Do's and Don'ts
Freshly arrived in Hamburg? You’re bound to be confronted with the unwritten social rules sooner or later. While sometimes awkward, making a cultural faux-pas every now and again is an essential part of finding your feet in a new environment. We’ve summed up the most important Do’s & Don’ts to give you a head start!
- Try to speak a little German. Even a cheerful “Dankeschön” will go a long way!
- Shake hands with people you meet. Hugs and kisses are saved for close friends and family.
- In a professional setting, address people with their title and last name, e.g. Frau Doktor Jansen, until you’re explicitly invited to use their first name. If you're speaking to a person with several academical titles, start with the most important one, e.g. Frau Professor Doktor Jansen.
- Inform your neighbours several days in advance if you’re organising a BBQ or party.
- Abide by the rules. Germans value their equality and tend to frown upon people who act as if they’re “above the law”.
- Take out cash at an ATM: many shops, restaurants and bars don’t take debit and credit cards.
- Before taking the first sip of your drink, make eye contact with your drinking partners, and say “Prost”! Failing to do so is associated with bad luck.
- Greet and thank cashiers, waiters and cleaning staff. Late in the afternoon, a courteous “schönen Feierabend” (wishing people an enjoyable time-off) is appreciated.
- Make eye contact and politely smile to your waiter if you need them. Unlike in some other countries, it’s considered good manners in Germany to leave customers in peace while eating.
- Give tips in cafes, bars and restaurants. While not mandatory, it is customary to give a 10% tip on top of the total sum or to at least round-up the bill for small purchases.
- Split the bill. If your waiter asks “Zusammen oder getrennt?”, they’re giving you the option to pay separately.
- Bring chocolate, flowers or something to drink if you’re invited over for socializing at someone’s house.
- Unwrap birthday presents when the giver is still there. Don’t forget to beam with joy and thoroughly thank the giver for their marvellous present.
- Be upset when you don’t get jokes. German humour is difficult to understand for foreigners, as it’s often based on complex word plays. Sarcasm is generally not considered funny.
- Make jokes involving “German” stereotypes. Germany is a diverse place, and many Hamburgers simply don’t relate to Schnitzel-eating, Lederhosen-wearing mountaineers. Feel free to make jokes about Bavarians.
- Avoid serious topics. Germans are typically well-informed and not too keen on small-talk, so feel free to start a conversation about politics, religion and the state of the World.
- Wish someone Happy Birthday before it’s their actual birthday: associated with bad luck for the birthday boy/girl! Strangely, it’s fine to wish someone Happy Birthday after the actual day.
- Start eating until others at your table also have their food, and you’ve wished each other “Guten Appetit!”
- Run a red traffic light. Whether driving, biking or walking: Red means stop, and it is not okay to ignore the traffic lights. At least mind the children!
- Bike without proper head and tail lights, for your own safety and that of others. The lights aren’t for you to see better at night: They ensure your visibility to other people in traffic.
- Try to enter the bus or train before everyone who wants to get off has exited.
- Spit on the ground. This is considered very rude and should be avoided at all times.
- Make noise on Sundays. By German law, Sunday is considered a “Ruhetag” or “quiet day”. The absence of loud disturbances is taken quite seriously, so it’s best to refrain from drilling holes in the wall, and check with your landlord before throwing a garden party on a Sunday.