How Do People Greet Each Other in Germany

In this guide, I will explain to you everything you need to know about how people greet each other in Germany. From formal to informal greetings, physical gestures, regional differences, etiquette for business meetings, common mistakes to avoid, and when to use first names vs. last names, we will cover it all. By the end of this guide, you will have a better understanding of the importance of greetings in German culture and feel confident in your ability to greet someone in Germany.

Whether you’re planning to visit Germany or just want to expand your knowledge about different cultures, understanding how people greet each other is an essential part of communication. So, let’s dive into the world of German greetings and explore the different ways people greet each other in this fascinating country.

The Importance of Greetings in German Culture

Greetings are an essential part of German culture and play an important role in communication. Germans place great importance on greetings as they believe it sets the tone for the entire conversation. Whether it’s a formal business meeting or a casual encounter with a friend, a proper greeting is always expected.

Furthermore, greetings in Germany are not just limited to verbal exchanges. Physical gestures such as handshakes, hugs, and kisses on the cheek are also commonly used to greet someone. These gestures may vary depending on the region and the relationship between the individuals involved.

Understanding the importance of greetings in German culture can help you navigate social situations and build strong relationships with people in Germany. So, let’s dive into the different types of greetings and learn how to use them appropriately.

Formal Greetings

When it comes to formal greetings in Germany, it’s important to be respectful and use the appropriate titles. Addressing someone by their last name and adding their appropriate title such as “Herr” or “Frau” is the norm in most business settings.

Additionally, a firm handshake with direct eye contact is considered appropriate, and it’s important to wait until you are offered a seat before sitting down. By following these formal greeting customs, you’ll show respect for the culture and the people you’re meeting with.

Informal Greetings

When it comes to informal greetings in Germany, there are a few different options to choose from. One of the most common informal greetings is “Hallo,” which is similar to “hello” in English. Another informal greeting that you might hear is “Hi,” which is borrowed from English and has become increasingly popular in recent years.

Additionally, many Germans use regional variations of informal greetings, such as “Moin” in northern Germany or “Servus” in Bavaria. These regional greetings can help you connect with locals and show that you are making an effort to learn about the local culture.

Physical Gestures

As with greetings in any culture, physical gestures play an important role in German greetings. While handshakes are the most common form of greeting, Germans may also greet each other with a hug or a kiss on the cheek depending on the level of familiarity.

It’s important to note that physical contact is more common in informal settings and between friends and family members. In formal settings, it’s generally best to stick to a firm handshake. Additionally, it’s important to make eye contact and smile when greeting someone, as this shows respect and friendliness.

Another common physical gesture in Germany is the “toast” or “prost” when sharing a drink with someone. It’s customary to make eye contact with each person around the table and say “prost” before taking a sip. It’s also important to clink glasses with everyone at the table.

Overall, physical gestures can help convey warmth and friendliness in German greetings, but it’s important to be aware of the appropriate level of familiarity and formality in any given situation.

Regional Differences in Greetings

When it comes to greetings in Germany, there are regional differences that are important to be aware of. In some parts of the country, it is customary to greet people with a hug or a kiss on the cheek, while in other areas, a handshake is the standard. For example, in Bavaria, a handshake is usually accompanied by a slight bow of the head, while in some parts of Northern Germany, people prefer to maintain a greater distance and may not be as physically demonstrative.

Another aspect of regional differences in greetings is the use of dialects and regional variations of the German language. In some areas, people may use words or phrases that are unfamiliar to those from other parts of the country, so it can be helpful to do some research on the local dialect before traveling to a new region.

It’s important to note that while there may be differences in how people greet each other depending on the region, politeness and respect are universally valued in German culture. Regardless of where you are in the country, a friendly smile and a polite greeting will always be appreciated.

Etiquette for Business Meetings

Business meetings in Germany are usually quite formal affairs, and it’s important to adhere to certain cultural norms and expectations in order to make a good impression. Here are some key etiquette guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Arrive on time, or even a few minutes early, to show that you respect the other person’s time.
  • Be prepared with all necessary materials and information, and have copies of any documents you may need to reference.
  • Address the other person using their title and surname (Herr or Frau, followed by their last name) until you are invited to use their first name.
  • Shake hands upon arrival and departure, and maintain good eye contact.
  • Small talk is common at the beginning of meetings, but avoid discussing personal or controversial topics.
  • During the meeting, avoid interrupting the other person or speaking out of turn.
  • It’s important to be direct and concise in your communication, and to avoid exaggeration or making promises you cannot keep.
  • After the meeting, send a follow-up email or letter summarizing the key points and any action items that were discussed.

By following these guidelines, you can show that you respect German business culture and establish a positive working relationship with your German counterparts.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

When it comes to greeting people in Germany, there are a few common mistakes that you should avoid at all costs. These mistakes can lead to misunderstandings and awkward situations, so it’s important to be aware of them.

1. Not Using the Correct Formality

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when greeting others in Germany is not using the correct level of formality. Germans are very formal people, and it’s important to use the correct titles and forms of address when meeting someone for the first time.

For example, if you’re meeting someone who is older or more senior than you, it’s important to use their title (such as Herr or Frau) and their last name. If you’re meeting someone who is your own age or younger, you can use their first name.

2. Ignoring Handshakes

Handshakes are an important part of greeting someone in Germany, especially in formal settings. If someone offers you their hand, it’s important to shake it firmly and make eye contact. Ignoring a handshake can be seen as rude or disrespectful.

3. Being Late

Germans are known for being punctual, and being late to a meeting or appointment is seen as a sign of disrespect. If you’re running late, it’s important to call ahead and let the other person know.

4. Being Too Familiar

While Germans can be friendly and welcoming, it’s important to remember that they are also a very formal culture. Being too familiar or informal with someone you don’t know well can be seen as disrespectful or presumptuous.

5. Forgetting to Greet Everyone

When entering a room or meeting, it’s important to greet everyone individually, even if you don’t know them very well. Forgetting to greet someone can be seen as rude or impolite.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can ensure that your greetings in Germany are well-received and respectful.

When to Use First Names vs. Last Names

Using the appropriate form of address in Germany is important for building and maintaining relationships, especially in business settings. One common point of confusion for non-Germans is when to use first names versus last names.

Generally, it is best to start with formal titles and last names until invited to use first names. In a business setting, wait for your German counterpart to suggest using first names before doing so yourself. This usually occurs after the relationship has developed and there is a higher level of familiarity and trust.

However, in more informal or social settings, it is common to use first names after the initial greeting. In these situations, it is still best to follow your counterpart’s lead and wait for them to suggest using first names.

It is important to note that Germans take their titles and formalities seriously, so using the appropriate form of address can show respect and demonstrate an understanding of German culture. By following these guidelines, you can avoid common mistakes and build successful relationships with German counterparts.


In conclusion, understanding the customs and practices around greetings in Germany is an important aspect of cultural awareness. Whether in formal or informal settings, using the appropriate greeting can make a big difference in the success of your interactions with Germans. Remember to pay attention to regional differences, and to avoid common mistakes like using first names too quickly or failing to shake hands when appropriate. By following these guidelines, you can show respect and build positive relationships with German colleagues, friends, and acquaintances.

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