For members


10 reasons why a German might be staring at you

Sometimes it is hard to get your head around all the social norms in Germany. But fear not, a local will be there to help - by putting you straight with a withering look.

10 reasons why a German might be staring at you
Photo: DPA

Among older Germans in particular, a disapproving stare is a feared weapon for putting people who break the country’s social codes in their place. 

Some expats feel like they get it just for looking different, with one writer dubbed it the “the Germanic stare down.”

A quick look through Google reveals that many expats have been on the wrong end of a German stare – and none have found it very pleasant.

So what are the common faux pas that make a German stop in their tracks and look you unblinkingly in the eye?

Ordering a glass of tap water

Photo: DPA

Some people seem to see free water in restaurants as a right as vital as voting and free speech (cough, cough… Brits). But in Germany, things are a little different.

If you are eating lunch at a restaurant it is very impolite to ask for a glass of tap water. Sometimes a waiter will eyeball you before giving an abrupt “nein.” At other times they will bring the but stare you hard in the eye while putting it down.

READ ALSO: Oh fork: The German dining etiquette Americans might struggle with

There is a reason for this rudeness: in Germany, business lunches are often so cheap that the restaurant makes a lot of its profit on the drinks that people buy.

Taking out the trash on a Sunday

Sunday is Ruhetag in Germany, something that is taken so seriously that there are even laws defining what you are allowed to do. Drilling in your apartment for example is strengst verboten

But even if you take your trash out, you could disturb a neighbour who is reading his Sonntagszeitung. This is sure to lead to a furrow-browed glare through the window.

Not obeying the Ampelmann

Photo: DPA

Yes, this is perhaps the most cliched example of German rule-obeying, but we had to mention it anyway.

Cross a street while the Ampelmann is still red (especially if there are children in the vicinity) and you are sure to get a stare or two from angry bystanders.

Addressing on older colleague with Du

Among the older generations, it can take months or even years of knowing one another before one switches from Sie to the more familiar Du. The signal for when this is appropriate is normally given by the more senior person.

If you work at an old fashioned company and strike up a conversation with a senior colleague by using Du and their first name without having first been given permission, you are sure to be on the receiving end of a piercing stare.

Using Sie with a classmate at uni

On the flip side, if you address a classmate at university with Sie, they are probably going to wonder which century you were born in.

Wearing lederhosen outside Bavaria

Photo: DPA

Some tourists who come to Germany seem to think that lederhosen are the national dress. But while you might see a few of the leather breeches in other cities during Oktoberfest, they are Alpine attire and are rarely seen north of Munich.

Wearing them in Hamburg or Cologne is more likely to elicit a smirk than an angry glare, but you are sure to notice plenty of eyes on you. 

Talking too loudly inside

Photo: DPA

Respect for other people’s personal space is an important concept in Germany. If your group starts chatting loudly and enthusiastically in a restaurant, take a moment to look around. Someone on every table will be sending mental daggers through the air.

Putting your feet up on a chair

Let’s face it, this is an unacceptable habit in any culture. But putting your feet up on the chair in one of Germany’s swanky high speed trains is not going to make you any friends on your journey. You can thank your lucky stars if you only get a nasty look.

Having unruly children

Many German pensioners still hold onto the maxim that children should be seen but not heard.

If young parents are struggling to keep control of their children on a hot day in the Berlin U-Bahn, they are not always met with sympathetic looks from members of the older generation. 

Wearing swim toggles in the sauna

Photo: DPA

And lastly, the greatest faux pas of them all – wearing a bikini or swimming shorts in the sauna. This is taken so seriously, one wonders whether it has been written into the German Verfassung.

READ ALSO: The truth laid bare: What you need to know about Germany's sauna culture

Should shyness get the better of you and you take your place in the sauna covered in Textil, you’ll feel an extra heat on the back of your head – the burning glares of a dozen angry sauna goers!

Member comments

  1. I’m fascinated by this article.

    It represents very little of what I have known, and experienced, from “German” society/behaviour for 30+ years now.

  2. I think it is definitely true that “Respect for other people’s personal space is an important concept in Germany.” Or perhaps “personal peace and quiet” would be more accurate.

    Whatever, there is another social norm that sometimes overrides this respect – “If you do not completely and constantly dominate your place while standing in line, then you are signalling that someone else can just take it”.

    This doesn’t just apply to supermarket queues, but also merging in traffic, where it can be pretty stressful. One of the things I miss about England is the concept of ‘civilised queueing’. And holding doors open for people. And saying “Excuse me.” And “No, please, after you!” And, you know, “Thank you.” The list goes on.

    But one thing I have noticed, is that when you behave that way in Germany, they actually really appreciate it – after recovering from the shock that a stranger was nice to them for no particular reason 🙂

    Basically all social niceties with strangers!

  3. I’m stared at ALL the time but mostly on the trains. I think for how I look and for speaking English. But I found a perfect antidote! I stare back with a big smile on my face. They then act as if I physically wounded them. They become so uncomfortable and start twitching and immediately turn their gaze away and never look at me again. Triumph! It is an odd phenomenon by Germans – the staring and it is true – they love to boldy stare at you.

  4. Hold a sign written in German saying “Direct staring is in most cultures, an affront to the privacy of other people and will be taken as a pretext to physical ggression in yet others” Do not do this outside of Germany if you value your teeth.

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For members


Reader question: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?

Unlike in EU countries such as Portugal or Spain, Germany does not have a visa specifically for pensioners. Yet applying to live in the Bundesrepublik post-retirement is not difficult if you follow these steps.

Reader question: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?
Two pensioners enjoying a quiet moment in Dresden in August 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

Due to its quality of life, financial security and health care, Germany snagged the number 10 spot in the 2020 Global Retirement Index. So just how easy is it to plant roots in Deutschland after your retirement?

Applying for a residency permit

As with any non-EU or European Economic Area (EEA) national looking to stay in Germany for longer than a 90-day period, retirees will need to apply for a general resident’s permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) under which it will be possible to select retirement as a category. 

READ ALSO: How does Germany’s pension system measure up worldwide?

This is the same permit for those looking to work and study in Germany – but if you would like to do either after receiving a residency permit, you will need to explicitly change the category of the visa.

Applicants from certain third countries (such as the US, UK, Australia, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Canada, and New Zealand) can first come to Germany on a normal tourist visa, and then apply for a residency permit when in the country. 

However, for anyone looking to spend their later years in Germany, it’s still advisable to apply at their home country’s consulate at least three months in advance to avoid any problems while in Germany.

Retirement visas still aren’t as common as employment visas, for example, so there could be a longer processing time. 

What do you need to retire in Germany?

To apply for a retirement visa, you’ll need proof of sufficient savings (through pensions, savings and investments) as well as a valid German health insurance. 

If you have previously worked in Germany for at least five years, you could qualify for Pensioner’s Health Insurance. Otherwise you’ll need to apply for one of the country’s many private health insurance plans. 

Take note, though, that not all are automatically accepted by the Ausländerbehörde (foreigners office), so this is something you’ll need to inquire about before purchasing a plan. 

READ ALSO: The perks of private health insurance for expats in Germany

The decision is still at the discretion of German authorities, and your case could be made stronger for various reasons, such as if you’re joining a family member or are married to a German. Initially retirement visas are usually given out for a year, with the possibility of renewal. 

Once you’ve lived in Germany for at least five full years, you can apply for a permanent residency permit, or a Niederlassungserlaubnis. To receive this, you will have to show at least a basic knowledge of the German language and culture.

READ ALSO: How to secure permanent residency in Germany

Taxation as a pensioner

In the Bundesrepublik, pensions are still listed as taxable income, meaning that you could be paying a hefty amount on the pension from your home country. But this is likely to less in the coming years.

Tax is owed when a pensioner’s total income exceeds the basic tax-free allowance of €9,186 per year, or €764 per month. From 2020 the annual taxable income for pensioners will increase by one percent until 2040 when a full 100 percent of pensions will be taxable.

American retirees in Germany will also still have to file US income taxes, even if they don’t owe any taxes back in the States. 

In the last few years there has been a push around Germany to raise the pension age to 69, up from 65-67, in light of rising lifespans.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Could people in Germany still be working until the age of 68?