Customs Tips

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What do people do on Nikolaustag?

Nikolaustag procedures

The 6th of December is St. Nikolaus` Day in Germany. Although this is not a public holiday, it is taken rather serious, and people make an effort to celebrate. It starts the night before, when kids shine their boots and put them in front of their bedroom doors. According to folklore, St. Nikolaus will appear overnight and put little gifts into their boots if they have been `good` throughout the year. `Bad` kids will only receive a bunch of twigs (a birch). Traditional St. Nikolaus gifts include apples, oranges, Christmas cookies, specially wrapped candy, and small toys. There is also an alternative to shoe shining: red "Nikolausstiefel" (St. Nikolaus` boots) made out of plastic, which are sold in all major German grocery stores. They are available empty, or filled with candy. St. Nikolaus is said to resemble Santa Claus, hence the red and fur-trimmed boots (usually cotton). It is customary for co-workers to put candy on each other`s desks early in the morning of December 6th. Some companies choose this date to hold their annual Christmas party. St. Nikolaus, however, does not make a personal appearance on this day, and kids have to wait until Christmas Eve to see `a real Santa`.

What is Nikolaustag or Nicklas´ Day?

St. Nicklas' Day

In Germany, the 6th of December is St. Nicklas' Day (Nikolaustag). The saint brings small gifts to children, who have been good throughout the year. Bad kids get a strap (usually a small bundle of twigs, also sold with bits of candy). The candy is put into polished boots or commercial plastic ones, which kids put in front of their bedroom doors. It is also common for co-workers to distribute candy on that day.

What is "Advent"?


In Germany, people get ready for the holidays by observing the time of "Advent" (arrival), the "Adventszeit." Children receive an "Adventskalender" (a calendar). It is a colorful flat cardboard box with 24 windows, each filled with a piece of chocolate, or a toy. Each day, a window is opened. Handmade "Adventskalender" are also a popular school project.

What is the accepted time period for a private phone call?

Calling hours for private phone calls

As most Germans do not have lunch hours, you will need to call them in the evening. Most people have dinner around 6 - 7 p.m. (not a good time to call). Anything afterwards is fine, unless it is already past 9 p.m. - Calling after nine is either considered rude, or the person called thinks it is an emergency.

What is carnival in Germany like?

German Carnival

German carnival (Fasching or Karneval) traditionally starts at 11:11:11 CET on each November 11 (i.e. on the eleventh day of the eleventh month). It lasts until the dawn of Ash Wednesday the following year. The highlight of the season is Rosenmontag, the Monday before Ash Wednesday. It is not a day of `roses` as the name would imply, but a day of `going wild`
('rasen', in German). Fasching is different from north to south. Up north, it is centered around Cologne and also referred to as "Karneval", down south, especially in the Black Forest area, it is called "Fastnacht".
There, its origin is pagan, whereas northern Karneval has Christian roots. What both have in common are the colorful parades, outrageous costumes and special party foods (Krapfen). The last Thursday of Karneval is called "Weiberfastnacht". On this particular day, females can do `anything` they want to do. So watch out if you are male and in one of Germany`s carnival
centers at the time!

Where does the term "Ostern" come from?

The Origin of Easter

The term "Ostern" (Easter) originates from an ancient Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn, who was named "Eastre", "Eostre", or "Ostara". Eostre, apparently is a European version of Astarte/Isis and some even associate her with the Hindu goddess Kali. Eostara is a lunar holiday, honoring a lunar Goddess at the Vernal Full Moon. The time of celebration is very special and determined by the Church on the Sunday, following the Vernal Equinox. Thus Easter is always the first Sunday, after the first full Moon, after the Vernal Equinox. If Easter Sunday were to fall on the Full Moon itself, Easter will be postponed to the following Sunday instead. Eostre's chief symbols were the hare, both for fertility and because her worshipers saw a hare in the full moon, and the egg, symbolic of the cosmic egg of creation. Related terms are "estrus" and "estrogen" (the female hormone). Not only is estrus related to reproduction, it is also seasonal and in the case of humans (one of the few animals that does not exhibit strict seasonal reproduction) it is also approximately lunar. Thus, the honoring of Christ coincides with the awakening of nature to new life after the wintry sleep.

What is carnival in Germany like?

German carnival

German carnival (Fasching or Karneval) traditionally starts at 11:11:11 CET on each November 11 (i.e. on the eleventh day of the eleventh month). It lasts until the dawn of Ash Wednesday the following year. The highlight of the season is Rosenmontag, the Monday before Ash Wednesday. It is not a day of `roses` as the name would imply, but a day of `going wild`
('rasen', in German). Fasching is different from north to south. Up north, it is centered around Cologne and also referred to as "Karneval", down south, especially in the Black Forest area, it is called "Fastnacht".
There, its origin is pagan, whereas northern Karneval has Christian roots. What both have in common are the colorful parades, outrageous costumes and special party foods (Krapfen). The last Thursday of Karneval is called "Weiberfastnacht". On this particular day, females can do `anything` they want to do. So watch out if you are male and in one of Germany`s carnival
centers at the time!

Why are there waiting lines at post offices?

Conduct at the post office

Most post offices have lines to give the person on the counter some privacy. It is considered rude to overstep the mark at the end of the line (usually a sign on a post). Wait until the post office clerk indicates that you should advance. Have your papers, postcards, money etc. ready. Germans are just as hectic as New Yorkers and do not like to wait.

What are the most common German Christmas terms?

Glossary of German Christmas terms

St. Martin's Day (November 11): For many Germans and Austrians, St. Martin's Day (Martinstag) marks the start of the Christmas season.
Advent (December 1 – December 24): Advent begins on the first Sunday after Nov. 26. Four Advent Sundays lead up to Christmas Eve. Advent is the Latin for "arrival, coming".
Adventskranz: A wreath with four candles, which are lit on the four Advent Sundays.
Adventskalender: The calendar has 24 windows and counts down the days up to Christmas Eve (Heiligabend) starting on Dec. 1.
Nikolaustag (December 6): St. Nikolaus brings gifts for children. Dec. 6 is also the date when Christmas markets (Christkindlmaerkte) open in many German towns.
Heiligabend (December 24): Germans open their Christmas gifts in the evening of Dec. 24th, not on the morning of Dec. 25th.
Weihnachtsmann: On December 24, Santa Claus brings gifts and candy to small kids (a popular job with German students).
Weihnachtsfeiertage (Dec. 25 and 26): The two days after Christmas Eve are public holidays.
Silvester (December 31): The end of the year (New Year's Eve) is celebrated with parties and fireworks.
Dreikoenigsfest, Epiphany (January 6): The day marks the arrival of the three Wise Men (die Heiligen Drei Koenige). It is the end of the Christmas season in Germany.

How do Germans celebrate Easter?


Easter derives from the concept "Ostara" (Easter), "Eoastrae" or "Eostre", the Anglo-Saxon name of the teutonic Goddess of the morning redness. For Christians, the ressurrection of Jesus is a central happening for their belief. His death is seen as a beginning of a new life rather than an end. The holiday coincides with the beginning of spring in Germany. Easter time lasts 50 days until pentecost.
The holy/passion week and Easter Sunday are important days in the christian holiday calender. Passion Saturday is a day of mourning in remembrance of the Easter night. Easter Monday rounds off the Easter feast. Friday and Monday are public holidays. There are Easter egg hunts, picnics and outdoor activities. Many Germans use the weekend for a short spring vacation.

What are typical German Easter activities?

German Easter Activities

On Easter weekend, many German children try to outdo each other in rolling colored eggs down grassy slopes. The fastest egg wins. They may also knock their egg's pointed ends together ("Eierpecken"), and the child whose egg does not shatter gets the broken egg too. Since lots of eggs are needed for those activities, German families sometimes eat hard-boiled eggs for weeks afterwards. Eggs with green sauce (German: "Gruene Sosse" or "Beiguss") is a post- Easter favorite.

What is typical holiday food?

Holiday food

Favorite snacks during the holiday season include "Dresdner Stollen" (a rich cake made with yeast), "Lebkuchen" (ginger bread cookies),
"Zimtsterne" (cinnamon stars), "Marzipankartoffeln" (marzipan potatoes), nuts, candied apples, and "Weihnachtsschokolade," a particularly creamy
and spicy chocolate made with ginger and cinnamon.

How should I behave on guided tours?

Behaviour on guided tours

As a general roule, try to keep a low profile. Do not take pictures of people without first asking their permission. Do not descend on sights like a swarm. Tip the guide. Try to read up a little on what you are going to see beforehand, so you'll get more out of the tour. Do not expect the guide's English to be absolutely flawless. Be patient.

Where can I get tips and links about German carnival?

Das Karnivalsregister

Das Karnevalsregister

This portal is great for a virtual tour of the Fasching phenomenon. It features links to Karnival and Fasching pages all over Germany. You will find local news from Cologne, Aachen, Mainz, Duesseldorf, and many other towns. There is a guide to events, music and festivities, a history section and a search function. The page is in German. It is well organized and comes without all those frills, which make some other German pages so slow and irritating.

What do I do if I am late for a film?

Behaviour at movie theaters

In general it is advisable to arrive early, as most theaters do not reserve seats. If you arrive late, an usher might show you the way. If not, say quietly "Entschuldigung" ("I am sorry" is also understood) to the people in the seats you are passing and try to reach a seat ASAP. Most people resent being stepped on, or to be shown your backside, as you pass. Face them, anything else is considered rude.

Who buys the drinks when there´s a mixed crowd?

Buying rounds in bars

Buying rounds in bars is not as common in Germany as it is in the UK. However, if you are with friends or new acquaintances, you might ask them what they would like, and you'd get it for them from the bar. They would be expected to reciprocate when it is their turn. If you are uncertain as to what is appropriate, clear this first, before you go into the bar. Note: noisily splitting up the bill in front of the barman or waiter is called "doing the German" - even in Germany. It means you have no manners.

What do Germans do on New Year´s Eve?

German New Year customs

In Germany, people drop molten lead into cold water and try to tell the future from the shape it makes. A heart or ring shape means a wedding, a ship a journey, and a pig plenty of food in the year ahead. People also leave a bit of every food eaten on New Year's Eve on their plate until after midnight as a way of ensuring a well-stocked larder. Carp is often included, as it is thought to bring wealth.

What is permissable in public concerning alcoholic beverages?

American misbehaviour

Unfortunately, the "typical" American tourist is viewed as loud and obnoxious by some German people. Try to avoid speaking in a loud voice when in public, especially in public transport. Try leaving your cell phone at the hotel when you go to a restaurant. Do not get intoxicated in public. Be aware that the German beer is stronger than the US versions.

What are typical Bavarian expressions?

Some terms Bavarian

Here is a glossary of Bavarian terms, which you might encounter on your visit to Bavaria, or the Munich Oktoberfest:

Fingerhackin: A game in which men link their middle fingers and try to drag the other towards themselves over a table. Very popular.
Schuhplattln: a dance in which men clap the soles of their shoes.
Weisswuerstl: a white frying sausage with a soft center, usually served with sweet Bavarian mustard.
Schweinshaxn: pig's feet
Zsammgsuffana: a person who obviously loves drinking
Noagerlzuzla: describes a person who empties other people's drinks.
Rauchbier: a Bavarian specialty beer, which has a smoky taste
Kaasloawe: a specialty cheese (loaf), with pepper and salt, which is sold at the Wiesen beer tents.
Obazda: name of a Bavarian cheese dish with Camenbert, onion, paprika and spices, sold at the Wiesen beer tents.
Datschi: desert dish, which is made with grainy dough and served flat. Example: Zwetschgendatschi (a sweet dish with prunes)
Neibacha: this term is used to describe fresh pretzels (Wiesnbrezen).

What kind of gift do I take along to a private invitation?

Private dinner invitations

It is customary to bring a small gift when you are invited to lunch or dinner at a private home. The best bet is to bring the host's wife some flowers, but it is also common to bring a bottle of wine (choose from midrange prices). You do not bring beer. If the occasion is semi-formal or business related, you may want to send your host a thank you note afterwards.

Where can I see Fasching costumes?

Fastnacht Photos

Fastnacht Photos

Go here if you want to see how Fastnacht is celebrated in the town of Rottweil.

How much money should I reserve for tips?


Cleaning personnel in hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts expects to be tipped. You leave a bill (usually 10 - 20 DM, according to the length of your stay) in your room, possibly with a note, e.g. "Fuer das Zimmermaedchen". Tipping in restaurants is also very common. You give your tip directly to the waiter when you pay the bill. Do not leave it on the table, as is customary in the US. If you are displeased with the service, you do not have to leave a tip at all.

Where can I get a glossary of German holiday terms?

Zab Zab Zebra Ideenbank

Zab Zab Zebra Ideenbank

Interested in throwing a Fasching party for your kids? Check out the Zab Zab Zebra glossary of holiday terms, recipes, nursery rhymes, magazine and links. All information in German.

Where can I get information on German Silvester parties?

Silvester Party Page

Here is an interesting page about events in Germany on New Year's Eve:

When can I address somebody in an informal way?

"Du" vs. "Sie"

If you speak some German, you will inevitably encounter the question whether you ought to address people as "Du" (informal) or "Sie" (formal). The key is your closeness with your contact. If it is an older person, it is always polite to address them as "Sie" - unless your contact offers the more informal "Du" to you first. The rule is that only 'superior' people (e.g. those with more status, or older than you) can offer this. "Du" is very common among students in their twenties. There is also a tendency to use "Du" all over the workplace, but that does not change the existing hierarchy at all, thus it should be avoided. What is to be avoided at all cost is to get friendly with your co-workers/bosses at an "office party", switch to the "Du' and carry it over to the normal office routines. Believe me, it just does not work.

How is Fastnacht celebrated around the Bodensee?

Konstanzer Fastnacht

Konstanzer Fastnacht

This page concentrates on Fasnet around the Bodensee. A good source of information for local events, groups, the history of the festival, and other pages dealing with the subject. Plenty of links. Site is in German and can be searched.

Where can I get info on St. Nikolaus?

The St. Nikolaus (Nicklas) Page

Do you want to know who St. Nikolaus was? Go to 'The St. Nikolaus Page':

This page summarizes the history of St. Nikolaus, with a Christmas carol and more `Adventsinfo` in German. And yes, he did exist :-)

How do I set a proper table in Germany?

Setting a proper table

Setting a proper table: there are no "individual rules" for Germany. You just want to make sure that the overall arrangement is pleasant (flowers and centerpieces are very common), and that your plates and glasses are not chipped. If in doubt where to put cutlery, wrap knives and forks in a napkin, or place in a nice bowl. Spoons are placed on either side, or in a saucer (coffeecup!). If serving fish you may want to add a 'fishknife', but it is not strictly necessary.

What do I serve at an ´End-of-Summer´ Party?

End-of-Summer Party

In Germany, September marks the end of summer. You will have the occasional warm day, but it can get chilly in the evenings, the leaves will start falling, and fall is just around the corner. Germans celebrate the end of summer with a grill- or patio party. You do not have to spend a fortune on food and drinks to have a successful party. Typical party food would include simple dishes, such as meatballs (Frikadellen), grilled sausage (Bratwurst), potato salad (Kartoffelsalat), pickled gherkins (saure Gurken), bread rolls (Broetchen) with cold cuts and cheese (Aufschnitt), and some soda for the kids, plus beer and wine for the adults.

Where can I get information about German garden gnomes?

Garden gnomes

Obtain information about garden gnomes from "Der Gartenzwerg", a leading German garden gnome manufacturer. You can ask for free info material. Contact information:

Der Gartenzwerg · Stadelner Hauptstraße 92 · D - 90765 Fuerth · Germany
Der Gartenzwerg · Schloßstraße 157 · D - 82140 Olching · Germany

Tel. + 0911/76 59 053 · Fax + 0911/767325
Tel. + 08142/44 51 03


What is the Munich Oktoberfest?

The Munich Oktoberfest

The Munich Oktoberfest (September 16 through October 3) is one of Germany's biggest festivals. In 2000, an estimated 6 billion visitors attended. Five billion jugs of beer (Biermass, eine Mass = one jug) were sold, and 200.000 pairs of Schweinswuerstl were eaten. The Oktoberfest is a real Volksfest for both young and old people. It is not just a show for tourists. At the Wiesen (fairground), authentic Bavarian culture is still very much alive.

Where can I get info on German Christmas customs?

German Christmas Portal

The German Christmas Portal is a must for anyone interested in German Christmas traditions.

It is one of the best, most comprehensive German Christmas pages online, with some links in
English, & even more in German. Most of them are very
interesting – from arts and crafts over recipes to legends and historical details. There are also links for online-shopping.

Where can I read articles on Germany? is a reservoir of content, contributed by specialists, writers, professors & enthusiasts from around the world in over 2,200 subtopics. I did a search on "German" and found 72 articles!! This site is well worth checking out.

How and to whom do I complain if the service is inferior?

Making Complaints

If you are displeased with the food or the service of a restaurant, or with the service in a store, make your voice heard. Always ask for the manager, do not expect minor employees to satisfy your demands. Try to remain calm, factual and polite. If you dislike a particular food, call the headwaiter and ask for a different dish. Good restaurants usually provide a replacement free of charge. Note: Do not expect the same kind of service as you get in the US. You will not have your waiter hover over your table, nor ask you repeatedly if you want more, or if the dish is satisfactory. It may be necessary to call the waiter.

Where can I get info on German Christmas customs?

German Christmas customs

A nice site by "Deutschland Tourismus" for you to check out:

If you want to find out more about German Christmas customs go to Deutschland Tourismus. You will find a list of Germany's Christkindelmaerkte (markets) and other information related to the "Adventszeit." This page is entirely in German.

How is Fasching celebrated in the south of Germany?

Fasnet-Forum fuer Sueddeutschland und die Schweiz

Fasnet-Forum fuer Sueddeutschland und die Schweiz

A Fasnet page for the south of Germany and Switzerland. Includes local news, a Fasnet-chat, a free newsletter, links to Fasnet stores, books, Fasching-clubs and musicians. There is also a calendar, a photo album and a recipe section.

What is "Advent"?


The last four Sundays before Christmas are Advent-Sundays. For every Sunday, a candle is lit. Germans usually decorate their table with a wreath and light the candles when they have their afternoon coffee and cake.

What do Germans think about Americans?

German perceptions of Americans

Generally speaking, I guess Germans have a positive perception of the US and its citizens. This is mainly based on US-actions after World War II, the sciences, and its economic superpower. Also, almost every German I know wants to see the US, at least once. -The 'American Dream' is fed to us right at school (we also cover all the history). English is taught as a second language, US-culture is freely available via cable, US-books and mags are sold and read widely. However, some things are really hard to understand for Germans, such as: death penalty, prisons, cops, guns ... - Overall, the respective mentalities are quite different. For example, young Americans are seen as more outgoing and self-confident than their German counterparts. But Germans generally tend to say what they mean, (otherwise they would be silent),whereas Americans are supposed to be more evasive about certain matters, but do it very elaborately. If a German invites you to stay at their house, it is serious. If an American invites you, it can be mere politeness. If a German asks how you are, he is really interested. If an American asks how you are, he does not expect to hear anything other than 'fine, thanks'. Of course, it is hard to generalize. Every people is made up of all kinds of individuals, right? - Funny perception of mine though: if you are an American band, people will flock to see you play (an AMERICAN band!!). If you are a German band, forget it. It is a lot more difficult for German musicians to attract a crowd than for musicians from the US, or the UK.

Where can I buy German christmas ornaments?

German souvenirs for the holidays

For every imaginable Christmas decoration you could dream of, this is the site: Kathe Wohlfahrt. My favorites are the "Smokers", small/medium/large in size, hand-carved wooden stand-up "dolls` (beautifully painted and decorated) with an empty `belly` where you can place incense, then the `smoke` emits through the mouth as a pipe-smoking novelty. I have a collection of eleven so far, that I proudly display on my mantle. Also to be prized are their German Stoneware Beer Steins, pewter tree ornaments, goblets, Schnapps beaker, dolls, linens and so much more quality items. A very trusted company by me! (Note: site in both English and Deutsch)

What is permissable in public concerning alcoholic beverages?

Drinking beer

Drinking beer in public (outside a bar or restaurant) is allowed. However, drinking straight from the bottle makes people think you work on a building site :-). Drinking from a can is considered more normal. Drinking beer on the public transport system is forbidden. Amost all restaurants have a liquor license.

What is Fasnet?


In the south of Germany, especially in the region of the Black Forest, the season between November and February is known as Fasching or Fasnet / Fastnacht. Here the parades are not predominantly made up of clowns and fools. Instead there are witches and trolls. This goes back to Fasching's pagan roots, as the old purpose of the festival was to chase away the spirits of winter. The Black Forest region is famous for its colorful handcarved, sometimes frightening masks. These are in the likeness of sorcerers, animals and ancient mystic creatures, such as the Greenman (a druidic forest dweller). Most of them belong to established Fasching-clubs and are not easy to purchase.

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