Top 10 German Culture Faux Pas to Avoid When Traveling

Are you planning a trip to Germany? Like every country, Germany has its own set of unique customs. Something that you’re used to doing in America might be considered rude in Germany.

To avoid coming off as an ugly American or bumbling tourist, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the German culture.

Lucky for you, we’ve enlisted several German travel bloggers to help round up the top 10 German culture faux pas to avoid when traveling.

1. Take it easy on the drinking

“One of the best parts about the Germans? They love and know how to party! Can we blame them? The beer in this country is so good, any visit just isn’t a real visit without having a Maßkrug in your hand while singing and dancing. This doesn’t mean however, one should overdo it,”said Derek and Marc of The Migrant Expats.

“Being publicly intoxicated is a major no-go. In most cases meandering drunks are met with a distasteful grimace from the locals, in others, being too drunk could lead to arrest and heavy fines.”

2. Never ask for tap water

In the United States, it’s common for restaurant-goers to ask for a glass of tap water. In Germany, however, requesting tap water is a big no-no. Why?

The German word for tap water is “Leitungswasser,” which means plumbing water. Obviously, one doesn’t want to wash down their sauerkraut with a glass of plumbing water.

3. Don’t step out of line

When in Germany, be on your best behavior. Germans are extremely punctual and well-mannered. Showing up late, losing your cool, or raising your voice are all considered rude and thoughtless.

If you step out of line, don’t be surprised or offended if someone corrects your behavior, as this is very common in the German culture.

4. Get used to using a fork

You better think twice before picking up that piece of pizza or pretzel with your hands. Germans never eat with their hands with the exception of breaking off a piece of bread. Even French fries are eaten with a fork!

When in doubt, use a fork when eating. Another tip, when you’re finished with your meal, place your knife and fork side by side (not crossed) to signal that you are done. 

5. No one cares that you’re American

“If you’re from the U.S. and you plan on visiting Germany, please keep one thing in mind: No one cares that you’re American. When I first arrived in Germany, I thought I would stand out as a foreigner, like, obviously. I assumed my aura was a blinding fireworks display of stars and stripes with bald eagles soaring overhead. I thought I would be special here, and not just when I opened my yap and made with the Yankee talk, but also by my appearance, my clothes — hell, just the sweet nectar of freedom seeping from my pores — would be enough to out me as an American. Nope. Nobody noticed, and nobody cared,” said Orin G. McGillicutty of Oh God, My Wife Is German.

“Germans are a very well-traveled people. They get a lot of paid time off work, and they often spend it visiting other countries. Also, it’s typical for them to live a few years abroad for education and professional training, especially in the U.S. This is why, when you visit Germany and your American nationality comes up in conversation, it’ll have all the social clout of table salt.”

6. Skip the small talk

Contrary to popular belief, Germans are actually a quite talkative bunch—they just don’t like meaningless small talk. Germans are known for being very direct, which shouldn’t be mistaken for rudeness or coldness.

When having a conversation, speak clearly and precisely. If you say to someone, “Hey, how’s it going?” don’t be surprised if they go into a 10-minute spiel about how they are. Germans interpret this common English greeting very literally.

7. Don’t even think about jaywalking

“Germans are world-renowned for their order rules and they certainly know how to follow them. For instance, expect to wait at the crosswalk until the green man (Ampelmann) gives you the go ahead or feel the wrath of the older citizens. One rule I cannot get used to are the mandated quiet hours,” said Alex Butts of Speaking Denglish.”

“Quiet hours occur all day Sunday and Monday through Saturday from 13:00 – 15:00 and after 22:00. During these hours, you cannot vacuum, mow the lawn, or play music too loud. If it can be heard outside your apartment or car, it is considered disturbing. This seems reasonable and for the most part it is – that is until your neighbor complains that you are talking too loudly on your balcony.”

8. Know when to knock and when to applaud

In the U.S., people clap for a number of different reasons—and sometimes for no reason at all. In Germany, however, clapping is reserved for the theater or a concert.

In schools, it’s common for students to knock on their desks to applaud a lecture or presentation. In fact, applauding in this type of setting is considered negative. Knocking is also a common form of greeting used in German pubs.

9. Don’t wish someone an early birthday

Germans and Americans celebrate birthdays in a similar fashion—but with one exception. Never wish a German a happy birthday or give them a card or present before their birthday. This is major no-no, as it’s considered bad luck.

Speaking of birthdays, it’s tradition to pour flour on top of someone’s head on their 16th birthday and crack eggs over the head of someone turning 18.

10. Respect a German’s privacy

Germans greatly value their privacy and personal space. Never ask someone to give you a tour of their home; don’t greet someone with a hug unless you are close friends; and stay at least an arm’s distance or more away when having a conversation with another individual.

Also, the topics of money and family are off limits, as Germans tend to be extremely private when it comes to their personal lives. Surprisingly, however, Germans enjoy talking about politics!

Most Germans will understand if you make an innocent mistake. Chances are they’ve made one or two mistake while traveling to a foreign country themselves. Nonetheless, it’s always a good idea to brush up on the German culture and language before traveling aboard.


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5 replies
  1. Rene
    Rene says:

    Either things have changed greatly since I was last in Germany, or most of these rules don’t apply in Bavaria, where I spent ten years. 1) Ever been to a Gasthaus? Drunks everywhere! SAme with 3) and Oktoberfest? Forgetaboutit! 4) Seldom was corrected for eating pizza or fries with fingers. 5) “You are American?” Then the usual litany of what movie stars or politicians they love or hate. Of course during the cold war, I also got a few “American go home!” (To be fair, heard this in London as well). Also, the author may feel that Germans are well traveled, but they usually stay within Europe. My German visitors usually go wide-eyed when they see a Super Wal-Mart or Target – most Germans still shop in small local stores (think Aldis). 7) jaywalking was common in downtown Munich “Munchen” and Nurnberg. and finally 10) I was amazed on how my German in-laws and acquaintances would announce how much their purchases (including gifts) cost and would ask the same of me. And polite? Not when it comes to movie lines or ski lift lines where it was every man for himself!
    Don’t think I am denigrating Germans, I LOVE Germany and Germans! My first your of duty was in Bad Toelz, southern Bavaria, 5000 plus foot elevation with snow in June occasionally. More than once, kind-hearted Germans stopped to help push my car out of snow banks or ditches on the small, winding mountain roads. Great country and folks! Would love to retire in Munich!

  2. Christina
    Christina says:

    Being German but married to an American, I find it very interesting how different the cultures are. But some things I have to correct as a German – It all depends where in Germany you are. In the north, of course you use for each and everything a fork, but do not be surprised about the looks you get in the south, if you try to eat a Brezel with a fork, that is very funny there! Also questionable – the shoe issue. In the south, they like you to wipe your shoes on the front carpet bevor walking in, but they do not like to meet your nude feet, may be in the north or middle it is a bit different but I would suggest to leave you feet in your shoes unless bevor walking in, you are told to put your shoes off. To be drunken is def. a no go accept at special parties (Oktoberfest, Seenachtsfest ect.) or in small countryside pubs. The Germans are well traveled but it depends on their age – where the 50+ indeed does like to trip arround Europe the most junger people are more travelling arround the world. It is not needed to bring flowers if you are invited, but it is a nice gesture and will bring you a truely warm smile. What kind of flowers you bring matters to the person that invited you, ask in the flowershop and you will never be with the wrong ones. Because we are a very interested and open society, it does not matter if you are from the US, Spain or China, nobody will be treated different, but your own story is interesting. At least, do not be surprised if a German is holding on to his or her opinion, even if unpleasant, they will not agree with something what they can not sign for. Don`t be offended by this, they are just a very truthful folk.

  3. Michael
    Michael says:

    Hi, I want to correct one thing, Leitungswasser means tap water, not plumbing water.
    A lot of people drink tap water, even in restaurants, people will judge you and think you are stingy for just ordering tap water and not buying a regular drink, but as long as you also order something else asking for tap water is fine. Also, tap water is drinkable and actually of very high quality in most regions in Germany.


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