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Munich - Local Customs

Every country and even city has its own unwritten rules when it comes to etiquette and code of conduct. It is always an advantage to know beforehand in what ways local customs differ from your own, in order to avoid unpleasant situations. A lot of the customs listed here will be familiar to continental Europeans. However, be sure to look out for subtle differences!

Social Etiquette

Germans use a very formal form of address. If a person has an academic title they will expect you to address them accordingly. Always use "Herr" (Mr) or "Frau" (Mrs) and their surname.

Shaking hands is very common in business situations. Men will shake hands with each other when meeting socially. Women will air-kiss each other when meeting other women or men socially.

Eye contact is very important, otherwise people think you're rude or untrustworthy.

Although it is becoming more common for young people to use the informal "du" form of address even when introducing themselves for the first time, older people and staff in the service industry will use the polite "Sie" form and expect you to do the same.

It is good manners to be on time, or at least call ahead if you are going to be late.

Greet people with the Bavarian "Grüss Gott" rather than "Guten Tag" or the informal "Hallo".

Answer the phone by saying your surname (optionally followed by some sort of greeting). Not doing so is considered extremely rude. Do the same when you are the one making the call.

You should take your shoes off when you visit someone's home, particularly if you see a pile of shoes by the door.

You should bring a small gift (chocolates, flowers, etc) when visiting someone for dinner.

Muenchners keep their homes immaculate (out of necessity because they are so small!), and apologize to their guests profusely if there is as little as one item out of place. You should tidy up before having people over!

People pay separately rather than splitting the bill. The waiters usually always ask if you want the bill to be split, so this is not embarrassing.

Chivalry is alive and well in Bavaria, particularly the motto 'ladies first!'

It is not so much social etiquette as the law, that you may not do any loud garden or renovation work on a Sunday or public holiday. The same goes for playing musical instruments.

If you live in an apartment complex and you are hosting a party, it is polite to put up a note advising your neighbours and either invite them to join you, or invite them to speak to you if the noise is bothering them. Noise disturbance laws kick in at 10pm, even on Friday and Saturday nights.

If people queue, then they will do so to the right. Pushing in is common, particularly at ski resorts. Stand your ground and lead by example.

People will often let you progress in a queue at the supermarket if you have considerably fewer items than they. Be prepared to show others the same courtesy!

Although smoking is allowed in restaurants, it is perfectly okay to ask people near you who are smoking to stop while you are eating. The same may be expected of you.

When eating Weisswurst sausages, it is socially acceptable to suck the meat of the sausage out of its skin. This is an amusing, if not somewhat disgusting, spectacle!

Many self-serve restaurants, including work canteens, have a Rückgabe. This means you are expected to clear your table, and sometimes scrape food scraps into the bin when you have finished your meal.

Munich drivers toot a lot. Don't take it personally, and for goodness sake, don't join in but try to lead by example instead.

If you open a door on the U-Bahn and only one side of the door opens, it is polite to open the other door. There's about a 50/50 mix on this. Again, try to lead by example!

When driving, the slow lane is for slow traffic and the left lane is for overtaking. Remember this rule also when walking and especially when using escalators.

It is polite to tip anyone who does a 'service' for you, including hairdressers, deliverymen, handymen and taxi drivers. Round up to the nearest euro in a restaurant.

Switch your mobile phone to silent if you're on public transport. Until recently the use of mobile phones was banned on buses and trams. There is no underground signal booster when you're on a U-Bahn, although phones will now work on S-Bahns.

Munich has a ban on making noise between 10pm and 7am. As a result most German parties held at a private residence are laid-back affairs with sitting around and chatting favoured instead of dancing and other boisterous behaviour. Loud noise should also not be made between midday and 3pm.

Despite being a largely family-orientated society, Muencheners eat their main meal in the middle of the day with their work colleagues, rather than at home with their families in the evening. Many businesses, including banks and post offices, close their doors at midday or one o'clock so the employees can enjoy their lunch in peace.

Business Etiquette

Germans use a very formal form of address. If a person has an academic title they will expect you to address them accordingly. Always use "Herr" (Mr) or "Frau" (Mrs) and their surname. They will often sign and address emails and business letters in this manner.

Shaking hands is very common when you meet someone for the first time, and sometimes when saying hello to colleagues in the morning and farewell for the day. If you only see each other once or twice a week, you generally shake hands in greeting and farewell.

Being on time is very important. If you are going to be late, call well in advance.

Greet people with the Bavarian "Grüss Gott" rather than "Guten Tag" or the informal "Hallo".

Answer the phone by saying your surname (optionally followed by some sort of greeting). Not doing so is considered extremely impolite!

People often have a pair of slip on shoes (formal or casual) for wearing inside at work in winter, and another pair of heavy boots for the commute to and from work.

At the end of a meeting or presentation, Germans will rap on the table. This may be alarming at first, but join in with it, and feel proud if they do it after you speak.

When colleagues and customers visit from out of town, they are treated to lunch in the staff canteen and a group of people from work generally go out with them, at least for dinner, in the evening.

Some workplaces have a weekly social breakfast meeting.

Do's and Don'ts

Use a person's academic title or "Herr" (Mr) or "Frau" (Mrs) plus their surname when addressing them.
Shake hands with people when you meet them for the first time, and sometimes also with work colleagues when you arrive in the office or leave the office for the day.
Use the "Sie" form (polite form of address) when speaking to superiors or anyone you don't know well until invited to use the "du" form (familiar form of address).
Take your shoes off when you visit someone's home.
Bring a small gift (chocolates, flowers, etc) when visiting someone for dinner.
Separate your recyclable rubbish from your waste.
Be on time!
Shop during the week, as suburban shops close early on Saturdays, and shops aren't open on Sundays.
Take cash when going shopping or to a restaurant.
Stop for pedestrians at pedestrian crossings.
Be chivalrous (ladies first!).
Stand on the right of the escalator and walk on the left.
Give a small tip when dining out (at least round up to the next euro).
Remove your hat (if you are wearing one) before entering a church.
Before you start eating, say 'Guten Appetit'. It is considered rude not to say anything.The have-a-nice-day equivalent, 'Schönen Tag', 'Schönen Abend', or 'Viel Spass' (meaning have lots of fun) are always used in addition to goodbye by friends, work colleagues and serving staff.
Before you start to drink beer or other alcoholic beverages, always look the person in the eye when you clink glasses and say 'Prost'.
'Entschuldigung' or the slightly more formal 'entschuldigen Sie' are used for both saying sorry and to get someone's attention. When used as sorry Entschuldigung covers everything from minor inconveniences to spilling staining liquids on people's clothing.

Put your garbage in the wrong bin.
Put your feet on the seat whilst using public transport.
Cross at a pedestrian crossing unless the green man is illuminated.
Walk or stand on a designated bike path.
Push onto a bus, tram or train until passengers have alighted.
Do any loud garden or renovation work on a Sunday or public holiday.
Use your mobile phone on public transport.
Expect good service.



Most public holidays coincide with a religious feast day. If a public holiday falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday, many businesses also allow their employees to take the associated Monday or Friday as a "bridging day" and enjoy an extra long weekend. School holidays often incorporate the longer religious festivals. If a public holiday falls on a weekend, then there is no corresponding day off work.

Neujahr (New Year's Day) 1 January
On New Year's Eve many Germans capitalise on the only annual opportunity to let off fireworks. No matter where people celebrate New Year's Eve - at a private party or at a restaurant - everyone goes out onto the street at midnight to launch fireworks and watch the displays. It is also traditional to melt lead and pour it into cold water. The resulting shape determines your horoscope for the coming year.

Heilige Drei Könige (Epiphany)  6 January
Still within the winter Christmas holiday period, this holiday marks the end of the most expensive skiing period!

Valentinstag (Valentine's Day)  14 February
This commercial cupid day sees the shops all decked out in pink and red with love hearts and cards with mushy messages on them for sale.

Fasching (Carnival)
This is the carnival period. It starts on the 11th of November and goes until the day before Ash Wednesday, really hotting up in the last 2 weeks. People dress up in all sorts of flamboyant costumes for the many balls that are held during this time. There is a women's day, when women cut off their male workmates' ties to assert their dominance over them. On the last day of Fasching, many businesses only have a half day. Everybody goes into the streets for huge parties and costume parades.

Aschermittwoch (Ash Wednesday)
This religious day is not a holiday, but marks the start of the pre-Easter fasting period. In true Bavarian style, a strong, dark, sweet beer is brewed for this time of year so that people may fast, but still get their nutrients from the beer. This period is called the Stark Bier Fest. People wash their wallets in the fish fountain in Marienplatz to ensure they will always have enough money throughout the coming year.

Ostern (Easter)
Easter is celebrated with lots of chocolate in the shape of eggs or rabbits. Children have Easter egg hunts, trying to find the chocolate left for them by the Easter bunny. The Friday before Easter and the Monday after are public holidays. The Spring school holiday break goes over this period.

Maifeiertag (May Day/Labour Day) 1 May
This holiday celebrates workers' rights. Traditionally tall trees are cut and stripped of their branches, then painted blue and white, the Bavarian colours, to make the May poles. Each little district has a May pole festival.

Muttertag (Mother's Day) 2nd Sunday in May
Another fairly commercial day, with a nice sentiment. Most Bavarians spend Sundays with their families anyway, but on this Sunday they treat their mother.

Christi Himmelfahrt (Ascension Day) 6th Thursday after Easter
Pfingsten (Whitsun/Pentecost)  7th Sunday after Easter
These religious-based holidays are a pre-Summer holiday period. Don't expect much productivity from now until mid-September or October when people come back from Summer holidays.

Fronleichnam (Corpus Christi) 19 June

Maria Himmelfahrt (Assumption) 15 August

Tag der Deutschen Einheit (German Reunification Day) 3 October
This public holiday to commemorate when East and West Germany were once again united coincides with the final weekend of Oktoberfest. You will see many people (mainly tourists!) wearing traditional dress and going to Oktoberfest where they drink lots of beer, eat copious numbers of chickens, and go on fantastic rollercoasters and other fairground rides. There are lots of other tourist activities during this time to keep the tourists amused when they aren't at the 'Wies'n', including a multicultural festival.

Halloween/Allerheiligen (All Saints Day) 31 October/1 November
Shops are decorated with pumkins and other 'scary' ornamentation. Many people go to costume parties.

Nikolaus (St Nicholas) 6 December
On this day, St Nicholas gives children fruit, sweets and chocolate. Luckily St Nicholas is very old, and everyone is a child in his eyes, so adults can also eat sweet things on this day.

Weihnachten (Christmas) 25 December
Germans celebrate Christmas with the family on Christmas Eve. All businesses close at midday or soon after. The Weihnachtsman or Christkind comes and delivers presents to children. The candles on the Christmas tree are lit, and a large dinner is enjoyed. Christmas Eve is actually a good day for travelling if you prefer to celebrate Christmas on the 25th, as everyone is at home with their families.


Evidence of the close bond between church and state is the setting of public holidays on religious feast days. As most of the public holidays have a religious basis, many people go to church or visit dead relatives at the cemetery on these days. These incorporate not only Christmas and Easter as in most Western countries, but also the Epiphany, All Saints Day, Corpus Christi, the Assumption, the Ascension and Pentecost.

The concept of the Christian sabbath being a day of rest is strongly maintained. Most shops and businesses do not open on Sundays or (religious) public holidays, save for restaurants and entertainment facilities, and the Bavarians like it that way. Sunday is very much a family day, and streets are very quiet on Sunday mornings. The tradition of not eating meat on Fridays is also upheld in many workplace canteens that offer a wider selection of fish and vegetarian dishes on Fridays.

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