Du or Sie? How to say 'you' to a German

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05:08 mins.
31.01.2018

Du or Sie? How to say 'you' to a German

There are two ways to say "you" in German and using the wrong one can lead to some serious misunderstandings. Kate Müser finds out how to avoid "du" and "Sie" faux pas - and learns that Germans make mistakes, too.

Every other week, DW's Kate Müser explores the quirks of everyday life and language in Germany. Originally from the United States, Müser has lived in Germany for over 13 years. Follow Meet the Germans on YouTube or at dw.com/meetthegermans.

For more faux pas to avoid in Germany, click through the gallery below. 

Culture

Don't say 'Prost' without making eye contact

Given the amount of beer and wine many Germans drink, you'd think toasting would be a simple task. Well, think again. There are some important rules while saying "Cheers!" or "Prost!" When clinking glasses, you must maintain eye contact and toast each person in your group. If you don't, you won't just be considered rude - according to superstition you'll risk seven years of bad sex.

Culture

Obey the red traffic man

It's a common cliché that Germans like to follow "ze rules." And while that might not always be true, it definitely is when it comes to the little red "Ampelmann" - that streetlight figure telling you when to cross the street. Jaywalking is frowned upon, especially in front of children, who might copy your recklessness. Disobeying the red traffic light could make some angry Germans yell "Halt!"

Culture

Don't light your cigarette with a candle

It may seem like an easy solution. You want to light your cigarette, you don't have a lighter, but there's a candle on the table. However, this reckless move will anger any German in the room and possibly endanger a sailor! Why? It's believed that in the olden days, sailors sold matches during the winter to earn a living. So by not using a match, you'll ruin them - or worse.

Culture

Never be loud on a Sunday

You might think that Sunday is the perfect day of the week to check some things off your to-do list: mow the lawn, vacuum or get some laundry done. But beware - in Germany, Sunday is "Ruhetag," or "quiet day." Most shops are closed and neighbors will complain if your noise disturbs their day of rest.

Culture

Don't mess up your trash

Recycling is serious business in Germany. And proper recycling means sorting your waste correctly. So don't even think about putting plastic in the paper bin. Your neighbors will scorn you and you might even come home to an angry note from your landlord. So remember: The yellow bin is for plastic, the green (or blue) for paper, the brown for organic waste and the gray one is for everything else.

Culture

Get naked!

FKK, the "free body culture," is often associated with Germany. Indeed, many Germans love to strip off their clothes on an FKK beach and stroll around the way Adam and Eve did. It doesn't matter how old you are, what you look like or who you're with - at designated FKK spots and in the sauna (mixed or not), you better get naked or you'll be considered prudish.

Culture

Roses are red, white flowers are taboo

There is some complicated flower etiquette in Germany and it can be embarrassing if you don't comply with it. Red flowers - and especially red roses - should only be given to people you are romantically interested in. White flowers are considered to be graveyard accessories and are usually reserved for when someone dies. To avoid insulting someone, you'd better ask the florist for help.

Culture

Don't be late

Germans are known for being punctual and arriving late is considered very rude and unreliable. Even five minutes can cause outrage, so if you're running late, always call and apologize ahead of time. If you're invited to a party at 6 p.m., don't think that it's polite to give the host more time and arrive at 7. Six o'clock means six o'clock sharp.

Culture

Know when to say happy birthday

In Germany, you always celebrate your birthday on the actual day you were born and not a minute earlier. You celebrate "into" a person’s birthday at midnight (known as "reinfeier") - even mid-week. Saying "happy birthday" to a German before the actual date can lead to angry stares and insults. For most Germans, a premature birthday wish means bad luck.

Culture

Don't ask for tap water

Germany has really great tap water, but asking for it in a restaurant will not go over well. Your waiter will get mad and refuse to bring you "water for free." And if you're at someone's house and you ask for tap water, your host will make sure to let you know they also have "real water," meaning sparkling water. After all, sparkling water is considered the real deal in Germany.