Are Germans rude? A few Thoughts on “Höflichkeit”

An Indian CEO once told me that his friends often ask him if Germans are rude. I wouldn’t say so; only that our understanding of being polite („höflich“) is different. For example, for us, being polite means holding the door for others (even if we do not know them), addressing people formally (even if they are waiting on our table at a restaurant), and being careful not to disturb others in public (e.g., on a bus). Somebody who is speaking loudly on the phone on the Intercity-Express from Munich to Frankfurt is considered rude. Ignoring the person following you when you enter Hofbräuhaus and letting the door fall shut in his or her face, or trying to jump the queue at the box office is considered rude.

If you like to see someone in Germany, better arrange for a meeting.

But, if the booth receptionist of your want-to-be business partner at Hannover Messe is – with a soft voice – telling you that no, Ms. Müller cannot talk to you since she is busy with her pre-arranged key account meetings, it is just so you don’t waste your time returning to the booth again and again.

Englishman Adam Fletcher, who is living with his German girlfriend in Berlin, explains: “English is not about what you say, but how you say it. German is both, but more the former.” In his book, How to be German, he elaborates: “[W]hat Germans say tends to be direct and prepared with minimal ambiguity. Ruthlessly efficient, if you will. In English, for example, if you want someone to do something for you, you do not merely go up to that person and ask them to do something for you…[Germans] just say ‘I need this, do it, by this date. Alles klar?’ then walk off.”

Therefore, Germans are not well-versed in reading between the lines or understanding vague hints. If you’d like to borrow money from a German, don’t tell him or her how hungry you are, how much you like German food, and how unfortunate it is that the three Euros in your pocket won’t suffice to buy you a bratwurst sandwich. Just say: “Can I borrow five Euros to get a hot dog? I’ll return the money beginning of next week, promise!”

How may I help you?

You want to develop your business in Germany? Then you may also face some very common pitfalls; the good news is that they can be quite easily avoided! You should hire me if you want to gain a better understanding of your opportunities, and you value a local’s help in finding buyers and potential business partners. Learn more about some past projects and what I can do for you: You’ll make it in Germany!

You are (only) interested in learning more about Germany?

The focus of the book is to help readers understand how certain concepts and values influence the way Germans like to do business.
Doing Business in Germany: A Concise Guide to Understanding Germans and Their Business Practices

Above are snippets from my new book. You want to learn more about Germany? Then try to grab a copy of Doing Business in Germany : A Concise Guide to Understanding Germans and Their Business Practices. Either ask your bookseller to order a copy for you (might take a few days, though), or look out for it on amazon.