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LOVE

‘Germans are brutally honest’: How hard is it to date in Germany?

Dating isn't easy wherever you are in the world. We asked readers and experts to find out their experiences and tips on finding love in Germany.

'Germans are brutally honest’: How hard is it to date in Germany?
Photo: DPA

This story was first published in February 2020. We know that things are different at the moment due to the pandemic, and it's harder to meet people. But let's hope that we can do dating and flirting in real life again soon.

There are a lot of people looking for love in the Bundesrepublik. Dating website Parship estimated last year that there are about 16.8 million single people in Germany between the ages of 18 and 65, with 82 percent searching for a partner. 

Whether it’s through online dating apps or meeting people IRL (in real life), it can be tricky navigating the world of romance especially for internationals who’ve moved to Germany from another country.

READ ALSO: What's the advice for sex and dating in Germany during the coronavirus crisis?

Flirting is non-existent

Foreign readers in Germany last year told us they’ve experienced several culture shocks. 

On Facebook Marlene Barba said: “I'd say that it's really hard (to date), even for Germans with Germans. In Mexico you can date asap or through friends.”

In a previous Local article, Canadian expat and blogger Laurel Robbins in Munich said: “German men don't have the best idea how to flirt.”

That was a sentiment shared by many readers, but not all.

“I'd say people do not flirt in an obvious way here but it's difficult to have friends of the opposite sex, so you will never know if that guy that you have been talking to is into you or not,” said Barba.

READ ALSO: It's not impossible: The ups and downs of dating in Germany

In many countries chatting people up in a bar or a club is not an uncommon thing. Yet you won't find that same culture in Germany where people tend to be more reserved.

Mirkka Rissa in Munich said: “At least in München everyone waits – men and woman – for the other one to make the first move, which results in no contact whatsoever. Flirting is non-existent.”

However Rissa pointed out that British men are “even worse flirts” because they're so polite. 

Photo: DPA

Inger Walsh said that for the first 21 years of living in Germany, “I mainly dated people from elsewhere, simply because they approached and the German men didn't”.

Hamburg-based Eric Hegmann, who’s been working as a counsellor for couples and as a singles-coach for 15 years, said not all Germans are bad at flirting.
 
“But compared to some southern countries, Germans certainly look more reserved,” he said. “This does not prevent them from entering into happy relationships and being loving partners.

“Just like everywhere, there are shy and brave people here. So maybe you should take the first step yourself if you want to get in touch rather than waiting for the other person to approach you.”

Tatiana Henriquez Gordillo from Ecuador, now in Dresden said she'd experienced “dating anxiety”.

She said: “In my country dating is more like ‘you like me, I like you, let’s date exclusively for a while to get to know each other better and get into a relationship later if we get along’”.

But Henriquez Gordillo said in Germany there’s more of a casual style to dating in Germany.

“Here in Germany it’s more like: ‘You like me, I like you. Let’s meet sometimes, no strings attached, I want your body and many more too, give me your emotional support and time whenever I reach out, but don’t freak out when I’m done with my ego boost and disappear for a while because we are not in a relationship,'” she said.

“I miss my country in that sense. I experienced 'dating anxiety' here for the first time ever.”

'It takes a lot of time'

Others highlighted how moving from one stage to the next can take a long time . 

Ruby Red in Aachen said: “The struggle is real, I mean there are a lot of qualities of German men I like, being extremely respectful and trying not to overstep your boundaries is one of them. But especially if you are a person from the south you can see that their humour and the way they approach you is different. 

“It takes a lot of time for them to get close and trust you. You might be going on a 10th date but still not be together, you know. 

“I think I'm really lucky with my current boyfriend because he also has southern ancestry so he is a bit warmer than other German people I dated or flirted with. But we still have a lot of clash of opinions just because of the conditions we grew up in. 

“I would say though when they let you in, you see that it’s worth being patient. Not just for romantic relationships but also friendships.”

Of course every person is an individual regardless of their nationality. But it’s fair to say the character trait of being direct probably seeps into the German dating style too.

Emma Gln added: “Every single German is different, girls and boys. What is for sure: they are brutally honest and don't want to waste time. So be ready for that and make the most of it.”

READ ALSO: 'Sex is easy to find in Berlin': Foreigners on love, hook-ups and friendship in Germany

Benjamin Esser said: “It really takes a bit of time until we open up. Also cut the small talk, we suck at that and really feel uncomfortable doing it.”

On Twitter one German told us “We are direct to the point of what most other cultures consider rudeness. Don't count on us getting what you consider clearly readable subtext during communication (especially if you're British!).”

Germans also expect honesty and directness back from you. 

Writer Mike Stuchbery, who’s married to a German, described his dating experience as “horrifying”.

“You have to explicitly tell them you like them, and that you want to spend with them,” he joked. 

'My German husband is very romantic'

The stereotype of Germans not being particularly romantic or showing love in public is very much alive. But, again, not everyone has the same experience.

Pippa Kühn said: “It can be different but my German husband is very romantic (very much to my surprise as I thought German guys are not romantic ) plus he's a PDA (public display of affection) kind of person; it makes me feel bashful sometimes.”

But she added: “I don't think PDA is a German thing.”

Photo: DPA

Kühn said PDAs didn’t feel so weird back in the States but “I have not seen other people do it here”.

Meanwhile, some people are pining for their days of German dating. Omar Robinson said :”I live in NYC currently, the dating here is atrocious. When I'm in Europe, particularly Berlin, I find the dating prospect much, much better.”

Tips for dating in Germany

Wherever you are in the world, the same rules apply when dating: be yourself, state your boundaries, be respectful and enjoy meeting new people.
 
It's trickier of course if you're in a country where you struggle to speak the language fluently.
 
Sami Wunder, a dating and relationship coach who is married to a German, said foreigners shouldn't be frustrated if they can't speak German.
 
“Communicate in German only if you can speak it well,” says Wunder, who splits her time between the UK and Germany. “Else switch to a language you are both comfortable in. Most educated Germans speak a fair amount of English and will be happy to oblige.
 
“This is important because it’s impossible to connect emotionally if one is struggling to express themselves in a foreign language! Of course, let them know you are learning German. That is always an asset and will be appreciated.”
 
What else should you think about?
 
Wunder says women are Germany are known for being “equality driven”.
 
This can mean, for example, that German men are used to women contributing to the bill on a date.
 
However, if women are looking for a different experience or are not used to this culture, Wunder advises her straight female clients “to let the men know explicitly that they are happy to have the man lead and plan the dates”.
 
She added: “Most men will be happy to oblige when you set the expectations right from the start.”
 
'German men can be exceptionally loyal'
 
Another point to think about it is that dating can often be “extremely sexually driven in Germany”, said Wunder. “It’s important for you to know why you’re dating and to have full clarity around your sexual boundaries and at what pace you’d like to move.”
 
The type of date might also be different to what some non-Germans are used to.
 
“It is common to go on a date and drink a beer together,” said Wunder. “Very unlike the American or UK culture where a dinner is a must when treating a lady right.”
 
Photo: DPA
 
“However, German men can be exceptionally loyal and honest once they do bond with you, so it’s worth staying open to the experience.”
 
Lots of people say it's hard to find a committed partner in big German cities like Berlin.
 
Relationship coach Hegmann said that's down to the city having a youthful population and that lots of people struggle to commit, believing there is a better person out there for them.
 
That makes finding a partner “frustrating” said Hegmann. “The problem is singles lose their optimism and self-confidence through many frustrating experiences,” he added.
 
“But optimism and self-confidence make you attractive and are absolutely necessary for successfully finding a partner.
 
“When I advise singles, it is mostly about strengthening self-confidence after hurtful experiences. It's really less about opportunities to get to know other people and instead it's looking at your own fear of getting hurt again and your personal strategies to prevent that.”
 
Thanks to everyone who shared their experiences and views for our article.
 

Member comments

  1. This thing about Germans not doing small talk on dates really creases me up. What exactly IS small talk, and come to think of it, then what is big talk . . . discussing the finer points of a Goethe poem? I married a German woman. She approached me in a hotel bar and asked if we might enjoy a drink together. Next thing, she dragged me towards the dance floor. We only had 20 minutes before I had to leave to catch a red-eye flight but during the last few minutes on the floor I managed to scrawl her e-Mail address on my wrist with a biro. We never looked back, having enjoyed the most wonderful relationship for more than 20 years now.

    So I think it’s important not to stereotype Germans in matters of flirting or dating. Actually, if there is a problem, it’s a far wider one that the national character innately involves strong elements of self-doubt and angst. But hey, this same character produced some of the world’s most wonderful and romantic poetry and music so it can’t all be bad!

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For members

GERMANY EXPLAINED

Why are shops in Germany closed on Sundays – and will it ever change?

Germany's strict ban on shops opening on Sundays can be a shock to foreigners. We looked at the culture around it, and spoke to one of the country's largest trade unions to find out if things are ever likely to change.

Why are shops in Germany closed on Sundays - and will it ever change?

It’s Sunday. You’ve invited people for dinner, but you’ve forgotten the most important ingredient. Tough luck – you’ll either have to do without or wait until Monday because your local shops are shut. 

Most of us are familiar with this inconvenience, and perhaps you’ve even found yourself screaming: “Why?” in frustration in front of a locked-up supermarket. 

But it’s something us adopted Germans have had to get used to. We decided to take a look at the reasons behind Germany’s ban on Sunday shopping – and to find out if it might change in future. 

Where does the rule come from?

The Sonntagsruhe or ‘Sunday rest’ principle is an integral part of German culture, so much so that it is enshrined in the German constitution (Grundgesetz).

Article 140 of the law, which has remained unchanged since 1919, says: “Sundays and state-recognised public holidays remain protected by law as days of rest from work and spiritual upliftment.” 

But the practice of not working on Sunday has been around for much longer. The idea that the seventh day of the week is a day of rest dates back to the old testament and was declared a general day of rest across the Roman Empire as early as 321, by Roman Emperor Constantine.

In the centuries since, however, most of Europe has gradually relaxed the strict ban on commercial activities on Sundays. 

But in Germany, the rules remain restrictive. It’s unlikely to change anytime soon partly because of religious reasons, and also in relation to the interests of workers.

Germany’s biggest trade union Verdi spelled out their view. “It’s not ‘modern’ to work seven days a week,” they told The Local. “That’s the Middle Ages.” 

What exactly does the law mean?

On the face of it, the German law forbids all forms of work on Sundays and public holidays, though numerous exceptions are laid out in the Working Time Act. 

As well as emergency and rescue services, hospitals, nursing and care facilities, exceptions include cultural and sporting activities, and the hospitality sector. 

Another notable exemption to the rule is bakeries, which are allowed to open for three hours on Sundays – which is why you may often find a long queue at your local baker if you want to get your freshly baked Brötchen on Sunday morning. 

A saleswoman reaches for a loaf of bread in a bakery.

A saleswoman reaches for a loaf of bread in a bakery. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Mohssen Assanimoghaddam

Illustrating how seriously the rule can be taken in Germany, there have even been cases of bakeries being sued for selling bread for too long on Sundays.

Shops, however, aren’t exempt from the rule and, the only way they can legally open on a Sunday is on a so-called verkaufsoffener Sonntag – Sunday trading day.

In most federal states, shops are allowed to open on between four and eight Sundays per year, and the States can decide when these should be. The chosen days must, however, be linked to a relevant occasion – such as a local festival, a market, a trade fair, or a similar event. 

Sunday openings also have to be recognisable as an exception to the general rule and Sunday openings that have already been approved can often be later overturned by the courts.

How strictly is the rule enforced?

Retailers who break the rules and open for business on Sunday can face fines ranging between €500 and €2,500.

The strictness of enforcement can vary widely between different regions.

In Berlin, for example, you can still find lots of Spätis (late night shops) open on Sundays. Although this is technically illegal, the authorities in the capital seem to take more of a relaxed approach to enforcement than in other states. 

A "Späti" late-night shop in Berlin.

A “Späti” late-night shop in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Florian Schuh

In the traditionally Catholic state of Bavaria, for example, the law is much more strictly guarded and enforced.

READ ALSO: Why Germany has strict shop opening hours

Is the law likely to change?

A survey by Spiegel in 2017 showed that 61 percent of Germans wanted to be able to shop on a Sunday, and this desire is shared by the trade industry.

The German Trade Association, for example, which represents around 400,000 independent companies, has strongly criticised Germany’s refusal to budge on the issue of Sunday openings on several occasions and argued that Sunday opening is also popular with staff, with many shop assistants appreciating the work in a more relaxed atmosphere.

In its latest statement on the issue, the association stated that, especially after following the economic impact of the pandemic, many retailers would benefit greatly from being able to open on Sundays. 

READ ALSO:

“It is remarkable that in no other EU country Sunday opening is as restricted as in Germany,” the association said. “Even in strongly Catholic EU countries such as Italy and Poland, shoppers can generally shop on Sundays. The same applies to France, although they place great value on culture and socialising.”

However, even if there is a widespread desire in some quarters to allow Sunday trading, an amendment to the constitution would require the consent of two-thirds of the German parliament. Also, there remains strong opposition to changing the rule from many workers’ groups and trade unions.

Trade union Verdi, which regularly files complaints against states and organisations which seek to deviate from Sunday trading restrictions, said that Sunday rest is still very important for workers.

A sign reads “Spring for Frankfurt – Sunday trading day” in front of a shoe shop in Frankfurt.

A sign reads “Spring for Frankfurt – Sunday trading day” in front of a shoe shop in Frankfurt. Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb | Arne Dedert

A spokesperson said: “We have just one day a week when employers can’t stop us from going to football together, meeting friends, attending cultural events, or spending free time with the whole family.

“And we want to keep it that way. There are six days a week when we can go shopping, take the car to the garage, do our banking, or get the package delivered from the online retailer. On Sunday, there has to be peace and quiet.”

The Verdi spokesperson added that it’s important to think about “work-life balance, and not about being available 24/7 for a company”.

We also asked the union if the law looks set to change in the near future.

The spokesperson said: “Sunday, which is a non-working day for most people, has so far been protected by the majority of political parties in Germany.

“Verdi, with its almost two million members, continues to work to ensure that working on Sunday does not become an everyday occurrence.”

So it appears that the culture shock for many non-Germans of shops being closed on Sundays won’t change anytime soon. 

READ ALSO: From nudity to sandwiches – the biggest culture shocks for foreigners in Germany

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