Visitors from other parts of the world that visit Germany for vacation or business purposes are typically pleased to note that Germans are cordial, polite, and welcoming. However, as with any culture, Germans have mannerisms that are unique to them. Since social etiquette is considered important in every society and Germans are no different, visitors that take a small amount of time to familiarize themselves with what Germans consider good manners will find that locals will often appreciate and even more warmly accept them into their country.
Germans typically wait until introduced by a host to shake hands. Typically, older parties in a group or more senior persons reserve the right to extend their hand for a handshake first. Attendees of small parties will always take the time to shake hands with one another when greeting, as opposed to larger functions where hand shakes are very rarely performed. The act of shaking hands in passing is considered rude. If one takes the time to shake hands, it is considered a precursor to at least a brief chat. Additionally, it is considered to rude to shake hands while the other hand is in your pocket.
In formal settings, it is still considered custom to kiss a lady’s hand when introduced, though the lips should never actually touch the hand. When being introduced to adults, little German girls will occasionally courtesy in greeting. Furthermore, unlike in the United States, children will rarely thank someone for a compliment.
Addressing Others in Germany
The female term “Fraulein” is only used to address particularly young, unmarried girls. The shorter “Frau” is used to address older, unmarried young ladies and women since it is considered a more mature greeting. Also unlike in the United States, a married woman is not addressed by her husband’s first name (e.g. Mrs. John Smith), but by her own first name (e.g. Frau Jane Smith).
Common Business Etiquette in Germany
“Du” and “Sie”
The method of addressing others by saying “you” is divided into the formal and informal manners of “Du” and “Sie.” “Du” is considered informal and should be reserved only for close acquaintances, friends and family. To avoid seeming disrespectful when meeting new persons, especially in a formal or business environment, it is generally accepted that “Sie” is the proper form to use.
American standards of business dress have relaxed in certain niche industries in recent years, but that doesn’t mean that the same is true of Germans. It is typically customary for business attire to be worn in nearly every business setting. Jeans, T-shirts, and similar clothing will typically be frowned upon. When in doubt, always opt to possibly slightly overdress than to take the risk of under-dressing.
Meetings and Functions
Unlike many other cultures, Germans will typically send invitations that outline not only when a meeting or function will begin but also when it will end. It would be considered good manners to use this time as a queue to bid a proper farewell. Though no one will expect every one to jump up and run out the door at the exact time, it can be considered rude to ignore the outlines set up by the hosts.