I recently offended a Swiss person by saying that his German (Hochdeutsch) is bad. Right after that I claimed loudly at the street that the food in Zurich looks funny and likely not tasty and then interrupted a shop assistant who promoted me new cosmetic products by saying that I do not need them. My friend who was lucky to witness most of my fails meant that I am being super rude and ignorant to other people. That made me dig deeply into cultural understanding of politeness since I honestly couldn’t understand how on Earth I can look arrogant if I always care about other people’s feeling more than about my own.
Here is the list of my personal observations about German understanding of politeness. Take out salt of there – remember it’s all written by an evil Ukrainian who smiles only to her friends.
#1 Always show your good manners
In small cities it is common to say “Moin!”, ‘Servus!”, “Guten Tag!” while meeting strangers at the street.
You are to say “Einen schönen Tag noch!” while saying goodbye not only to your friends but also in supermarkets.
Never forget “bitte”!
You’d better put “bitte” (please) everywhere rather than say something which will sound too rude in German. Me as Russian is considered to be impolite when I say something like “Give me a phone”, however in Ukraine me being over polite like Germans will be considered as crazy or as if I want something from a person.
Shake hands when meeting someone for the first time
Women shake hands in Germany too.
It is considered to be normal to loudly blow your nose during a lecture or even on a date, however while coughing you should leave a room.
#2 Show your interest
Even if you are not interested in a conversation or don’t like a person, you’d better smile and keep eye contact, because being ignorant is impolite.
As a foreigner in Germany you will never know if this guy is flirting or just being polite. Seriously, when I first came to Germany I thought that everyone wants to be friends with me or is trying to flirt since they all were super polite and seemed to be interested in me. My American friend explained this kind of politeness this way: “Americans are more shallow and have a tendency to get into relationships very quick and it’s not always a true relationship. In truth, we are nice to people because we want to bring happiness to ourselves and other. God says «Love thy neighbor». But God doesn’t say spend all of your time with your neighbor. Therefore, be nice and friendly and polite but you don’t have to continue the relationship after you leave his or her presence.”
People claim Russians to be impolite and always angry, which is actually true, because we never pretend to like someone who we don’t know yet.
#3 Never try to compare something with your own culture
You either say the food/traditions/culture/language/clothes are awesome or you say nothing at all. Especially when you are in Bavaria or in Switzerland.
You never tell Bavarians or Swiss something like: “Könnten Sie bitte das auf Deutsch sagen?” (Can you please say it in German?) I am serious! Never!!! You’d better say “Entschuldigung, könnten Sie bitte langsamer sprechen? Deutsch ist nicht meine Muttersprache” (Sorry, can you please speak a bit slower? German is not my native language). Of course, you won’t understand a word again but maybe they will guess to switch to Hochdeutsch (Standard German).
#4 Be punctual
Not every German is punctual but it’s better if you are to escape a conflict. It is a good idea to arrive a few minutes early and show no rush.
#5 If you cannot talk about politics or recent news – you are stupid
OK, that was too rude and direct. However, you should keep in mind that German small talk is usually not about weather. Most likely it will be contingent on politics, religion, education or philosophy. And football of course!
#6 Lifelong education is cool
It is normal to study till you are 30 and it is fine when you are studying longer than expected. Let’s say your regular time for bachelor degree is 6 semesters, but you are allowed to extend it to 10 semesters. There are also many people in their 50s studying together with youngsters.
#7 Germans do keep a distance
They would never ask you why you have a tattoo and don’t eat meat or try to interrupt you when you seem to be busy. However, deep in their thoughts they DO judge you if you are different. The older ones might even stare at you if you don't look traditional. Germans won’t talk to you in a gym and many of them will escape eye contact since talking to strangers is considered to be impolite. And as a foreigner you need quite a time to become their good friend because you are «fremd» («foreign, unknown») even if you seem to speak their language.
#8 "Life is too short to learn German"
Germans would always say how good is your German and how they admire that you can learn such a difficult language. And they really mean it! However, your German still sucks.
#9 Germans are masters of planning
Because it provides sense of security. So, be prepared to be asked about your plans for September in April. To-do-lists and organizers are very common there.
#10 Academic titles belong to the name in both written and spoken language
Such as Herr Doktor Smidt or Frau Professor Doktor Meier.
#11 «Sie vs Du»
Always ask before you decide to switch from “Sie” to “Du”.
#12 Take care of your garbage
“If your neighbors spot you throwing recyclable glass or paper into the regular garbage, your relationship could be strained for good”.
#13 Make eye contact while clinking glasses
It’s common to clink glasses with a «Prost» or «Zum Wohl» (“cheers!”) and to look in the eyes. Why? Because failing to make eye contact at the moment your glasses clink leads to seven years' bad sex!
#14 Introduce yourself at your new team
Nobody is going to cheer you up when you are new in the German office or in any German group. They all expect you to introduce yourself to everyone, rather then come and say “Oh, you are new here? Nice to meet you!”
#15 In a restaurant waiter will always ask “Zusammen oder getrennt?”(Together or separate)
Еven if it looks like a date. And most likely everyone pays his/her part since in Germany everyone is equal. It’s also normal for German men to sit whereas women are standing and nobody is going to hold a door for woman.
#16 “Warum einfach, wenn es auch kompliziert geht?” (Why make it easy, if you can also make it complicated?)
This German saying perfectly describes German attitude towards everything. You will recollect it a lot of times while being in Deutschland especially when you have to deal with bureaucracy.
#17 “When in Rome, do as the Romans do“
When in Berlin, do as the Berliners do.
Just go with a flow or ask a native. Germany is a really cool country for everyone, just take your time to understand it better and look for «your» people. If you are rude und too direct for South Germans, it doesn't mean that North Germans won't like you either. Pretty much opposite — they will love you. Since they are also direct and talkative.
P.S. I was always comparing German with Ukrainian culture. And at some point I realized that all I need is to accept it without judging. So, now I can even explain why in a bus young people usually sit without offering their place to elder people. Because they are extremely polite not to mention that someone is weak!
Just look at this man who was offered to take a seat:
With German sporty lifestyle you are going to meet a lot of Deutsche like him!