Getting Along with the Germans

At a glance

Germans - contrary to some clichés - are actually quite easy to get along with! But all cultures have their idiosyncrasies, so this page provides some helpful pointers to get you off to a good start with the people you'll meet here.

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Even if of course you can't speak about "the Germans" as such, we would like to make a special mention of a few characteristics you may come across and that can sometimes be confusing for non-Germans.

For further information on culture and other aspects of living in Germany such as learning the language, you can also check the Euraxess Portal.

Family and Friends

A study recently showed that Germans are considered to be very sociable - contrary to all clichés that they are reserved and have no sense of humor. Professional performance and success are particularly important for most Germans, as is leisure time, which is best spent with family and friends (not necessarily work colleagues).


In professional situations, Germans place great emphasis on being correct and punctual. It is therefore helpful to keep to the agreed time for meetings or presentations. This also applies to private appointments. If you cannot keep an appointment or are likely to be late, it is advisable to give notice of this in good time through a colleague or by phone.

Greeting People and making Eye Contact

When greeting people and saying goodbye, it is customary to shake hands and look at the person. It would be impolite not to make eye contact - this also applies in direct conversation with someone. Hugging is only customary among close friends.

Formality: forms of Address

Unless you know someone well, and for people in a senior person and older colleagues, when speaking German it's advisable not to use the informal "Du" form - unless they have offered it to you, you should address people using the more formal "Sie" form and their last name. At universities and research institutes, however, academic titles are usually omitted when addressing people and the "Du" form has now become widely established among younger people. If you are unsure, it is best to wait until someone introduces himself/herself and uses the appropriate form.

Communication: being direct

It is said of the Germans that they are very direct in their dealings with one another and in communication. This is true. Germans tend to get to the point quickly and work and communicate in a focussed and result-driven way. Private and general small talk are usually kept separate, but terms of a contract, work allocation and timetables often drive discussions. This can be quite confusing for people from cultural groups where the emphasis is more on relationships.

Sticking to the Point, being Frank, and (not) giving Praise

Because they are more focussed on facts, Germans tend to give presentations that are very specific and based on figures and background facts. Therefore, be aware in your own presentations that this is what is required. The tone in meetings can sometimes seem rather brusque. The reason for this is normally the committed debate or discussion. This may occasionally have an unfriendly or even complicated effect; however, from a German perspective, this is simply a means to an end and does not have anything to do with personal esteem. You will see that a possibly strict tone will quickly revert to normal at the end of the meeting. Do not be confused if you do not receive any positive feedback or praise for your work. As long as no one says anything, you can assume that everything is OK.

Hierarchy and Gender Equality

There are clear divisions between the different levels in the hierarchies. It is always advisable to be aware of the status of the people you are working with and not to by-pass the individual levels in working relationships. However, there is no discrimination in hierarchy between men and women. Women have equal rights and work in top jobs - although much less often than men. It is quite common in families for both parents to work; more and more men are taking time out to bring up their children while the woman goes out to work. A woman's instructions must be followed and carried out just as those of male colleagues. A common approach by men and women is not unusual and should therefore not be interpreted in any particular way.

Mistakes and Criticism

Even away from the work environment, you may find that strangers or acquaintances, e.g. neighbors, will point out alleged "mistakes", for instance if someone supposedly makes too much noise in their apartment, has parked incorrectly or has taken an allocated space. Take this in good spirit (it is a learning curve for all of us...). Don't hesitate to ask your Personal Support at any time if you're unsure how to handle a situation, if anything seems strange, or you think it is going too far.

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