German Culture: Etiquette Tips

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German culture

One of the most fascinating things about travel and learning languages is getting to explore the many different cultures and traditions of each country, and one of the best ways to learn about the people and what they’re like is to learn their cultural etiquette.

Learning about the local etiquette is helpful in many ways, from knowing how to act respectfully towards others to avoiding any unpleasant surprises.

Here are a few tips on German etiquette which we have picked up while living and traveling in Germany …

Greetings & Goodbyes

Although shaking hands is quite a universal custom, Germans tend to take handshaking to the extreme – it’s common to shake hands both when greeting each other and when saying goodbye, to friends as well as strangers.

Also don’t forget to keep eye contact when shaking hands, as this is very important for Germans.

Another interesting thing we found in Germany was that although people are quite reserved in public places, the doctor’s waiting room is an exception – there, everyone says hello and goodbye to each other.

Germans have different words for hello depending on the region – while Guten Tag is common in most places, many Bavarians (people living in southern Germany) find that greeting to be rude – there, they say “Grüß Gott” (greet God) instead.

These small details can make or break your interactions with locals, so it’s worth looking into some local phrases they use in the area you’ll be traveling to.

Tipping & Add-ons

A common “mistake” travelers make is to give waiters too much tip – service charge and VAT are already included in the bill, and although it’s customary to give a small tip, it’s more common to just add up to the nearest Euro, or at the most add 5 -10% of the bill.

For example, if the bill is €7,50, you can hand the waiter a 10 Euro note and say “9 Euros”, and you will get €1 back in change.

The payment is always made at the table by the waiter who served you – make sure to always handle the tip together with the payment, in Germany you never leave the tip on the table when leaving the restaurant.

When paying, cash is king in Germany – many restaurants only take cash and only accept German credit cards.

The most common thing is to split the bill so that everyone in the group pays for what they ordered.

In German restaurants and cafes it’s common to charge extra for small things like whipped cream with your cake and bread rolls while you wait – even McDonalds charges extra for ketchup and Mayonnaise!

In Germany, make it a rule of thumb never to trust a “free lunch”, instead expect that any extras on the table will also cost extra, and if you’re unsure ask the waiter.

Also keep in mind that while the tap water is perfectly safe to drink, it’s often seen as rude to order tap water at a restaurant – and even if you do, you’ll have to pay for it just like any other drink.


Table Manners

When entering a restaurant, don’t wait to be seated – if you do you’ll find yourself waiting for a long time!

In Germany, guests are expected to find their own table, unless you go to a very fancy place – in beer halls, it’s also common to sit at long tables and share them with other strangers.

If someone sits down next to you, you don’t need to talk to them, but it is a great and fun way to meet new people, and that’s part of the beer hall atmosphere.

When toasting your glasses, it’s important to look the person in the eye with whom you are clinking glasses – and don’t forget to say “prost!” (Cheers!) or “Zum Wohl!” (to your health!).

Embrace these etiquette tips and you will have more fun and make more friends when you travel in Germany!

Do you want to learn German, too?


Sofia von Porat runs the travel blog AsWeTravel, which is sharing travel tips, videos, guides and inspiration from around the world - she also runs EuropeTravelr a blog focused purely on European travel.

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