• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Top ten German customs and traditions

The Local · 5 Dec 2011, 12:25

Published: 05 Dec 2011 12:25 GMT+01:00

Whether being greeted by strangers in lifts or knocking on a desk instead of clapping, being a foreigner in Germany means facing new customs almost daily.

And ranging from the superstitious – melting lead on New Years, to the socially practical – shaking hands, Germans have their traditions written in stone. Forget to look someone in the eye as you say 'cheers,' for example, and you're apparently risking seven long years of bad sex.

The Local has put together its list of the most interesting and unusual customs that make Germany German.

Story continues below…

Click here for The Local List

Related links:

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

13:39 December 5, 2011 by ChrisRea
What? Germans shake hands as a way to say hello? I never heard of such a custom. It is quite different in the rest of the Western world :)

I also do not understand why would somebody do something socially basic as greeting other humans with whom space/time is shared in an elevator or train compartment. We are supposed to be social only on Facebook :)

I witnessed how the newcomers in a small village pub would go round and knock on all 5 tables with customers as a way to greet the others (even if they would not know them). Quite social again (also quite practical).

I think putting shoes out for Nikolaus it is pretty nice (this is also done in Romania and Hungary). Also the Schültute is quite cute.

But I will never understand alcohol restrictions on religious holidays. We all know that spirits are essential in reaching deity. Or are we supposed to do it the old fashion way by going to church and spending time with our families?
16:33 December 5, 2011 by Staticjumper
The German tradition I miss the most here in the US is "Rechts stehen, links gehen" or "slower traffic keep right".
17:36 December 5, 2011 by Maschinenbau
"fire rolling"?! .. i'm from germany and i actually never heard about that.
17:44 December 5, 2011 by frankiep
@Staticjumper

"Rechts stehen, links gehen" is one German custom which I absolutely love.

Does it mean that I have been here too long that I want to stab someone in the eyes when I see them on an escalator or moving walkway blocking up the traffic behind them?!?! Damn tourists....

Yeah, it's Monday......
18:12 December 5, 2011 by Maschinenbau
@frankiep

hahahaha

Yes, i know what you mean. Also a pensioner blocking the left lane on the Autobahn. It freaks me out.
18:44 December 5, 2011 by Englishted
Shaking hands is all well and good but working with 12 workmates on a three shift system takes the fun away ,arrive greet the last shift 12 shakes,workmates arrive 11 more ,shift ends 12 new shakes arrive. 6 days a week ,no give me on shout of alright mate and off we go.
21:22 December 5, 2011 by MaKo
Thanks, Local, that was a lot of fun!

I think you need to expound on St. Nikolaus, though. Because down here in Upper Bavaria, we don't put shoes out for St. Nikolaus. We don't need to, because he makes a personal appearance on the eve of St. Nikolaus Day, accompanied by at least one of his hairy henchmen who go by the name of Krampus.

St. Nikolaus then reads from his golden book of naughty or nice, while Krampus snarls and rattles his chains during the reading of the child's lesser moments, instilling fear in the hearts of the U7 set and ensuring another year of good behavior - or at least providing serious threat material with which to confront undesirable behavior.

If that's not a wierd custom, I don't know what is!

Also, I've been here for nearly eight years, but have yet to see or hear of someone rolling a ball of fire down a hill. That seems like a very bad idea.
21:46 December 5, 2011 by Staticjumper
I'm suprised that the "Maifeier" complete with the bon-fire didn't make the list. Is it not uniquely German?
21:46 December 5, 2011 by Mr Goodmorning
I always liked the greeting in shops, something I learned quickly when I was a 17 year old on a month long exchange trip with my high school. The knocking really took us by surprise though when our group, from my American high school, was brought into the teachers' lounge at our host gymnasium and they started banging on the tables. We didn't know what was going on. Most of us stood there smiling politely listening to the speeches in German (which we hardly knew at the time), all on the edge of losing composure to giddiness (not out of rudeness, but out of lack of sleep from the seven hour flight from Boston the day before, its resulting jet lag, and experiencing this "funny" custom for the first time). Luckily, we all managed to hold it together.
23:08 December 5, 2011 by franconia
@staticjumper You mean the bonfires on June 24th for summer solstice. In May we have maypoles.
06:21 December 6, 2011 by Schnuckel
Hearing "Danke schön. Tschüss!" after every purchase is my favorite tradition. In the US it must obviously go without saying it because you never hear it spoken after any purchase or transaction. Perhaps Americans move too fast to say it, but the autobahn proves otherwise. I agree with the other tradition of "Rechts stehen, Links gehen!"
06:26 December 6, 2011 by Pille17
I have never heard of any alcohol restrictions in germany...the shops may be closed on public holidays but you still can buy alcohol at any gas stations, or late night shops.
18:31 December 6, 2011 by SchafEK
I agree with the tradition of "Rechts stehen, Links gehen!" I LOATHE the lack driving mannerisms, and highway laws for better traffic flow and lesser auto accidents.
20:16 December 6, 2011 by Staticjumper
@franconia, I'm pretty sure I remember both the Maypole and a bonfire on the same holiday when I was in the Rheinland Pfalz. There was also a tradition of trying to steal the nieghboring villages' Maypoles, but that may have been a local, alcohol induced, thing. I don't think I ever went to a solstice celebration. Am I mixing them up?
16:14 December 7, 2011 by Mark S.
It is an interesting article for auslanders. ChrisRea is a bit surprised, but Germans and French shake hands a lot more than Americans. Likewise, Americans may or may not greet each other in an elevator, but it is especially unlikely when the elevator is as full as the one in the picture.

One that really stands out for me is the use of titles. In the US, I call my boss by first name since I came to work here. We would never call somebody "Mister Professor Doctor".
21:25 December 9, 2011 by Flint
@Schnuckel. I don't know where you live in the US, but in the Midwest and South, you are always thanked after making a purchase.
16:02 December 11, 2011 by davepl
I agree with Flint on this one, in the South you're always thanked, and usually there's a lot more small talk involved than here.
Today's headlines
Brexit vote
'10,000s' in UK flood Berlin job site after Brexit vote
"Searching for job." Photo: DPA.

A German job-hunting website reported getting four times the amount of traffic from the UK that it normally does in the wake of the Brexit vote.

Man who stabbed Cologne mayor gets 14 years jail
Photo: DPA

The man who almost killed Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker when he stabbed her in the neck was sentenced to 14 years in jail on Friday.

Germany ups Turkey travel advisory after Istanbul attack
Berliners at the Brandenburg Gate mourn the victims of the Istanburl airport attack. Photo: DPA.

Germany on Friday warned its citizens to exercise particular caution if they travel to Turkey, following this week's deadly Istanbul airport attack.

Young Muslim takes on state on headscarf ban and wins
Aqilah Sandhu in court on Thursday. Photo: DPA

A 25-year-old lawyer has taken on the state of Bavaria over its attempts to stop her from wearing a headscarf - and scored a major victory.

Video
WATCH: Comic teaches about Ramadan on flying carpet
Photo: Screenshot from Dattelträger video.

A young comedian hopes his flying carpet stunt can help fight back against stereotypes - by becoming one.

Brexit vote
'It won't be romantic. But I need an EU passport'
Lucy Thomas (left), director at Give Something Back to Berlin. Photo: Private

British expats in Berlin tell The Local that a week after the Brexit vote they are still stunned - and are considering their next steps.

Town ravaged by floods tries to pick up the pieces
Rebuilding in Simbach. Photo: DPA

July 2nd should have been the start of a new life for Anna Kluchan and her husband. But then the floods came.

Lufthansa finally buries hatchet with cabin staff
Photo: DPA

Lufthansa and its cabin staff said Thursday they had reached an agreement on working conditions, bringing to an end a long and bitter industrial dispute that hit thousands of passengers.

Six burning questions for British expats about Brexit
Photo: DPA.

Uncertainty has kicked in over Brexit and what it may mean for Brits living in Germany.

Merkel demands German vote on EU free trade deal
Photo: DPA

Angela Merkel said the German parliament should be consulted on the EU's free trade deal with Canada, setting her on a collision course with the European Commission.

Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Sponsored Article
Education abroad: How to find an international school
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Sponsored Article
Health insurance for expats in Germany: a quick guide
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
National
Five things to know about guns in Germany
Sponsored Article
US expats: Taxes are due June 15th
Culture
10 things you need to know before attending a German wedding
National
Eight weird habits you'll pick up living in Germany
Lifestyle
Six reasons 'super-cool' Berlin isn't all it's cracked up to be
Society
Only one country likes getting naked on the beach more than Germany
Lifestyle
23 ridiculously fascinating things you never knew about Berlin
Culture
8 German words that perfectly sum up your 20s
Lifestyle
Can't make it past the door at Berlin's most famous club? Help is at hand
Business & Money
Why Frankfurt could steal London's crown as Europe's finance capital
Features
6 surprising things I learned about Germany while editing The Local
Culture
Five sure-fire ways to impress Germans with your manners
Features
6 reasons Germany's summer is unbeatable for thrill-seekers
National
The future belongs to these 10 German regions
7,912
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd