German dos and don'ts
There are many clichés about the Germans, many stressing their punctuality, thoroughness, reserve and lack of humour. This is only true to a certain extent. However, here are some guidelines that might help soften the impending cultural clash.
- Formal vs. the informal pronoun ('du' and 'Sie'). Use the formal pronoun when talking to people older than you. At universities however, 'du' is used fairly frequently even with teaching staff. Watch German students to be sure
- Title and last name: A person's title is important, though more so in business communication rather than in private meetings
- Shaking hands is the established form of greeting. Take the other hand out of your pocket and look into the person's eyes
- Punctuality: This cliché is true, try to be punctual or apologise if you are not
- Reserve vs. directness: Germans can be both reserved and direct at the smae time. They will take their time to warm towards you, whilst speaking their mind almost immediately. Do not be offended! It is not meant to be a personal insult.
- Dinner-invitations: try to be punctual and bring a small gift (flowers or a bottle of wine)
- Table manners: Say 'Mahlzeit' or 'Guten Appetit' before eating. Keep your hands but not your elbows on the table.
Generally, people will understand if you make a mistake. Don't worry, they have been abroad and made such mistakes themselves. If you are in Germany for business purposes it might be sensible to do some extra research.
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