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An Introduction to Social Graces

It does not take long to notice typical characteristics of daily life and customs in Germany. As elsewhere, many of these characteristics are gradually disappearing as a result of social mobility and increasing travel opportunities.

When addressing strangers (officially over 15 years of age), you should use Sie and the person’s surname (Können Sie mir bitte helfen? / Could you help me please?). Germans often use this form of address throughout their lives, even in daily contact with each other. Particularly the older and middle-aged generations find it difficult to switch to du and need a suitable occasion on which the senior or older person offers du to his or her junior.

The younger generation (up to about 30 years of age) is more relaxed. Young people often say du to each other and use first names from the first meeting. It is best to wait and see how people approach you, then take the cue.

Certain rules also govern the use of academic titles. If you have an academic title, do not use it when addressing people. At academic institutes and similar establishments where many people have academic titles, they are usually dropped.

You will immediately notice another common characteristic – Germans invariably shake hands when saying “hello” or “goodbye.” But this has become rare among younger people in a relaxed environment. A kiss on the cheek is relatively rare and usually restricted to the younger generation.