Two ballons. One has a smile

6 awkward - but true - German stereotypes

You’ve been here a while now and are finally feeling brave enough to start making some German friends. But Achtung – there are some social no-nos in Germany that could trip you up no matter how good your intentions. Read on and you’ll soon be “new friend” Fehler-proof.

Depending on where you’re from, the Germans are either the rudest, unfriendliest people you’ve ever encountered (if you’re from anywhere west or south of Germany) or the cheeriest, sunniest, cuddliest people on the face of the planet (if you’re from anywhere east or north of Germany).

Wherever you hail from, chances are you’ve heard some stereotypes about the Germans – direct, precise, efficient, punctual, lovers of the sock-and-sandal combo – some are true, some are, well, true. However, in order to really get to know the Germans, you have to, you know, meet some - and actually speak to them. While your German may still be offensive to the ear, it’s probably best that you don’t unintentionally offend in any other way. Read our 6-point guide and make sure you don’t put your (sock-and-sandal-clad) foot in it with your new German acquaintances.

1. Germans in the pub

Well, we may as well start off with the most important one since drinking is a big part of German culture. First of all, the golden rule – never, ever say “Prost!” without looking the person you’re prost-ing in the eye. The Germans consider this to be very rude behaviour indeed and it can mean seven years of bad sex. While you might be happy enough with seven years of bad sex if you’re not getting any sex at all right now, it’s not meant to be seen as an advantage.

In a traditional Berliner Kneipe, it’s expected that you acknowledge the bartender and anyone sitting at the bar when you walk in. Sometimes a nod is fine, sometimes you’ll need to knock on the bar or the tables you pass. The same again on your way out. You will be lectured if you fail to do this. However, if there’s a bell over the bar, do not ring it, no matter how badly you want to check if it works. It works. (This is Germany.) And if you ring it, you must buy a drink for everyone in the bar. Even the most comatose old codger will rouse himself at the sound of that bell and come looking for his free drink. Playing the “dumb foreigner” card will not get you out of this one. You have been warned.

2. How to greet a German

Germans like a nice, firm handshake. Do not attempt to hug or kiss a German. This will startle them and could cause them to run into oncoming traffic. Unless, of course, the Ampelmann is red; then they will wait for the green light before running.

In case you don't know how to greet people in German yet you should check our article on the best ways to learn German.

Greetings in German

  • Guten Morgen - Good morning.
  • Morgen - Morning
  • Guten Tag - Good day/ good afternoon.
  • Guten Abend - Good evening.
  • Gute Nacht - Good night.
  • Hallo - hello.
  • Hey - hey (informal)
  • Hi - hi (informal)

Goodbyes in German

  • Tschüss - Good bye
  • Tschö - See you (informal)
  • Ciao - See you (informal)
  • Auf Wiedersehen - See you next time
  • Bis zum nächsten Mal - Till next time

3. Germans in the lift

When you step into the lift, nod and say hello to your fellow passengers. Then stare straight ahead and ignore everyone in the lift from that point on. Do not attempt to strike up a conversation. When you reach your floor, say a cheery goodbye like you’ve all just been having a great conversation and wish everyone a nice day - while taking care not to look at them. 

4. In a German doctor’s or dentist’s waiting room

When you walk into the room, nod and say hello to your fellow patients. Then sit down and stare at your shoes, out the window, pretend to find the contents of your pockets fascinating, do anything but make eye contact with the other people in the room. When you’re called, look around and say a cheery goodbye like you haven’t all been acting like everyone else in the room doesn’t exist.

5. Happy Birthday in German!

So, you’ve finally befriended a German – well done! And, what do you know, it’s their birthday! While you might be tempted to show how much you appreciate the new friendship by getting in there ahead of all their other friends and saying “Happy birthday” in advance, do not, under any circumstances, do this. Germans celebrate their birthdays on the actual day and celebrate “into” their birthdays at midnight. Wishing them a happy birthday before the big day is considered very bad luck. So, if you want to be invited to “reinfeiern”, keep your big, foreign mouth shut - until midnight. If you really want to impress, you could warm up those vocal chords and belt out “Happy Birthday” in German. 

German Happy Birthday

Zum Geburtstag viel Glück,

zum Geburtstag viel Glück!

Zum Geburtstag, liebe ..........,

zum Geburtstag viel Glück!

(The tune is the same as the English version - even the Germans didn’t think they could improve on that.)

Wishing Happy birthday in German

  • Alles Gute zum Geburtstag - Happy Birthday
  • Alles Gute - Happy Birthday
  • Viel Glück zum Geburtstag - Happy Birthday
  • Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag - Happy Birthday (formal)

6. Gifts

You survived the first birthday test, now you want to show your new friend how much they mean to you by giving them a nice big bunch of flowers. Flowers are an acceptable gift to a German. Just make sure they’re not white. Go red, pink, purple, yellow, black, blue, polka dot, anything but white. White flowers are for dead people. If in doubt, give them booze. Booze is also always acceptable. Ah, lovely booze. Helping cement friendships for centuries...

Now that you know the main pitfalls to befriending a German, all that’s left to say is make sure you show up to any scheduled meetings on time. Oh, and if you can work into conversation that you have Haftpflichtversicherung, you’ll be well on your way to a long, beautiful, incredibly direct friendship.

In case you’re intimidated by liability insurance in Germany, Coya offers Haftpflichtversichung in English so no excuses not to get covered. And really, no German worth their salt will be caught dead with you if you don’t have it - a friendship that’s over before it’s begun is a sad, sad thing. 

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