Don’t Ask “How Are You” In Germany Without Reading This First!😂

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Picture this: You, an intrepid traveler, have just set foot on German soil, your heart aflutter with the promise of adventure, your mind dancing with visions of bratwurst and fairy tale castles. You stride into a cozy ‘Gasthaus’ with all the confidence of someone who’s watched ‘Goodbye, Lenin!’ exactly once, armed with a phrasebook and an unshakable belief in cultural osmosis.

Eager to blend in, you turn to the stern-faced ‘Kellner’ (waiter), who looks as though he might have been a direct descendant of Otto von Bismarck. With your most charming smile, you utter the phrase you’ve heard a million times back home: “How are you?”

There is a pause. A fork drops somewhere in the background. The clink it makes on the floor sounds oddly like the ‘g’ in ‘Angst’. You’ve done it. You’ve inadvertently triggered the German sense of duty to answer a question thoroughly and with brutal honesty.

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never ask how are you in german unless you mean itPin

The waiter eyes you like you’ve just asked him to explain the existential musings of Friedrich Nietzsche while balancing your beer on his head.

You see, in Germany, ‘Wie geht es Ihnen?’ is not the throwaway greeting you sprinkle around like confetti. No, it’s an invitation to delve into the depths of one’s soul, to provide an accurate account of one’s state of being, both physically and metaphysically.

So he begins. Oh boy, does he begin.

With the precision of a German-engineered car, he embarks on a detailed account of his wellbeing. You learn about his recent bout with the ‘Schnupfen’ (a cold, which sounds infinitely more serious in German).

He outlines his concerns about ‘Die Mannschaft’ (the German national soccer team) and their prospects in the next match. He laments the inconsistency of the weather while referencing several historical data points for context.

This verbal expedition might even touch upon his existential dread, probably something to do with the delicate balance between ‘Weltschmerz’ (world-weariness) and ‘Lebenslust’ (zest for life).

And there you are, nodding along, your smile now resembling the rictus of someone realizing they’ve accidentally signed up for a marathon. You hope your phrasebook has a chapter on escape plans. But then, just as you think you might be stuck there until the next Oktoberfest rolls around, the waiter stops. His eyes seem to say, “Your turn, foreigner.”

Sweat pools at the base of your neck. You wanted authenticity, and here it is—staring you down like a ‘Bavarian Mutter’ who just caught you eating ‘Weißwurst’ with ketchup. You clear your throat and embark on the epic saga of your ingrown toenail, because when in Germany, do as the Germans do.

The waiter, satisfied that the sacred ritual of sharing one’s current state of existence has been rightfully honored, nods solemnly and proceeds to bring your beer. And just like that, you’ve had a genuine German cultural exchange.

In many cultures, like the US, the question “How are you?” is a typical casual greeting, not always requiring a genuine or elaborate response. You can expect a quick and positive reply like “Good, thanks!” regardless of the truth of the matter.

In Germany, this question is usually expected to be taken more literally and seriously. Germans tend to use this phrase when they genuinely want to know about the person’s wellbeing and are typically prepared for a real answer. As such, it’s not merely a casual greeting but an actual inquiry into someone’s health or state of mind.

So if you ask this question, expect an in-depth and sincere answer.

Let’s see it in action 😂

This doesn’t mean Germans never engage in small talk or casual greetings. They do, but they might choose different phrases that do not imply a deep interest in the other person’s personal affairs.

For instance, a casual nod, a simple “Hallo” (Hello), or a comment about the weather might be used, where any deeper questions about one’s personal life would be reserved for friends, family, or when one genuinely wishes to converse and has the time to do so.

So remember, dear traveler, when in Germany, ‘Wie geht es Ihnen?’ is not the cultural equivalent of an English ‘Hey, how’s it going?’—it’s a deep, philosophical probe into the human condition. Approach it with caution, or you’ll end up having to explain why your Fitbit thinks you’re dead inside.

Want to learn more about German culture? Find our guide to 10 differences between Germany and the US here and 10 things to know before traveling to Germany here. You can also find all our guides to German culture here and don’t miss our article about the German stereotype that is very wrong here

Sharon Gourlay in the Rhina Valley

By Sharon Gourlay

Sharon first fell in love with Germany back in 2000 on her first visit. She loves the long history, the picturesque Old Towns, the castles, the food, everything really! Since then, she has visited many times and loves writing about Germany here so you can enjoy it too. In fact, Sharon loves German culture so much that she sent her kids to a German primary school in Australia. She especially loves Berlin and towns with charming Old Towns like Celle and Quedlinburg. Sharon also has a Certificate III in International Travel Sales and understands the nitty gritty of travel planning. Through this site, she'll help you have the perfect trip to Germany whether it's your first or tenth time!

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