Local customs guide for expats in Berlin

Germans are known for their culture and etiquette, and it is important to be aware of the differences and the do’s and don’ts in Berlin:

  1. Swimming, public bathing (saunas, steam rooms), and sunbathing are popular past times done in the nude throughout Germany, although often there will be signs alerting you to this fact. It is considered natural and normal for an entire family to frolic on a public beach in the nude.
  2. You should answer your phone by giving your surname, and if answering someone else’s phone, start with your surname and then give theirs.
  3. Lateness is frowned upon, even at social gatherings. If you are going to be even a few minutes late for any appointment, it is customary to call ahead and let them know. If you’re hosting a gathering at your home, expect guests to arrive at the exact hour of your invitation.
  4. When a guest in someone’s home, it is customary to bring flowers, or a German wine. Red wine is greatly appreciated, as it is not usually bought or served; ask first what the host will be cooking.
  5. When food is served, people say “Guten Appetit” to each other before eating.
  6. Recycling is considered mandatory for all households, and there are separate containers available for plastics, paper or cardboard, glass, compostable food, garden cuttings, batteries, clothing and even Christmas trees. If a police officer sees you disposing of something in the wrong container, you can be issued a ticket.
  7. Breakfast (Frühstück) usually consists of cereal, fruit, yoghurt, cold meats and bread with cheese and butter, or a boiled egg. Lunch (Mittagessen) is typically a full sit-down meal, and coffee is drunk after. An afternoon treat is also customary, called zum kaffee, and consists of a sweet food and coffee or tea. Dinner (Abendessen) is early by European standards, and is usually finished by around 8:00PM.
  8. Married Germans wear wedding rings on the right hand.
  9. Germans love to play a card game called Skat. This page will give you a good primer on the game
  10. Germans love to shake hands. They are likely to do this when they arrive and leave. Even small children are taught to shake hands because it is thought to be very polite.
  11. The German Culture is highly fact-oriented. “Small talk” does not have a significant social function in German culture. If you ask, “How are you?” expect an in depth and detailed response. This isn’t a sign of greeting as in other cultures.