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Just don’t!

Typically German? These nine things really don’t go down very well in Germany. A tongue-in-cheek warning.

Constanze Kleis, 24.03.2021
Dos and don’ts in Germany: being late? Don’t even think about it.
Dos and don’ts in Germany: being late? Don’t even think about it. © Lin

Being unpunctual

According to one old saying: “Five minutes ahead of schedule is a German’s punctuality.” Deadlines, appointments, timetables and even dates carry the weight of solemn oaths in Germany. Being late is  tantamount to breach of contract. Unless, of course, you have a really good excuse. For most people, however, it’s all right if you let them know in advance.

Making noise

Life creates noise. Everywhere and even in Germany. Here, however, noise has fixed office hours. You will make yourself very unpopular if you mow the lawn, use your electric drill or invite your 16-year-old nephew’s heavy metal band to practice between the hours of 10pm and 7am, around lunch time or on Sundays and public holidays. There is only one exception: when children make noise, it is considered “socially acceptable”.

Making a spontaneous visit

You should never turn up on a German doorstep unannounced – unless of course you are warning the neighbours that their house is on fire. Germans like to be prepared both mentally and physically. They enjoy the positive feeling of having everything arranged – with ample supplies of coffee and cake and a tidy home that no longer looks like a bomb just hit.

Crossing the road when the light’s red

Even if there are no cars in sight and no matter how long it takes: it’s better to stop and wait when the pedestrian signal is red – especially when there are parents with children nearby. They will take it very much amiss if you set a bad example for their offspring. Crossing the road on red is also a misdemeanour. There’s guaranteed to be a self-appointed law enforcer standing at the traffic light who will scoldingly point this out.

Phoning late in the evening

Phone calls after 8pm are considered a disturbance of people’s carefully choreographed evening routine, which for many Germans is still  based on the three pillars of supper, sofa and the small screen. The very worst possible moment for a call is between 6 and 7pm on Saturday, when the main German sports news is on, or between 8:15 and 9:45pm on Sunday when a new Tatort crime drama is broadcast. Incidentally, these are accompanied by lively comments on social media, because messages on WhatsApp, Instagram or Facebook are acceptable around the clock in Germany.

Disregarding waste separation rules

The rules for separating waste in Germany are stricter than those in a monastery. Woe betide anyone who disposes of waste paper in the bin for organic waste. Several pages of guidelines outline which waste has to be put in which bin, bag or container. But stringency pays off: Germany ranks first in the world for recycling.

Raising your glass without making eye contact

In other countries you may be able to simply raise your glass and say cheers. But not in Germany. Here you had better look your opposite number directly in the eye, otherwise you will be unlucky in love. Crossing arms during a toast is also considered a bad omen. This now even applies in business circles.

Parking on the cycle path

Germany may be a land of automobiles, but cyclists are now conquering its cities. Car drivers who park on cycle paths have to reckon with scratched bodywork. And pedestrians who stand in the way can expect to receive harsh insults.

Asking how someone is

Trivial small talk is not a German core competence. Here you come straight to the point. Questions about a person’s state of health, which in the United States, for example, are seen as polite greetings, can be regarded by Germans as opportunities to speak frankly and fully – about their children’s problems at school, their father-in-law’s hernia or suffering in the world in general. So make sure you have enough time if you really want to know: “How are you?”


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