Cultural Comparisons 4

Daily Life in the USA vs. Germany

In the charts below you’ll find a simplified comparison of various customs and everyday culture in the United States and Germany (Deutschland). For more details, click on any linked topic. See the bottom of this page for a complete list of topics.

Friendship – Formality vs Informality – Table Manners

Cultural Differences between the USA and Germany
(7) Friendship – Formality vs Informality
USA GERMANY
FRIENDS vs ACQUAINTANCES
See Friends and Acquaintances (Sie and du) for more
Americans almost always address people they have just met (or people they work with) with their first name. They may not even know that person’s last name. Germans almost always address people they have just met (or people they work with) with their last name. They may not even know that person’s first name.
An American may be offended (or at least surprised) if addressed as “Mr. Smith” rather than “Jim.” A German may be offended (or at least surprised) if addressed as “Karl” rather than “Herr Schmidt.”
English you is used for everyone, making no distinctions for social standing or levels of formality and informality. Like almost every language other than English, German makes a distinction between the formal you (Sie) and the familiar you (du). More…
The English word “friend” covers a much wider range of acquaintance levels than German Freund. The term Freund in German implies a long, deep friendship, not a casual acquaintance.
In English, the distinction between “friend” and “acquaintance” is often blurred. Sometimes the words are used interchangeably. German-speakers make a clear distinction between Freund (friend) and Bekannter (acquaintance). The words are never used interchangeably.
If someone asks an American what her/his name is, the reply will usually be the first name. If someone asks a German what her/his name is, the reply will usually be the last name.
Americans are quick to use first names and develop friendships. They may feel uncomfortable if familiarity (first names, etc.) is slow in coming. Germans take their time before using first names and developing a close friendship. They may feel uncomfortable if familiarity (du) comes too soon.
English has only one word for “you” in both formal and familiar situations. The familiar “thou” died out long ago. German has a formal “you” (Sie) and a familiar “you” (du/ihr). English-speakers need to learn the difference.
More about this topic: Friends and Acquaintances (Sie and du)
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Cultural Differences between the USA and Germany
(8) Table Manners – Tischsitten
USA GERMANY
TABLE MANNERS • TISCHMANIEREN
The fork is held in the right hand. When using a knife, it replaces the fork, which is switched to the left hand during cutting. Emily Post called this the “zig-zag” style. The fork is held in the left hand, the knife in the right hand. Both remain in your hands except when drinking or passing items. This is the European style.
Americans like to eat many foods, including pizza, with their hands. Except for formal dining, there are many “finger foods.” Eating with your hands is considered efficient and proper. Germans rarely eat food with their hands. Even pizza is eaten with a knife and fork! Hands are used only at a BBQ, a fastfood restaurant, or for hors d’oeuvres/canapes. Otherwise, eating with your hands is considered barbaric.
Many Americans say grace before a meal. Someone might say “Bon appetit!” or “Enjoy!,” but it is not very common to do so. Few Germans say grace, but they almost always say “Guten Appetit!” before everyone at the table begins eating.
A common toast with beer or wine is “Cheers!” or “To your health!” A common toast with beer or wine is “Prost!” or “Zum Wohl!”
Americans keep their hands under the table or in their lap. No elbows on the table! Germans keep their hands on the table. Also no elbows on the table!
Cleaning your plate is OK, but not really required. Not cleaning your plate is considered impolite.
Seasoning: In both countries, you should not apply seasoning (salt, pepper, etc.) before tasting your food. Ketchup is very common and often Tabasco sauce as well.
If they need to leave the table for some reason, some people place their napkin on the seat of their chair. It is better to place it left of your plate. If you need to leave the table for some reason, place your napkin to the left of your plate – never on the seat of your chair.
Soft-boiled eggs are rarely served for breakfast. Soft-boiled eggs are part of a continental breakfast. Place the egg in an egg cup before tapping the top with your knife or egg spoon and peeling the shell. Some Germans frown on cutting off the tip, but it’s OK to do so.
Good Manners: In the US, the name Emily Post (1872-1960) is synonymous with good manners. Her work continues today with the Emily Post Institute. In Germany, the name Knigge is associated with good manners and books on etiquette, although Adolph Freiherr Knigge (1752-1796) never wrote an actual etiquette book. Today, Der große Knigge is one of the most popular manners guides in German.
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