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Ten essential German etiquette tips

The Local · 10 May 2012, 16:21

Published: 10 May 2012 16:21 GMT+02:00

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You may be surprised to hear that Germany has etiquette rules at all. To many expats and travelers in this beautiful country, Teutonic politeness seems - how to put it - generally below the surface.

This is because Germans do not share the self-effacement and conflict-avoidance instincts of, for instance, the British. While Brits prefer to apologise when someone treads on their foot, Germans subscribe more to the "exaggerated sigh and black look" school of etiquette.

But this directness actually makes things easier for the potential holidaymaker/traveller/expat. Since Germans find it very hard to hide their disapproval when you break their social rules, it doesn't take long to find out what rules there are.

Here are some of the things we have discovered. Have you got a faux pas to report as a warning to fellow Anglo-Saxons?

Check out our special German etiquette guide here!

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Your comments about this article

17:23 May 10, 2012 by JenDigs
I knew most of these, but there are two I must comment on:

1) asking men to sit when peeing... really? My son was raised for his first 5 years in the US. He was trained to lift the lid, urinate, lower the lid. Why is this not acceptable in Germany? Why must little boys in school be berated if they do not sit when they pee like nice little girls? (At my son's school, paper airplanes are also verboten- not because someone could get poked in the eye -which on the surface might seem like a reasonable concern- but because "making airplanes is a waste of good drawing paper"... ugh. I sent in a whole pile of paper printed with: " for paper airplanes only"...)

2) passing frontwise... didn't know about this and considering the German predilection for all things poop-related, I'm a bit surprised.

Also, one item I did not see here which I thought worth sharing: Do not keep your hands in your pockets when talking to someone. (Not even sure if walking with hands in pockets is considered ok.) This might not be an issue for most Europeans, but Americans in particular tend to do this...
17:32 May 10, 2012 by Jibzy
Jen: Why should mexicans learn English when they come to the US. They've lived in Mexico and spoken Spanish their whole lives. Why do Texans think they need to learn English??

Also, whats wrong with "nice little girls"? Why is it a problem if they have to sit down like "nice little girls"?
17:33 May 10, 2012 by domoresti
You forgot to add:

Calling the Police over ridiculously trivial matters such a loud music at 23:01.
17:37 May 10, 2012 by JenDigs
@Jibzy- huh? When did I say anything about language? And what's wrong with boys being told to sit and pee like nice little girls? Are you kidding? They are boys!! That's like telling a girl to stop crying over a broken arm and toughen-up like a good little boy- take it like a man. Makes no sense dude...
17:47 May 10, 2012 by marimay
Maybe some people don't like urine all over the toilet and on the floor, jen.
18:02 May 10, 2012 by Jibzy
Jen. The point was, you can make your boy pee all over the toilet, in the tank and the floor..your home, your call!

If you wish to come to another culture, you have to defuse your Americanism and follow the culture you are in.
18:23 May 10, 2012 by hanskarl
Or you can really confuse them and pee standing up with the lid up. Then wipe down the rim with some toilet paper before flushing and washing your hands. They will not know what to think.................
18:50 May 10, 2012 by JenDigs
Or- heavens forbid!- parents could TEACH their kids to not be pigs and actually aim into the bowl. I have to say, I've noticed a tendency to just change the rules/ban things, etc rather than simply teaching kids how to behave and how to be responsible. Defuse my Americanism- that's pretty funny... I didn't realize it was strictly an American thing to teach kids to be clean. I also have to say, I found it EXCEEDINGLY funny just a few weeks back when a German mom at a playground with her 5(?) year old son wailing that he had to pee, told him to go pee in the bushes... he started to squat and she yelled at him to stand up! Hysterical.
21:21 May 10, 2012 by furtfranker
I've never been able to understand why men don't tell the truth about this... the reason we stand is because if you sit .... the "important" bits touch the ceramic bowl... which is either covered in something nasty, or bleach, and either way, I don't want my private parts anywhere near that thank you very much. If more men explained this to women they might begin to understand. And what's more, when women complain about having to put the lid down, we never complain about having to put the lid up! I'm done with this now. Case dismissed!
21:22 May 10, 2012 by wood artist
Although it's in the article and not in the list of ten, I've had personal experience with only one of these...but it scared me for life!

A boy, probably about 5 years, ran over my foot while riding his wooden bicycle on a Berlin sidewalk...in the "walking" section. I wasn't moving, and my foot was in a normal position under me, standing upright at the side of the sidewalk. I cried out, mainly because it really hurt and completely surprised me. His mother offered nothing...no "I'm sorry" nor any attempt to rein in her child. As I related this story later, a German friend just laughed and responded "Never expect a German mother to apologize for anything her child does, even if the kid walked up to you and punched you in the crotch!"

Needless to say, I learned an "interesting" lesson that day. Then two years later I was walking on a pathway in Leverkeusen that has a painted dividing line in the middle, and symbols for "walkers" and "riders" clearly marked. I was struck by a woman riding a bicycle, at exact the place where I was stepping on the "walkers" mark. She fell over. As I pulled myself back to my feet, and attempted to dust off my clothes, she started to say something that clearly wasn't "I'm sorry." Too bad! I yelled at her, using almost all the German I know, and pointed out that she was 1) stupid, 2) riding on the wrong side (she and I were the only two people on the entire pathway, and 3) just basically a pathetic example of humanity. She was, to say the least, shocked...not by the collision, but by the very idea that someone would expect her to follow the rules. So much for that "Teutonic" stereotype!

22:52 May 10, 2012 by lordkorner
Why would you train a little boy to pee standing up, its obvious that to sit and pee is to avoid making a mess ,there is nothing as revolting as a house full of Anglo Saxon men and a carpeted bathroom.
23:01 May 10, 2012 by ovalle3.14
I'll have to disagree with the following statement: "Making a noise while you're eating, for instance, is very frowned upon..." - IMHO Germans make whole symphonies out of blowing their noses right there, where we all eat! And nobody seems to care! Das ist ja komisch.
00:14 May 11, 2012 by DOZ
Since you are so unhappy with the German Culture, just leave. Try a Country like Canada. There you and your dogs can pee in the elevators and stairwells.
03:35 May 11, 2012 by Yurallridiculous
Just because one stands to pee doesn't necessarily mean they will make a mess. As Jen says....teach them to aim and if they make a mess teach them to clean it up...apparently that's too complicated for Germans. Honestly, carpet in the bathroom...now that is stupid.
06:01 May 11, 2012 by auslanderus
Excuse me but who in there right mind carpets a bathroom floor? I agree, men need to teach there boys to sit when they to pee or them will need to learn to clean up after ther son or themselves. Women should not have to clean up after grown men that can't hit the bowl.
08:17 May 11, 2012 by The-ex-pat
Wow, I did not realise that I was such a bad person for peeing standing up.........................Not to mention I walk down the isle at a theater with my back to people, I have no great desire to rub uglies with complete strangers as I try and slide past. I had no idea I was being such a rebel. However in 20 years of being here I can honesty say I have never been berated or frowned at for any infraction of the "rules". As for small boys, sitting, yes, it makes sense and my own children started out that way too. Small boys have small bits and just like the first time you shoot a rifle, the aim is not that good. Add in the fact that they are have to stand on tiptoe in the early years to reach an acceptable angle of dangle, it is better that they sit.

The one area in life I do get shouted at quite often, I refuse to jump into the hedge or cling to a wall when I hear a cyclist. Ring, ring, ring, get out of the way I am coming through, Err, no, you have brakes, learn to use them. More so when it is a combination cycle and footpath.
09:03 May 11, 2012 by catjones
A 45-year old german man told me he can't pee standing at a public urinal....too inhibited. 'Thanks, mom, for the angst'.
11:29 May 11, 2012 by Berlin fuer alles

"Since you are so unhappy with the German Culture, just leave. Try a Country like Canada. There you and your dogs can pee in the elevators and stairwells."

Always one of you whenever Germany or Germans are critized.

If you want to Peve the Germans off just walk along the pavement on the left hand side. Watch how annoyed they get. It is almost as bad as driving along the left hand side of the autobahn. If only this oddity spilled over into proper etiquette when a new aisle opens at the supermarket Kasse or when any new aisle opens up where one ques such as the airport checkin, etc
11:31 May 11, 2012 by delvek
I take a leak in a toilet standing up because I can.

I dont lower the seat because I dont need it lowered.

If a woman is concerned about a clean seat then I suggest she lift the seat upon exiting from the bowl so that it is up and clean when she returns.

This is the result of the equality of sexes, get over it, stop living in 1950, chivalry is dead!

Now excuse me, I need to take a leak, hope she left the toilet seat up!
12:05 May 11, 2012 by Tron McFinger
@furtfranker: so...how do you handle the situation you describe when you're sitting on the toilet to do your other business?
12:20 May 11, 2012 by delvek

I teach my boys to stand, aim well, but stand! Only girls sit!!!

I wonder how many men really are involved in this discussion, I cant think of a man who would teach their son to sit. It always makes me laugh when I hear a guy go in stall, sit, pee, then leave.

Do men who sit use toilet paper to dab the drip?
13:05 May 11, 2012 by Berlin fuer alles
Just wondering. Is it only in Germany that men are expected to do this? Cannot say I have come across it elsewhere. I wonder also what this is a sign of in regard to gender domination in various cultures. Do German men like to be dominated?
14:23 May 11, 2012 by delvek
This is only one "standers" opinion but in all the years I have lived in Germany (and continue to do so) I have to say I have never heard of this or seen it practiced. I have been in 1000's of German bathrooms both public and private.

This article (and many comments) seem to be loaded with some gender bias that is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay outside the norm.

In protest of this bias, I will be forced to take a leak on seats to remind women that ... I can do that! lol
14:54 May 11, 2012 by Al uk
I don't see what is wrong with carpets in the bathroom afterall i use the bowl not the floor.

It's basically a feminist trap to emasculate men and something we Anglo's will stand for in this case. Men of the world stand up proud and shoot straight :-)
15:06 May 11, 2012 by Berlin fuer alles
When sharing a bathroom with women it is only fair that men do their share in keeping the bathroom clean and tidy. That is one thing but being expected and made to sit like a woman when taking a pee is having un-natural behaviour forced on men. Like I said in an earlier post, I have never come across this outside of Germany and wonder if it is only German women that try to force this on their male folk? If so, why and how did this come about?
15:38 May 11, 2012 by JenDigs
I am so glad more people are weighing in on this... I was beginning to think I was the only mom in Germany who disagreed with this not so subtle emasculation of boys... ;-)
16:35 May 11, 2012 by Frenemy
Actually that last one is also a very American thing (mainly south west). Comes from the wild west days when some liquored up cowboy at the next table (or across the table at a card game?) might be pointing his six-shooter at your nads under the table...
18:23 May 11, 2012 by lynnj59
Have to say the comments seem to me a little out of had for what is really a tongue in cheek article. Would like to add the one I have found a little difficult to adjust to, and that is the tradition that birthdays should only be celebrated after the event.
20:04 May 11, 2012 by Berlin fuer alles
I just remembered years ago at a small party hosted by an English guy I knew from language school. He had a German girlfriend. In their bathroom there was a sign over the toilet which would be staring you in the face if peeing standing up and it read "Remember our conversation, please sit". It was like house training a dog. Most men I know including myself would have made her an ex-girlfriend straight away under such circumstances.
21:14 May 11, 2012 by supine
Ah, the old Sitzpinkler. If you haven't seen one of those signs they are hilarious. http://www.destination-munich.com/image-files/sitzpinkler.jpg

And if someone can't hit the bowl while standing right over it, why do you trust them to not splash pee all under the seat while sitting?
21:47 May 11, 2012 by Masala
I always pee standing up where ever I am. I'm quite well acquainted with my penis after a quater century. There is an easy art to peeing, and it seems that it's not taught here in Germany, otherwise there'd be no issue.
21:49 May 11, 2012 by Berlin fuer alles
Agree with you Masala. Here is a diagram for our German brothers who have not been taught properly.

22:43 May 11, 2012 by furtfranker
@ Tron McFinger

Seeing as you asked, and it's a fiar question... push it away from the bowl (ie, bend it backwards...... which is not conducive to peeing, is it. Anything else you want to work out???
22:43 May 11, 2012 by marimay
If flushing the toilet with the lid up distributes microscopic particles of human waste throughout the bathroom, what do you think urinating standing up does?

Hide the toothbrushes!
23:06 May 11, 2012 by ChrisRea
Interesting how many commentators focus on this peeing issue. I never encountered this rule, even if the German part of my family is spread around the country (Kaiserslautern, Berlin, Halle etc). It was also the first time I heard about the "Polish retreat".

I am amazed however of how the author of the article sees the other etiquette rules. Apparently he socialises only on Facebook and greeting regular people one meets seems repugnant to him. Or believes that it is out-of-common to have eye contact when engaging in a social interaction like clinking glasses. It also appears to ignore that facing the back of the theater when entering a row of seats it is an etiquette rule also in other countries, such as US for example (or maybe it is too advanced for him/her). Two links to help him/her: http://www.ehow.com/how_2050008_behave-movie-theatre.html, http://www.advancedetiquette.com/newsletter/sep05.htm.
23:13 May 11, 2012 by Berlin fuer alles
To sit or not to sit

Why men should stand to pee...


This should conclude the peeing discussion.
23:46 May 11, 2012 by McNair Kaserne
Well, the Muslims also sit or squat to pee, so when Germany is eventually taken over by them, German men will already be well trained to accept the new order.....
03:06 May 12, 2012 by JenDigs
@berlin fuel alles: GREAT article, thanks!!!

@marimay: go read the above-mentioned article. Also, I always "hide the toothbrushes" in a medicine cabinet because I don't want toilet-flush on them... urine, by comparison- in a healthy person- is devoid of bacteria! (Not advocating doing anything with it other than flushing it away, but I don't think your argument makes sense.)
05:39 May 12, 2012 by Aelfgifu1
Am I the only female reading these comments who is totally baffled by how many men seem to tie their manhood and their masculinity to whether or not they stand to pee? ;)
06:44 May 12, 2012 by Frenemy
@Aelfgifu1: Whether its biology or psychology, you can't fight nature. Try training a dog to squat whilst peeing or a bitch to lift her leg when performing the same task. Its pretty much impossible unless said animal has a biological or psychological predisposition toward tendencies of the opposite sex. Same applies to humans. I could expand my argument to include various aspects of human sexuality (straight/gay) but I fear my post would be censored by the PC gestapo...
07:14 May 12, 2012 by soros
On behalf of all Canadians, let me assure you your dog cannot pee in the elevators. He can pee all he wants in your own home, though. But then, in most apartments dogs are not allowed and you have to pick up your dog's poops from public walkways and parks. So there...
17:37 May 12, 2012 by Frenemy
Its kinda funny how anti-canine Germany has become. How can you dislike man's best friend? Its indicative of a fearful/cowardly personality if you ask me (I mean damn, even Hitler liked dogs). Speaking on behalf of young Germans, I hope this is a character trait of the older generation (that is currently legislating the sh!t we have to abide by), and that this is merely a fleeting phase in our country's ummm...."rehabilitation" (?).
18:18 May 12, 2012 by marimay
I am sure a great deal does not make sense to you, jen.
18:48 May 12, 2012 by lordkorner

Either you are hung like an elephant, have very short or no legs, or have in your bathroom the strangest design in loo bowels.....and as previously asked of you, what do you do when you take a crap?, which I presume is at least once a day, how do you avoid the Parazone /ajax, problem....?
23:22 May 12, 2012 by furtfranker

"...hung like an elephant..."? To touch the bowl? Are you serious! Hmmpf? Maybe I am, but I think not.

Incidently, on your leg question, I'm 6 ft tall. If I have to sit and do both at the same time I have to raise myself off the seat, of course (it's called squatting) . You'll be asking for a diagram next... and no, you're not getting one!
23:47 May 12, 2012 by marimay
This is hilarious.
09:24 May 13, 2012 by NastyNika
@Jibzy I am Russian, not American so let me give you another perspective on the peeing sitting down question. It is much more hygenic for a male to take a slice of toilet paper, lift up the seat and pee standing up as his biological equipment permits him to do. I get my deposit in with no splattering on my buttocks as someone sitting down does, nor do i have to waste paper on seat covers , nor waste lots of paper wiping off the skin cells , exploded pimples of other staining that seat. Why must I be forced to sit down (which I would not do no matter who asks me) ?

Females have a difficult time peeing standing up with out much practice or special devices. I understand a urinal , much more hygienic than a toilet seat for peeing makes it obvious that females and males have biologically different plumbing equipment. We can accept that, or perhaps begin chopping off boys pee-pees or attaching artificial penises to women so that we can all be truly equal.

Or we can accept the fact that nature/god/aliens/evolution etc.. made us somehow unique in our own way and pee how best suits for each gender?
13:11 May 13, 2012 by Berlin fuer alles
@NastyNika, well said.

Why is it that it is mainly German women who have made the decision for their male partners that it is their way or no way regarding taking a pee at home. I realise it is not only German women but some other countries also have this phenonomen but not to the extent that Germany has. I can only think it is a form of domination in not allowing their men to be men by peeing in the natural position. It would be similar to dominating women and making them pee standing up. It makes me laugh at how men in Germany pee like women.
19:43 May 13, 2012 by furtfranker
@Berlin fuer alles

I'm totally in align with the article you posted. And well said on your last comment.


...also there's nothing unusual about my toilette bowl. And that's the end of that as far as I'm concerned.
23:26 May 13, 2012 by delvek
Strange, like I said earlier, I have never seen or heard this practice in Germany from anyone anywhere ever.
11:37 May 14, 2012 by Berlin fuer alles
@ delvek. I don't know how you could not have heard of this practice. Maybe you are not in Germany that long or are lucky enough not to have had a German girlfriend who imposes this ritual on you. But you can be sure it does exist and in fact is common amongst German women. Maybe ask some German male friends or colleagues of yours. It is not that all German women impose this on their male partners but a significant percentage do impose it to make it worth taking notice of.
15:35 May 14, 2012 by Bushdiver
I would have thought taking a leak on anything standing would be included in German etiquette.
23:47 May 14, 2012 by HelmiVainikka
>It makes me laugh at how men in Germany pee like women.

You should go to Sweden then, there men actually LOOK like women. ;)
10:34 May 15, 2012 by Berlin fuer alles
> You should go to Sweden then, there men actually LOOK like women. ;)

Compared to a lot of Dutch women who actually LOOK like men,
05:06 May 16, 2012 by Aasvogel
For those confident in their ability to hit their target: have you ever examined the floor around the toilet after you have finished?

Also, some German toilets have a flat base and the drain at the front; how do you cope with them?

Sitting down is not effeminate; it's plainly practical and hygienic. Urinals are designed for standing up. Toilets are designed for sitting down.

Get over it.
17:58 May 16, 2012 by lordkorner
Hands up anyone who never peed while taking a crap, nobody,I thought so...
13:46 May 17, 2012 by furtfranker

my hand is up, so you thought wrong! Think again!
23:21 May 20, 2012 by PierceArrow
I guess the sitting-down rule means that no German man ever makes the mistake of leaving the toilet seat up.
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