Germany explained For Members

25 sure-fire ways to annoy a German

Sarah Magill
Sarah Magill - [email protected]
25 sure-fire ways to annoy a German
A woman drills into tiles into her kitchen. DIY on a Sunday is a no-no in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

From singing certain lines of the national anthem to sending birthday greetings on the wrong day, there are many ways to make yourself unpopular in Germany.


Cross the road at a red traffic light (especially with kids around)

You’ve only got a couple of minutes to catch your bus, there’s no traffic around, so you walk quickly across the road at a red light.

If there are other German pedestrians around to see you do this, they will almost certainly be annoyed and, if they have children with them, might directly reprimand you for setting a bad example.

Obeying the red light at pedestrian crossings is not only a taboo in Germany – it’s also illegal and you could get yourself a fine of between €5 and €10.

Walk in the bike lane

There are around 40,000 kilometres of bike paths in Germany and not one single centimetre is meant to be used by pedestrians. It often takes newcomers to German cities a while - and being shouted at by an angry cyclist -  to realise that those red paths are not for walking in.  

A cyclist rides in a bike lane in downtown Karlsruhe. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uli Deck

Cycle slowly on the left of the bike lane

Just as with road traffic - the rule in German bike lanes is that slower travelers should keep to the right and leave the left side free for those who want to get up some speed. 

Dawdling in the left of the lane is a guaranteed way to get an earful of expletives from lycra-clad speedsters.


Raise your right arm

Now this one is not only annoying, but it’s also highly offensive - and illegal. 

Giving the Nazi salute – known as der Hitlergruß - is a criminal offence which is punishable with a jail term from three months to up to five years.  

READ ALSO: 10 surprising German laws foreigners need to know

In fact, making any sort of jestful reference to the happenings of 1933-1945 is highly inadvisable.

Sing the first two verses of the national anthem

Though not illegal - as often thought - singing the original first two verses of the German national anthem will definitely annoy and offend most Germans. 

A text sheet with the third verse of the German national anthem held by a participant of the unity celebration on the Brocken in Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Matthias Bein

The original opening line - Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles ("Germany, Germany above all") has a strong association with Nazi Germany and German nationalism and, since 1952, only the third verse is allowed to be sung on official occasions.


Arrive late with no explanation

It’s no secret that Germans take punctuality seriously. But, life happens, and most reasonable Germans will forgive a short delay for a social meeting – if you let them know.

Even if you’re just running 5 minutes late, it’s best to text ahead.

Suggest you split the restaurant bill 50/50

Germans like to be exact about bill splitting, which is why you’ll usually be asked at the end of your meal if you’d like to pay your bill zusammen or getrennt ("together or separately"). Answering zusammen will usually not be appreciated by your fellow diners, who will generally prefer to pay for exactly what they've had rather than share the cost of your steak and champagne. 

“Invite” them for dinner and then don’t pay

If you say to a German Ich möchte dich zum Essen einladen ("I would like to invite you to dinner") they’ll assume you want to take them out for dinner and pay. 

READ ALSO: Eight unwritten rules that explain how Germany works

So, if you're planning to split the bill, it's best to avoid the verb einladen and say something like lass uns zusammen Essen gehen ("let's go out to eat together") or lass uns zum Abendessen treffen ("let's meet for dinner").

Ask for tap water

In many European countries, it's normal to ask for a glass of tap water in a restaurant. But not in Germany. Asking for Ein Glas Leitungswasser will, at best, earn you a raised eyebrow from your waiter and fellow diners. 

A glass of tap water can be controversial in Germany. Photo: 21 swan/unsplash

Duzen your elders

For native English speakers, getting your head around how and when to use the informal (du) and formal (Sie) forms of the word "you" can be tricky. But getting it wrong can be offensive. 

So it's best to stick to the rule that, if you don't know someone - especially if they are older, or if you meet them in a formal setting - refer to them as Sie until they explicitly say that you can refer to them as du. 


Talk loudly in the Ruhebereich

In Germany, silence is golden. There are Ruhetagen ("quiet days"), Ruhestunden ("quiet hours") and Ruhebereiche ("quiet areas") in trains. 

Talking loudly on your phone or blasting a video from your laptop in one of these quiet areas is a guaranteed way to wind up your fellow passengers. 

Be noisy on a Sunday

Drilling, hammering, hoovering and taking your bottles to the bottle bank are all absolute no-nos on a Sunday in Germany. As a Ruhetag - quiet day - Sundays in Germany are for resting. If you don't respect that rule, you could even find yourself being visited by the police. 

Wear clothes in the sauna

In Germany, saunas are Textilfrei ("textile free") zones and not getting naked just because you feel a bit shy or awkward won't wash. Your fellow sauna-goers won't only be annoyed, but are likely to consider you unhygienic for wearing your soggy bathing suit in their sacred wooden chamber. 

Turn on the AC

What might seem like a normal thing to do on a hot day in many countries, is often frowned upon in Germany. Relatively few German homes and offices have air conditioning units and those that do are used sparingly, as Germans prefer to avoid unnatural air currents - and the potential illness they bring - in favour of a fan or just an open window. 

Let your plants grow into other people's gardens

When a neighbourhood war breaks out in Germany, it's most likely because someone dared to plant a tree a few centimetres too close to the neighbour's fence. 

Letting your produce dangle over into your neighbour's garden - or if you have an allotment, into their Kleingarten - is seen as very irritating in Germany - there have even been cases of people being taken to court for it. 

Throw away your bottles

One of the things that many foreigners are pleasantly surprised by when moving to Germany is the environmentally and economically friendly system of Pfandflaschen ("deposit bottles"). 

READ ALSO: 10 things you only understand if you live in Germany


Taking those bottles back to the supermarket is what every good German citizen should do, so tossing them carelessly into the trash is almost sacrilegious. 

Don’t separate your rubbish

Just as bad as not getting the refund on your Pfandflaschen is not properly separating your recycling. Separating rubbish is taken seriously in Germany, so don't let your neighbours catch you putting banana skins in the blue wheely bins and milk cartons in the Biomüll ("biological waste") if you want to make friends. 

Take your time at the checkout

Shopping is serious business in Germany and faffing about with small change, packing your wares at a snail's pace or fumbling for your cards so that a queue builds up are not recommended. 

Tell them you think the German football team is useless

Since last winning the World Cup in 2014, the German Nationalmanschaft has not exactly been on top of its game in recent years. But Germans take great pride in their national team - so it's best to keep thoughts like that to yourself. 

Football fans watch Germany play in the World Cup in 2010. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Boris Roessler

Tell them you don’t like beer

With between 5,000 and 6,000 different beer varieties available in Germany, beer is a source of national pride. So if you're not a fan, you might want to keep quiet about it. 

Don’t look people in the eye while prosting

The rules for toasting in Germany are quite simple: the toasting parties must look each other in the eye, otherwise, they face seven years of bad luck. So ignore this rule at your peril, unless you don't care about cursing your drinking buddies.

A group of friends toasts with their drinks. Photo: Christine Jou/Unsplash

Wear your shoes indoors

Germany is a nation of Hauschuhe (slippers) owners because wearing dirty street shoes inside is just not the done thing. So if you don't want to be a nuisance, politely slip off your footwear the next time you visit a German home.

READ ALSO: Five things you’ll find in (almost) every German home

Hit them with some small talk

Germans are pretty direct and are often keen to get down to business when it comes to conversation. Superfluous chitchat about the weather and how they are doing usually doesn't go down well. 


Wish them a happy birthday on the wrong day 

Germans can be a bit funny when it comes to birthday wishes. If you congratulate them on turning a year older even a minute before midnight on their birthday - they might see it as bad luck. 

Call them “Typically German”

This article itself is definitely guilty of this one. Germans don’t like to be referred to as “typically German", or the over-punctual, humourless, beer-drinking stereotypes that go with it. Sorry!


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also