The ultimate guide to understanding German etiquette

Proper German etiquette goes beyond simply knowing what greeting to use. From not leaving your hotel room with wet hair to not staring at naked bodies, we’ve got you covered.

Don’t get caught red-faced on your visit. This ultimate travel guide to German etiquette will have you exploring like a local.

Use the proper greetings

Greetings in Germany are more nuanced than merely waving a casual “hi”and “bye”. Appropriate greetings depend on who you’re welcoming, and when you’re doing so. 

Until midday: Guten Morgen (good morning)

In the afternoon until sunset: Guten Tag (Good day)

In the evening: Guten Abend (Good evening)

Regional differences also come into play. In Bavaria, in the famous foot-stomping, festive beer halls of Munich and surrounds, the locals may say Grüß Gott (God’s greetings). All Trafalgar’s best-selling Germany trips visit Bavaria, so chances are you’ll hear it on your journey. Although unusual for visitors to use this term, you may get an overtly friendlier reception. Go on, give it a try. 

Munich

To say goodbye, in a formal setting such as work or with strangers, say Auf Wiedersehen (until we see each other again) or just Wiedersehen.

In a less formal environment, a simple Tschüss (bye) works. Use the formal greeting unless the other person opts for the more casual farewell first.

Remember, a simple “Hallo” is better than not saying something.

Shaking hands with everyone in the group is also good German etiquette, whether arriving or departing. 

Forget the small talk

The misconception that Germans are not friendly and rather blunt may boil down to this simple German etiquette rule: It’s not normal to make small talk.

Generally speaking, of course, Germans pride themselves on being serious, frank and deep thinkers. So, whilst discussing the weather or what you ate for lunch may pass for friendly banter elsewhere in the world, in Germany that chitchat may be seen as a superficial waste of time. Think of it as American small talk versus German no talk

Nudity is normal

German small talk may not progress beyond the bare-bones, but baring your body, on the other hand, is completely normal.

On a sunny summer’s day, beaches, parks and swimming pools will feature some textilfrei (textile free) locals. Warm-up in winter with a visit to the sauna. Clothes are not optional – locals will stare if you roam around in your bathing suit. So when in Germany, do as the Germans do and embrace your birthday suit. 

Dry your hair

In a rush to get to breakfast in the morning? Yes, time is of the essence to explore Germany’s incredible sights, but don’t step in public with wet hair. It’s a no-no. If you’ve been at the gym, sauna or swimming pool, dry your hair before leaving.

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Prost

Maintain eye contact when clinking your stein of beer with your fellow revellers. Legend has it that failure to do so results in seven years of bad luck – specifically in the ‘bedroom’ department. 

German etiquette Beer Stein

No-no to tap water

In many parts of the world, you can ask for a glass of tap water in restaurants. But in Germany, you’ll likely receive a blank stare.

While tap water is safe to drink in Germany, the reason why drinking water straight from the tap is a no-no is a linguistic one. In German, the word for tap water is Leitungswasser. The rather unfortunate translation is plumbing water. The thought of sewer water is likely not what you’d want to quench your thirst. While the water is indeed safe to drink, don’t alarm the locals. Instead, request a glass of bottled water (still or sparkling). 

Be on time

Time waits for no-one, especially not in Germany. Germans pride themselves on their punctuality. Being late and too early is as bad as each other. Never arrive more than five minutes early, and certainly don’t be late. If you’re running late or ahead of schedule, let your host know.

German etiquette Clocks

Obey the rules of the road

While elsewhere in the world, crossing the road when the lights are red when there are no other cars in sight, is a sneaky yet not uncommon sight. In Germany, don’t. You’ll be in for a scolding from a law-abiding citizen.

In a country filled with dedicated pedestrian lanes, ensure you obey the laws. Watch where you walk, cycle and drive. Everything has its place. 

Pay with cash in restaurants

Dining out in Germany or Austria? Whether you’re in the cities, dining in the countryside a la Sound of Music or exploring the best German Christmas markets, bring cash with you. Many restaurants and eateries don’t accept credit cards.

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Also, don’t wait to be seated. You’ll be standing for a long time. It’s acceptable in Germany for diners to find their seats.

Expect to be seated with strangers – especially in busy restaurants. Politely greet your new table companions but don’t worry, you’re not expected to make conversation.

Your bill or cheque won’t appear magically after dessert. Ask for it, with a polite “Zahlen bitte!” Tipping is good manners (5 to 10%, sometimes even 15%). And don’t leave your tip unattended on your table – hand it directly to the waiter or waitress when paying.

With this ultimate guide to German etiquette, rest assured that you won’t be putting your foot in it on your next trip to Deutschland. And if we’ve missed anything, we’d love to hear your contributions to our definitive guide to German etiquette. Share your insights in the comments below…

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