Germany is known for efficiency and punctuality, and learning a little of the local etiquette and customs should help travelers make sure that their trip is enjoyable and even safe. Here are some things to pay attention to in order not to get yourself in trouble.
1. Don’t be late
Germans are known worldwide for their knack of sticking to time. While in Germany, always remember – it is always better to be a few minutes early than a single minute late. You are respected for keeping time and frowned upon if you take anyone’s time for granted. So if you’re invited for dinner or have made plans to catch up for coffee with your German acquaintance, leave earlier so that you’re on time.
2. Don’t plan any shopping on Sundays
Nothing but restaurants are open on Sundays, and not even all of those, or for the whole day. No grocery stores, no shops, no bakeries… nothing. The idea is we should all be spending Sundays with our families out and about. You will see herds of German folks out for hikes, walks, and bike rides. The other thing we do on Sundays is go to the museum or the art gallery – so those are generally open, but you will want to check ahead.
3. Do not start your meal as soon as it’s served
Once your meal is served, try and wait till your hosts are also around the table before you tuck into your meal. Most importantly, begin your meal by saying “Guten Appetit” which means “Enjoy your meal”. It is also impolite to leave the table if your hosts are still eating their meal.
4. Do not address your senior colleagues by their first names
In a formal work setting, avoid calling your senior colleagues, professors by their first names. Instead, you should address them by their last names, unless your colleague requests you to use their first name. For example, if you have a manager called Anke Koch, then you would have to address her as Frau Koch (Ms/Mrs. Koch). For men, you attach Herr (Mr.) before their surname. Germans also attach great importance to titles such as (Doctor and Professor). So if you notice your manager is Dr. Matthias Schulz, then you would have to address him as Herr Dr. Schulz.
5. Do not forget to state your name when answering the phone
When answering a phone call always state your surname and follow that up with a greeting Guten Tag (Good day)/Hallo (hello). This is regardless of how much younger the person you are speaking to is.
6. Do not tip in Germany
Unlike other countries, there is no tipping culture in Germany as waiters and waitresses are paid well by restaurant owners. If you would like to tip the waiter for his service you can either round up your bill or pay them the standard 5-10% over the total bill amount.
7. Do not expect others to pay your bill
If you are at a restaurant with your German colleagues or friends, and the final bill comes around, you pay for what you ordered. If it’s too confusing to do the math, then ask the waiter for your sum total.
8. Do not forget to bring cash
If you are used to extensively using your card in your home country, prepare to change that habit as ‘cash is king’ in Germany. It is said that German’s prefer cash (Bargeld) over plastic because it allows them to keep a closer check of their transactions. Germans also dislike being in debt and that is an additional reason why they carry cash everywhere. So if you’re out and about exploring Germany, carry cash with you at all times.
9. Do not wish you German friend Happy Birthday earlier
Did you notice that your German friend’s birthday is tomorrow and you’re thinking of wishing them today? Don’t. Much like their love for precision and being on time, it is fitting to wish your Germans on their Birthday and not before. There is a superstition surrounding this fear, as Germans think that it will bring them bad luck.
10. Do not jaywalk
You must obey the traffic rules and wait till the sign turns green for you to cross the road. Germans believe that following traffic rules sets a good example for the future generation. Germany has their bicycle lanes painted bright red so that pedestrians stick to walking on the pedestrian path. You might incur the wrath of German cyclists if you’re found wandering in the bicycle lane.
11. Do not get drunk
Beer is an integral part of German culture and the world-famous beer festival Oktoberfest celebrated every year in Munich is an extension of that love for beer. Public drinking is both common and legal in Germany, where it’s rather routine to see people drink a can or bottle of beer while riding the train or loitering the city streets. Drinking is encouraged and sometimes can help to build camaraderie with the native Germans. But be aware of getting a little over your alcohol limit as getting drunk is frowned upon in Germany.
12. Do not forget to recycle
Germans take pride in being one of the top recyclers in Europe. So be prepared to segregate your trash. Plastics are separated in a yellow trash bag known as Gelb sack. Glass bottles (except beer bottles) are not refundable and would have to be disposed of in Glass waste bins. These bins help further segregate glass into brown, white or green glass. You can get cash back on returning used beer bottles and water bottles to the supermarket. Paper is trashed away in Blue bins. Kitchen trash such as vegetable scraps and leftover food goes in a separate bin that is later composted.
13. Do not mimic the Hitler salute or display the Swastika symbol
Germans do carry a bit of collective guilt about their war-torn past. So be particularly cautious while bringing up the topic of WW2, the Nazis or Hitler. Do not mimic the Hitler salute on any occasion or display the Swastika symbol (Nazi party symbol). A few South Asian cultures attach religious symbolism to the Swastika, so beware of displaying the symbol in Germany.