How to Greet a German - Formally and Informally

Businesswomen greeting
You can't go Wrong Greeting a German with a Solid Handshake. suedhang / Getty Images

Greetings - Sei(d) Gegrüßt! - The Words

The following is an overview of essential German greetings (=Grüße) you need to know when encountering a German speaker. Though the casual way of addressing someone in German is included, these sayings should be reserved only for close friends and family. As a general rule, always use the more formal way of speaking when in Germany, namely with Sie (formal you) instead of du (familiar you).

Reviewing the German alphabet may help with pronunciation.

Hello.Hallo.
Grüß dich!   casual
Grüß Gott!   In southern Germany and Austria.
Guten Tag.   Hello/Good Day.
Guten Morgen/Guten Abend.   Good morning/evening.
Bye!Auf Wiedersehen.
Auf Wiederhören.   Bye on the telephone.
Tschüss!   casual
Bis bald!   See you soon!
Bis später!   See you later!
How are you?Wie geht es Ihnen?   formal
Wie geht es dir?   casual
I'm fine.
I'm so-so.
I'm not doing well.
I'm doing better.
Es geht mir gut.
Es geht.
Es geht mir schlecht.
Es geht mir besser.
Excuse me!Entschuldigen Sie bitte!   formal
Entschuldigung!   casual
Pardon me?Wie bitte?
Please.Bitte. 
Thank you.Danke.
I'm sorry.(Es) Tut mit leid
Really?Wirklich? Echt?
Gladly!Gerne! Mit Vergnügen!
Nice to meet you.Sehr erfreut. / Freut mich.
Take careMach's gut. / Pass auf dich auf.

Greeting Procedures

Greeting someone in German is more than just knowing the right words. It also requires you to know what actions to perform when you encounter a German.

Do you kiss the other or shake hands? Try rubbing your nose with a German (and share your experience with us for a good laugh - after you have gotten over the other one's shocked reaction). Are there any differences between men and women?

Handshakes

I have had many students from all over the world and am still slightly irritated when e.g. an American doesn't offer her hand when we meet.

Probably you can't go wrong offering a German a firm handshake. It is never seen as offensive. There might be people rejecting this offer of yours, but that usually indicates some health- or psychological issues. Also, make sure that you apply the right pressure. If you take the other hand too softly, you might come over as very weak and timid. If you squeeze my hand to dust, well... you get the idea.

It doesn't matter whether you greet a man or a woman. Try to kiss a woman's hand and in the best case, you'll get a smile back because she will find it cute or so outlandish that she's blushing on the inside.

Hugs

Germans do hug. I've seen it at times. But it takes a while until you get there. It might also never happen. Some German men are still quite a bit macho and consider hugs too feminine. Well, some things just take a while to think in. German women are way more open in this regard. Another tip for the adventure seekers among you: Try to hug a stranger on the street and let us know what happened. What would you expect? And by the way: Berlin is not Germany. Just in case.

Kisses

Greeting someone the French way is rather unusual. Even too me it feels just fake. One kiss on one cheek but make it count.

Done. Next. And rather apply this form of greeting to people that are very fond of you. As a man be careful not to assume more than friendship if a friend of yours kisses you on your cheek.

Secret Handshakes

I honestly am already too old to play cool. If you are a youngster, go for it. The kids are still influenced a lot by the US-American hip hop culture (That video is rather hard to watch but couldn't find a better example). From me, you'd get an irritated look and we'll end up fumbling around and quickly bring this procedure to an end.

Eye Contact

It is totally fine to look into a German's eyes. No matter whether you meet a man or a woman. Try not to stare but don't look away either. That is considered timid and shy. And you'd come over less confident than you might actually be. It also feels really weird to talk to someone who doesn't look at you at all.

You'd seem as if you didn't listen and that is considered rather rude.

If you stare, most people will think that you are a psycho. In case you meet a German in your country, don't get too offended if they try to establish eye contact. 

Conclusion

Now you are prepared to greet the Germans. A successful greeting might be the start to an eternal friendship. A failed one, well... there's ~80 million Germans. You'll get another chance. But seriously: Germans have a different need for distance and their comfort zone might differ from yours. It is wise to rather start out carefully and try how close you could get to them in the long run. The distance of a formal handshake is a good measure to begin with. 

As a "Schmankerl" (=tidbit or treat) I'll leave you with this video about greetings worldwide of a really nice show for kids: Wissen macht Ah!

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Bauer, Ingrid. "How to Greet a German - Formally and Informally." ThoughtCo, Mar. 20, 2017, thoughtco.com/greet-a-german-formally-and-informally-1445086. Bauer, Ingrid. (2017, March 20). How to Greet a German - Formally and Informally. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/greet-a-german-formally-and-informally-1445086 Bauer, Ingrid. "How to Greet a German - Formally and Informally." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/greet-a-german-formally-and-informally-1445086 (accessed December 17, 2017).