German habits For Members

Ask an expert: Do Germans really hate small talk?

Aaron Burnett
Aaron Burnett - [email protected]
Ask an expert: Do Germans really hate small talk?
It's rare for Germans to make small talk with strangers, but some topics are fair game with co-workers, depending on the situation. Photo: Pexels, Tim Douglas

Germans stereotypically avoid small talk like the plague - but according to an expert, there are still a few good times to try it out.


The rumour that Germans really don’t like small talk that much is mostly true – according to Nandine Meyden, a German etiquette expert, author, and communications trainer with 25 years of experience in the field.

“Small talk exists in Germany,” she told the latest episode of The Local’s Germany in Focus podcast. “Most Germans don’t like it very much and they try to avoid it.”

Meyden says that, unlike in many English-speaking countries, like the US or UK, there are many situations in Germany where people simply don’t make small talk with strangers.


So expect that you might get some weird looks if you try to chat up someone in a supermarket line, while waiting for a bus, or even if you try and say anything beyond that awkward hello Germans sometimes give everyone in the waiting room of a doctor’s office.

If you do try and make small talk with a stranger, expect a glance ranging anywhere from an expression of annoyance to pure terror.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some situations where small talk happens, especially when Germans are in some sort of relationship with you that requires some kind of friendly familiarity, without getting too much into your private life.

“People do small talk with their neighbours, when they do some work in the garden,” Meyden says, adding that you might also say hello and make some small talk with your neighbour if you see them at the supermarket, for example.

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Small talk at work

Business is another area where you’ll see some small talk in Germany – but not to the same extent as you might be used to, for example, if you’ve worked in English-speaking countries. Meetings may have some small talk at the beginning, but this will generally top out after only a couple of minutes and the real agenda items of the meeting will start.

“In some meetings, people have more small talk but it depends a little bit on the business area,” says Meyden. IT workers and mathematicians are likely to engage in it less, while people who communicate regularly as part of their jobs tend to have more.

Etiquette expert Nadine Meyden

Etiquette expert Nadine Meyden. Photo credit: Marcel Hasübert

In general, Meyden also says younger people are more likely to be up for a chat at lunch or around the coffee machine, while older Germans tend to try to avoid mixing their business and personal lives the same way – and aren’t likely to talk about what they did on the weekend or on their holidays.

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What topics are safe for small talk?

Even if you’re in a situation where you can engage in some small talk, Meyden says choosing a topic is still a bit different in Germany than it might be elsewhere.

“It depends a little bit, especially in business situations, how much you would like to share from your personal and your private world,” she says.

Younger people are more likely than older Germans to talk about their weekend or even about their children, for example. But particularly safe go-to topics with a younger German might be what films they want to see or what television series they enjoy watching.

However, unlike in countries like the UK for example, where the weather is a very safe go-to topic, it isn’t likely to go down as well in German small talk.

“Most Germans think it’s superficial to talk about the weather,” Meyden says.

However, she still encourages it from time to time – even with her German clients. That’s because it can be a good opener to other topics, for example if someone likes to exercise outdoors during good weather, which can lead to another discussion about outdoor hobbies.

READ ALSO: Ask a German: Do you ever make small talk?


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