fall flat on your face. You need to know how to hold your own! We all know their amazing beer goes down very well but don't overdo it. Public drunkenness is definitely frowned upon.
Don’t jaywalk, no matter how tempting it might be
Perhaps you want to take a stroll around town in Munich or Berlin. There is plenty to see in both cities. Just don't get caught jaywalking. There are designated areas for you to cross. If you do jaywalk, you will stick out like a sore thumb and possibly get fined.
European cities, Germany included, are generally far more pedestrian and bike-friendly than American cities. As such, pedestrians are expected to follow the rules. Don’t dart across the street during a red light, and don’t sprint through traffic just because someone is selling schnitzel on the other side of the street.
Another thing to be aware of is to stick to sidewalks. If you are wandering around on foot and decide to use the bike lane, you’re likely to get run over. Plain and simple. The bike lane is for bikes and they will have no problem kicking you out of their way. Walk where you are supposed to. If not, you might end up in the hospital.
Have you been listening so far? Great. I'm sure you will get on just fine. If you happen to meet a girl you fancy though, try not to bring her carnations or lilies! These flowers are given at funerals and she will kick you to the curb quicker than the bikers! So be sure to not ruin your chances by giving the wrong kind of flowers or by showing up late. Being punctual is a must whether you are on a date, business trip, or just meeting up with friends. Don't keep people waiting.
Alright, now you're ready to jet-set to Germany and you should have no problems getting on with everyone. Mind your manners and have fun! Bis Nachher! (See you later)
Thom Jackson is a contributing writer at Live Lingua and has spent five years living in Germany. He writes about language, culture, and politics. Although he currently calls Svalbard his home, he hopes to make it back to Bavaria again soon.