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What are some etiquette tips for travelling in Germany?

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Abide by the rules

Germans are known for their willingness to follow the rules. First, wait for the pedestrian crossing signal to turn green before crossing the road. This is true even if the crossing seems safe and there are no cars around. Jaywalking will be criticized by people and they might give you a lecture on setting an example for children. You must have both a working front and back light if you plan to ride a bike. You could face heavy fines for running red lights or being caught in the darkness.

Respect other people’s time

Germans are known for being punctual and on time to their appointments. It’s a smart idea to arrive early for important meetings and gatherings. If you are unable to make it, it is expected that you will call ahead. Germans value privacy and will allow you to enter any closed doors if you politely knock.

Greetings are not just a simple formality

It is common to greet each person when you enter or leave a shop, office or waiting area with a “Guten Tag” (Good day), “Auf Wiedersehen” (Goodbye/Til We Meet Again). When you arrive or leave a shop, office, or waiting room, handshakes are common. A person joining a group will usually shake hands with everyone. Close friends are known to touch both the left and right cheeks when greeting each other, except in business settings where this would be inappropriate.

Small talk is not the way to go

Many foreigners, particularly Americans, feel irritated by Germans’ directness. Asking someone about their day will likely result in an honest answer, even if it is not always positive. If they refuse to drink, it is likely that they mean it.
Germans avoid “floskeln”, polite small talk that isn’t serious. They prefer to have meaningful conversations, meaning they say what they mean without worrying about how it will be received. It will be refreshing once you become used to direct honesty.
Germans can be perceived as being unfriendly and blunt. This misconception could be reduced to a simple rule of German etiquette: Small talk is not acceptable.
Germans are known for being honest, open-minded, and serious. While it may seem like friendly banter around the globe, discussing the weather and what you ate for lunch in Germany may not be considered as much of a conversation.

Learn to accept nudity

While German small talk might not go beyond the naked-bones stage, it is perfectly acceptable to expose your body.
Some textilfrei locals will be found at beaches, parks, and swimming pools on a sunny summer day. A visit to the sauna is a great way to warm up in winter. Locals will not be impressed if you don’t wear clothes. When you’re in Germany, embrace your birthday suit and dress like the Germans.

Extend your good wishes and toast properly

Even if you don’t prepare or serve the food, it is a good idea to wish everyone a “good appetite” before they start eating. If you are sitting at a table in a public place, like a long table with benches in the Biergarten, it is common to say something to people nearby.
The most popular phrase is Guten Appetit (good appetite). However, depending on where you live, you might also hear people use Mahlzeit which actually means “meal” or simply “meal time”, but has the same meaning.
And don’t forget to maintain eye contact with the group you are cheering with during toasting! Usually, Germans use either Prost! (Cheers!) or Zum Wohl! (To health!) when toasting. If you hear these phrases, raise your glass and look the participants in the eyes one by one. Only after that, it’s considered polite to drink.

Know how to tip

Knowing how to act in restaurants is an important aspect of good travel etiquette. The general tipping rate is 5-10%. However, you should always pay the final amount.
This rule is subject to one caveat: you must not tip the restaurant’s owner. Germans consider it an insult to tip the owner of a restaurant. The original bill already includes the owner. It is common for waiters to not be able to identify the owner of a small restaurant.
Remember to bring enough cash when dining out at restaurants. Many restaurants don’t accept electronic payments and checks are no longer in fashion. Cash is the best way to pay your bill.

All in all, Germans really abide by their customs and it would be disrespectful to judge them for that. Integrating into German culture can be fun even for a short-term traveller from the UK! Spend time with locals and keep an open mind and you’ll have a great time.