Phone Etiquette in Germany

How to Adres People Properly During Phone Calls

Tangled string connecting businessmen talking on tin can telephone
Phone etiquette is still important. Luciano Lozano-Ikon Images@gettyimages.de

In our increasingly digital world you'd be forgiven for thinking that calling people on the phone is outdated. But even though telephone conversations aren't as common in 2015, they are still considered important and relevant. When you need to make an appointment or book a trip, these handy phone etiquette tips will guide you through your first call.

 

How to Call German Phones

The international dialling code for Germany is 0049 or +49.

You can tell from looking where any Festnetztelefon (landline phone) is located by looking at its Vorwahlnummer (area code).  Large cities use three digits, rural areas use four digits. The amount of numbers after the Vorwahl is not regulated.

Here are the dialcodes for a few major cities:

  • Berlin - 030
  • Hamburg - 040
  • Munich - 089
  • Frankfurt - 069

Mobile phone conversations are widely accepted now, and most mobile phone numbers start with 01- in the code. 

 

What Happens After You've Dialled?

When answering the phone, Germans will always name their surname. If you are calling a hotel or large organisation, the surname often comes after the initial company name and is followed by "am Apparat" (lit. "at the machine", used to mean "speaking").

For example, you may hear:

-"Meier?" or
-"Firma Stein, Steffi Meier am Apparat"

 

As the caller, you are equally expected to identify yourself immediately.  This name rule is paramount, no matter if you are on "du" or "Sie" terms with the other person.

I have even observed my parents identifying themselves with their name and city when calling a customer service centre about a broken vacuum cleaner.

So a good start to the conversation is:

-"Hallo, hier ist James." or
-"Guten Tag, James Rogers von der Firma Hyperfly."

 

At the end of the call, you will also be expected to indicate what the next follow-up step is going to be.

For example, let them know when you will next see or write to the other person. Instead of "Auf Wiedersehen", you may hear "Auf Wiederhören".

 

Emergencies

The German Notfalldienste (emergency services) use the pan-European number 112, which you can dial for any emergency. Germany also uses the phone number 110 for reaching the police in very urgent cases.

The rule of the fünf W will guide you through placing an effective emergency call. Your operator will need to know:

  • Wo (where) the emergency happened
  • Was (when) happened
  • Wie viele (how many) people are verletzt (injured) or betroffen (affected)
  • Welche (which) symptoms or injuries can you observe
  • Warten Sie (wait) for instructions from the operator

 

Before you set off on a trip to Germany, consult this printable emergency directory from the Deutsches Rotes Kreuz (German Red Cross).

 

Show Good Phone Etiquette

In general, it's considered bad manners to call a private landline after 9pm. If you have to make that call anyway and can't text to announce your call, these lines will help you maintain good etiquette:

-"Entschuldigen Sie die späte Störung!" or
-"Entschuldigung, dass ich so spät noch anrufe." 

 

The rules of punctuality in appointment-keeping also apply to German phone etiquette.

The rule of thumb is that you will be expected to keep your promises. If you finished your last meeting with a German friend with a friendly "I'll call ya!", chances are that they will be waiting by the phone. 

German business environments appreciate a call leading up to and following up major appointments, such as sales visits. While business letters are drawn up in great detail to confirm what you discussed, your contact on the German side will still take a friendly call as a sign that you're investing in a genuine partnership.

If you expect to be delayed for a Termin (appointment) and can't help it, always call ahead and let them know. You can say:

-"Es wird leider etwas später" or
-"Möchten Sie den Termin verschieben?"

 

Remember the golden rule of punctuality: "Einmal ist keinmal, zweimal ist immer" (once is never, twice is always).

You can find a complete list of telephone vocabulary in the reference section of about.com.