Social Graces

During my years in Germany, I learned about the social graces expected of me. I am speaking of the skills used to interact politely in social situations which include manners, etiquette, deportment, fashion and refinement. Basically, I discovered that being polite and welcoming in public went a long way. Showing kindness to others helped in establishing relationships and friendships.  It became customary in my German classes to teach students the customs and culture of Germany and German-speaking countries.

Germans are great hand-shakers I discovered. Everyone shakes hands, young and old, when they arrive and when they depart. In a group, you shake the hand of every single individual. Except for the accepted academic quarter hour of tardiness at universities, Germans pride themselves on being punctual. I noticed this most recently on digital trolley signs which counted the seconds until the next trolley would arrive.

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When customers enter smaller shops, they greet everyone. The same holds true of doctor’s waiting rooms. So I had plenty of practice saying “Guten Tag” and “Auf Wiedersehen.” The value of smiling at others was also helpful.

Flowers are usually expected if you’re invited to a German home for some social occasion such as a meal, party or coffee and cake. If the flowers are wrapped in paper, remember to take off the wrapping just before entering the home. Normally a lovely bouquet of flowers except red roses is a typical gift. In Germany, flowers are less expensive than in the US, and I enjoyed selecting the precise colors and flowers for a bouquet to bring the hostess. Fine chocolate is also an appropriate gift when invited over to a friend’s. A handwritten thank you letter is also expected for the invitation.

Some etiquette to remember in Germany is to use utensils and not your fingers to eat, even with pizza and fries. the only exception is bread which may be consumed using your hands. I had dinner in German homes and this meal consists mainly of open-faced sandwiches. There were baskets of bread. On the table were plates with butter, sausages and cheeses, pickles, mustard and other condiments. I watched my hosts put one slice of bread on their plates and put butter or mustard on the bread and top it with sausage or cheese. This was consumed with a knife and fork using continental style eating which for me took practice. The fork stays in the left hand with the tines pointed down, and the knife is held in the right hand.

Titles are also important when introducing others or greeting them. For example, it is quite normal to address someone with an academic title such as Herr Doktor Meier or Frau Doktor Niemczura. The use of the formal and familiar words for “you” in German comes with rules too. When in doubt, use the formal “Sie” instead of the more familiar form “Du.” A nice intermediate step might be to address persons by their first name if you have been given permission and then using “Sie” to continue the conversation. It is quite common for neighbors to address each other as Mr. or Mrs. even if they have been acquainted for many years. Americans tend to be more informal and use first names.

 

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13 Responses to Social Graces

  1. Annika Perry says:

    So much of the German social customs are similar to those in Sweden I found it quite natural. I still always greet people with a handshake and had to tell my husband on our first trip to visit family. Handshake in meeting and then on leaving – in a group of twenty departures can take some time! It’s the same with greeting people as and doesn’t it make for such a friendlier atmosphere? I did make the mistake many times of greeting Germans in the North with the southern traditional ‘Gruss Gott’ and got some very unfriendly stares! Such beautiful flowers and a lovey start to my day. We often give flowers on birthdays, be they for female or male friends. The first time my mother gave some to her friend’s husband’s birthday they became mute with shock and confusion! Never easy doing the right thing! Wishing you a lovely weekend, Mary Ann – or should I say Frau Doktor Niemczura! 😀

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    • Handshakes make for a friendlier atmosphere I think. The custom of giving flowers to both males and females is also lovely. My first Fulbright exchange partner from the south of Germany had an interview in Berlin and got on an elevator saying Grüß Gott. She proceeded to tell me she used her best Hochdeutsch for the remainder of the elevator ride. Someone then asked her where in the south she was from. She was baffled that they knew. There was laughter as they told her how she had greeted them on the elevator. In Berlin, I had to get used to people saying “Hallo” to one another. Mary Ann is fine. We are not in Germany now. I do get mail from Germany sometimes addressed to “Mrs. Doctor Niemczura” and smile at how polite and correct they are! Is it true that in phone books in Sweden, you need to know a person’s profession to find them instead of alphabetically? I love the flowers at our local supermarket called Wegmans. I too love flowers and received a bouquet today for my birthday from my dear husband.

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      • Annika Perry says:

        A very Happy Birthday to you! Here is a virtual bouquet from me to add to your real one. 💐 I wish you a lovely day. Are you have a family celebration with your children? I asked my mother about the Swedish telephone directories and she was emphatic that no, they are not by profession rather by surname and then first name.To quote her she says; ‘People are actually quite shy about professing their professions’.

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      • Why thank you for the wishes, Annika. My children have phoned and sent me lovely presents but can’t visit me now. It’s the thought that counts. I did some searching about the phone directory and came up with Iceland. I was friends with a girl from Iceland during my student years in Heidelberg. The Wall Street Journal had an article about names and I’ll print here what was written about the phone directory:
        “And since there are technically no last names, Icelanders refer to each other simply by first name. All directories such as the telephone directory are alphabetized by first name. To reduce ambiguity, the telephone directory goes further by also listing professions. For example, Icelanders call prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir simply Jóhanna, singer Björk is just Björk. Even the president will be addressed as Ólafur, whether formally or casually.”
        The link to the article is: http://wsimag.com/culture/2248-the-peculiarities-of-icelandic-naming
        So there you have it and mystery solved. I recalled this random fact and somehow thought it was Sweden. Or Denmark or Norway? At the time I originally heard that fact, I thought it odd that I would have to look someone up by profession instead of name. Thanks for the comment and birthday wishes.

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  2. Thank you for the virtual bouquet. Lovely!

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    • Annika Perry says:

      You’re welcome! How fascinating about the Icelandic names and thank you for including the link – interesting reading. Their names must be super long! I learn something new every day here on WP.

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      • In graduate school at Vanderbilt University, I had a course of Old Norse. Although it is no longer spoken, the professor would read aloud and have us also do so. I got used to such long names. The endings of names in Old Norse were usually -sonir and -dottir or son of and then the person’s name or daughter of followed by the person’s name. So Peterson would be son of Peter. I had forgotten that about Icelandic names until I read the Wall St. Journal article. Life is full of “stuff” to learn along the path. I think you are another lifelong learner like I am. Enjoy the path of life! I recall of reading about Erik the Red. The link has some interesting words which have survived in today’s English. https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/139-norse-words

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      • Annika Perry says:

        I read through the lists and most words are actual Scandinavian words. Maybe with your old Norse and my Swedish we could converse! (Outside of English, of course.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • And don’t forget our German too! I love conversing with you in any language!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Tom says:

    I like all the pictures. The German dinner platters are the best! Nice article Frau Doktor 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh dear, I think I’d be in trouble! It’s easy to forget that there are cultural norms to be learned when traveling abroad. It’s fascinating and learning about other cultures is part of the fun. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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    • I found that no matter where I have been in the world that people are basically friendly. If you, the traveler, are polite and respect them, it is usually fine. Remember the expression about “when in Rome, do as the Romans do?” – well, there is much truth to that. Thanks for the comment and visit.

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