German words you need to know: Der Smalltalk

German words you need to know: Der Smalltalk
You might not get so much 'Smalltalk' when you socialise in Germany compared to your home country. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roland Weihrauch
This word comes from English, but get ready for the German version - and it may not be what you're used to.

If you have lived in Germany for any length of time, you will have noticed that locals tend to skip over the social niceties you may expect from a conversation. The Germans are so disillusioned with the idea of small talk that they don’t even normally use a German word to describe it – the English loan word der Smalltalk is used instead. 

You will probably be familiar with the idea of German efficiency – though if you have ever had to deal with Deutsche Bahn you will know this is a myth. It is clear this time-saving trait even extends to the art of conversation. What is the point of wasting precious seconds discussing trivialities when you could jump straight to discussing the big issues?

READ ALSO: ‘They don’t do small talk’: Why foreigners in Germany find it hard to make friends

A new word – der Smalltalker – has emerged in recent years to describe someone who prattles on about trivial matters, never moving beyond the tedious stage of getting to know someone. Try to steer clear of being labeled a Smalltalker, or you might not be the most welcome party guest.  

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Germans are not shy about discussing politics and global issues with friends, and at first you might be surprised how quickly a conversation can shift to these daunting topics. Sometimes a bit of polite conversation can help ease you into a discussion and get a read on whoever you are talking to, meaning it can be fairly intimidating to be plunged straight in at the deep end. 

READ ALSO: German phrase of the day: über Gott und die Welt reden

Perhaps the Germans are just too serious to engage in lighthearted small talk. In English, and especially American English, asking someone ‘how are you?’ is really just a greeting, and we don’t tend to expect more than a polite ‘okay’ in response. Ask a German this question, though, and they might mistake your lightheartedness for genuine concern – don’t be surprised if they launch straight into the various ailments and calamities that have been plaguing them recently. 

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Examples: 

Während der Pandemie haben viele Mitarbeiter vergessen, wie man mit anderen Smalltalk macht. 

During the pandemic, lots of employees have forgotten how to make small talk with each other.

Der übliche Smalltalk auf Partys war ihm zuwider und er wollte tiefere Diskussionen führen. 

He hated the usual small talk at parties and wanted to have deeper conversations.


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