Making (and Keeping ) Appointments in German

Punctuality equals Politeness

Hands Point At Clock
German Punctality. Richard Schneider - The Image Bank @gettyimages.de

The Germans have a worldwide reputation for their productivity and work ethic, and none of our Prussian values is better known than the "German punctuality". No matter if you are arranging a first date or a dentist appointment, the etiquette of punctuality is important in Germany.

In today's article you'll get to learn more about how to make appoitntments in Germany and express relevant arrangements in German.

Calendar Dates and Clock Times in German

Let's start with fixing a date. Dates in the month are described with a system called *ordinal numbers*. Here's a quick overview assuming you already know the names of days and months. If you need a refresher, you can review vocabulary for months, days, and seasons here.

In Spoken German

For numbers up to 19, add the suffix -te to the number. After 20, the suffix is -ste. The trickiest part of getting your suffix right is to notice that it will change depending on the case and gender of your sentence. For example, look at these two sentences:

  1.  "Ich möchte am vierten Januar in Urlaub fahren." (I would like to go on holiday on the 4th January.)
  2. "Der vierte Februar ist noch frei." (The fourth of February is still free.)

The ending changes are in line with how an adjective's endings change as it's used in a sentence (see here).

In Written German

Expressing ordinal numbers in written German is a lot easier since there is no need to adjust the suffix to case and gender.

For dates in the calendar, simply add a dot after the number. Note that the German calendar format is dd.mm.yyyy.

Example:

  • "Treffen wir uns am 31.10.?" (AmE: Are we meeting on 10/31?)
  • "*Leider kann ich nicht am 31. Wie wäre es mit dem 3.11.?" (AmE: Unfortunately I can't make it on the 31st. How about 11/3?)

    How to Set a Time

    The second part of making your appointment is setting a suitable time. If you want to leave the suggestion up to your conversation partner, you can ask:

    • "Um wieviel Uhr passt es Ihnen am Besten?" (What time is best for you?)

    For a firmer suggestion, the following phrases will be useful: 

    • "Wie sieht es um 14 Uhr aus?" (How does 2pm look?)  
    • "Können Sie/Kannst du um 11:30?" (Can you make it at 11:30?) 
    • "Wie wäre es um 3 Uhr nachmittags?" (How about 3pm?)

    Germans are early risers, by the way. The standard working day runs from 8am to 4pm, with an hour of lunch break allowed. School days also start at 8am. In formal environments and written language, Germans will speak in terms of the 24 hour clock, but colloquially it's also common to hear times of the day described in the 12 hour format. If you would like to make a suggestion for a meeting at 2pm, 14 Uhr or 2 Uhr nachmittags or 2 Uhr can all be considered appropriate. It's best to take the cue from your conversation partner.

    Here's an in-depth article on how to read the clock and tell time in German.

    Punctuality Equals Politeness

    According to the stereotype, Germans are particularly offended by tardiness. The oft-quoted saying Pünktlichkeit ist die Höflichkeit der Könige (punctuality is the politeness of kings) sums up what your German friends or colleagues may think.

    So how late is too late? According to the etiquette guide Knigge, [arriving just on time is what you should aim for and zu früh is auch unpünktlich (too early is unpunctual, too). So in other words, ensure that you calculate travel times correctly and don't be late. Of course, a one-off will be forgiven and calling ahead if it looks as though you won't manage to arrive on time is highly recommended.

    In fact, the matter goes even deeper than a simple time delay. In the German-speaking world, appointments are considered as firm promises. No matter if you are committing to dinner at a friend's house or a business meeting, backing out at the last minute will be taken as a gesture of disrespect.

    In short, the best tip for making a good impression in Germany is always to turn up on time and be well prepared for any meeting.

    And by on time, they mean not early and not late.