Economic crisis encourages Germans to mind their manners

Politeness in an impolite world? More Germans are taking etiquette courses as they look for a way to ground themselves during uncertain economic times.

Economic crisis encourages Germans to mind their manners
Photo: DPA

“In times of crisis there is an obvious return to tried-and-true methods that help root people,” said head of the German Etiquette Academy Hans-Michael Klein, adding that he’s seen a significant increase in course enrollment in recent months. The academy specialises in both personal and business etiquette courses.

On Sunday, Klein presented the new behaviour rules for 2009 at a conference in Geseke in North Rhine-Westphalia, which included permission to say “Gesundheit” when someone sneezes. Using the traditional phrase was apparently passé due to its history.

“The ‘Gesundheit’ wish is historically misinterpreted because it come from the time of tuberculosis epidemic when people wanted to protect themselves from infection through the wish,” Klein said.

But polite Germans go along with what is generally accepted, Klein said, so they can stop quietly ignoring a sneeze and now say “Gesundheit.” Meanwhile the person who sneezed is expected to excuse him or herself.

Etiquette between the sexes should remain old-fashioned, he added. The idea that men should not open doors for women because it threatens their emancipation has been rejected by etiquette experts, he said. “Politeness in the world of women is still a sign of respect, style and cultivation,” Klein said.

The etiquette expert also addressed email manners during his presentation, saying that “emoticons” are particularly offensive and used by the inarticulate. “Get rid of the stupid smileys,” he said.