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Berliner Schnauze: The ‘rude’ German attitude foreigners could learn from

The Berliner Schnauze, while seemingly rude and antisocial, can reveal itself to be quite endearing over time. If anything, it can teach a Brit a thing or two about getting to the point, one writer found.

Berliner Schnauze: The 'rude' German attitude foreigners could learn from
Queues before getting on public transport don't exist in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Brits have a number of undesirable stereotypes. The UK is full of heavy drinkers with bad personal hygiene and a propensity for hooliganism at football matches. It’s just as well that we’re considered unrelentingly polite. 

These were, at least, the first comments I received from German people about the perceived behavior of Britons when I moved to Berlin.

Germans find Brits puzzling with their excessive manners and never-ending chitchat. Brits, in turn, find the characteristic German directness somewhat hard to stomach.

SEE ALSO: Are Germans really rude or just avoiding politeness overload?

An unique brand of brusqueness

Berliners have their own unique brand of German brusqueness – something they have affectionately termed the ‘Berliner Schnauze.’ The metaphor for their gruff and standoffish way of speaking, their coarse sense of humour and, to be honest, their downright rudeness is the Schnauze or “snout” of a dog (slang for mouth) and is seen as a fundamental part of the Berliner parlance. 

This poster in Berlin reads: ‘Be heart, be Schnauze, be Berlin’. Photo: DPA

In the German capital, you might just get angrily ushered onto a bus by a driver that doesn’t care whether you’ve paid or not. A cyclist might wave an angry fist at you for stepping into the bike lane or, quite simply, charge full speed ahead despite your attempt to get out of the way.

When asking for a Berliner pilsner at a bar, you’ll likely get the beer plonked down in front of you with a hand held out for a tip simultaneously.

Let’s just say it’s rare to receive service with a smile. 

Public transport mishaps

When on a Saturday afternoon I took the S-Bahn for the first time since landing in Berlin, I was dismayed at the distinct lack of etiquette on public transport. 

No one made an orderly queue in front of the train doors to let those who had waited for the longest board the train first. No expression of gratitude was uttered when I shuffled into the corner of the carriage to make room for a fellow passenger.

Even worse, not one person apologised for invading my already limited personal space and crushing various parts of my body in an attempt to squeeze themselves onto the packed train. 

Unlike the British, Berliners are far from overzealous with their pleases and thank yous and the act of saying sorry is a formality which is often deemed unnecessary, or simply annoying.

A dear old lady turned particularly menacing when I brushed passed her in a busy street later that day, sending her shopping bags swinging to and fro on her zimmer-frame, and was far from pleased with my endless clucks of apology. 

Orderly queues in front of train doors are a subject of fantasy in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Senseless small talk

The following morning, I experienced my next halting realisation in the supermarket. Germans, particularly Berliners, don’t do small talk. 

The English tend to chat about the mundane as an indirect attempt to make conversation interesting and less awkward. Berliners, on the other hand, see this aspect of discourse as no less than empty verbiage. The lady at the checkout simply rolled her eyes and grunted at my attempt to talk about the weather and hurriedly passed me my items as if to encourage my swift exit from the building. 

You could say that Germans, in general, are economical with words. They mean what they say and they say what they mean. For Brits, it’s quite the contrary. In fact, English people will say a lot of things for the sake of politeness, including feigning interest in a person they’ve just met. 

In English conversation, it’s common to say that you would like to meet someone again when the chances are, you really don’t. For a German, saying “Nice to meet you” when you don’t necessarily mean it, is uncomfortably close to deceit.

Simply trying to be nice

The British avoidance of saying what we really mean is disorientating for people from other nationalities too. My French-Canadian friend says the English tendency to pad conversation out with excessive niceties makes them come across as insincere. We, of course, don’t see it like that. We’re simply trying to be nice. 

Or we’re just trying to be funny. Britons communicate in euphemisms and sarcastic phrases that Germans often take at face value. This leads to terrible instances of miscommunication, most of which are too teeth-grindingly awful to be stated here.

We also tend to understate serious things for comic effect. A good example of this is in Monty Python and The Meaning of Life, a staple British comedy film from the 80s, where the Grim Reaper’s arrival at a dinner party “casts rather a gloom” over the evening. Or when in The Life of Brian (again Monty Python), the act of being crucified is described simply as a way to “get out in the open air.”

Humour is often a good method to get around cultural boundaries. Underneath the prickly exterior of many Berlin veterans is a dry, cynical wit and an outspokenness that cuts through any kind of awkwardness. It just takes some getting used to.

Hidden decency?

An older German gentleman and I were once having a war over whose cucumber and tomatoes were whose at a market stall until the seller stepped in to confirm that they were, in fact, mine.

The man’s demeanor instantly changed at realising his mistake. He let out a rather chesty laugh and told me affectionately, with a heavy Berliner accent, that you start to lose your marbles the older you get.

Each culture has its nuances that internationals have to grow to accept. The Berliner Schnauze, while seemingly rude and antisocial, can reveal itself to be quite endearing over time. If anything, it can teach a Brit a thing or two about getting to the point.

Member comments

  1. I DO wish Germans would learn to be kinder. In reading this article – I would say that Americans are very similar to Brits in that we love to chit-chat; smile; say, “sorry” and be aware of boarding the train in a polite way, etc. When I moved to Berlin 10 years ago, I assumed the attitudes were “European” but when I traveled around Europe, I was pleased to see that the kindness, smiles and “sorry” were evident all over! Just not in Germany. I blame it on communism. I’ve been to southern Germany and the rudeness is not so pronounced there. I think the topic should be addressed more because the poor Germans have been through so much! They are mistrustful; have not experienced “love” (many of them). It is kind of a sad situation.

  2. So much stereotypes in this article. I live in Berlin for many years and I have seldom experienced rudeness like this on the S-bahn, for example. It’s like the author is describing some other Berlin.

  3. Another article filled with Stereotypes. Maybe the writer has had some bad experiences. I understand cultural differences, but I wouldn’t classify it as being “rude”… People of Berlin have always seemed to be Friendly, helpful, sondern ernst.

  4. My wife and I just returned from vacation in Europe. We visited Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Most of the locals we met in Germany were kind, helpful, and courteous, especially when listening to my dreadful beginner German when asking for directions. Perhaps they just wanted me to stop mangling their native language. Since I am an American trying to speak German that is pretty plausible. Or maybe we just met the wrong Germans. Our experience in Germany, as well as Austria and Switzerland, was quite positive. What delightful countries. Wir mogen Deutschland. Sorry, American keyboard, no umlauts. We hope to return.

  5. I agree and my husband who is a Berliner told me that in the past few years, he has personally encountered more and more incidents in which the persons involved are just plain rude.

  6. I find this article more or less true of Germans who are native to Berlin, and perhaps certain parts of the Old East, but otherwise not really. In general smalltalk is less of a thing here, i agree, but again not everywhere and not with every German. The other thing about Berlin is that so many residents come from so many other places that one often doesn’t encounter too many native Berliners, especially in the trendier districts, so i’m not sure how relevant this will be to the experiences of many visitors.

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.