• Germany's news in English

Top ten German customs and traditions

The Local · 5 Dec 2011, 12:25

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

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

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)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

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

"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


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
Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German town, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

Student fined for spying on women via their webcams
Photo: DPA

Student from Munich fined €1,000 for spying on 32 different computers, using their webcams to take photographs, or record their keyboard history.

This is how much startup geeks earn in Germany
Photo: DPA

A comprehensive new survey of 143 startup founders shows how much you are likely to be earning at a German startup, from entry level all the way up to sitting on the board.

Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe
Photo: DPA

The percentage of the German population which identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new study.

'Reichsbürger' pair attack police in Saxony-Anhalt
File photo: DPA.

A "Reichsbürger" and his wife attacked police officers on Thursday, just a day after another Reichsbürger fatally shot an officer in Bavaria.

Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd