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Throughout the world, especially in the English-speaking countries, Germans have a stereotypical reputation for being stiff, impolite and strict with rules, but also hard working and efficient. As with all such clichés, these should be taken with a grain of salt. The German language is not as smooth as English, so even a friendly word can sound harsh to the English-speaker (not the mention the French, for that matter). More importantly, the German sense of "politeness" differs significantly from the Anglo-American concept of courteous remarks, small talk and political correctness. Germans highly value honesty, straight talking, being able to cope with criticism and generally not wasting other people's time. Consequently, business meetings (though not necessarily shorter than American ones) tend to lack the introductory chit-chat. On the other hand, there is also a strong desire to achieve mutual agreement, compromises, which can easily drive an American manager mad. As for the infamous efficiency: Germans are the world's leading recreationists (at an average of 30 days of paid leave per year, not counting public holidays), while maintaining one of the highest productivities on earth. A late-running train is considered a sign of the degradation of society. Arriving more than 5 minutes late to a meeting is about as damaging as slapping your opponent in the face and will only be tolerated with unknowing strangers, unless you can cite a late-running train in your defense (which is a bit like using your dying grandmother as an excuse: It cannot be used too often before it becomes unbelievable). 


Unsurprisingly, the official language of Germany is German, of which standard form of German is called "Hochdeutsch" (High German). Although English speakers are sometimes intimidated by its apparent difficulty, in reality it is one of the easiest languages to learn, sharing much common vocabulary with English as well as a highly regular grammar.

Hochdeutsch is accent-free or better dialect-free German, the "official" form of the language. It is understood by all and spoken by many Germans. However, every region has its accent, and most regions have also their own dialects, which might pose sometimes a challenge to those who speak even good German - and sometimes to native speakers as well.

Most Germans learn English at school, so you should be able to get by with English in most places. Many people - especially in the tourism industry and higher educated persons - also speak French or Spanish, but if you can't speak German, English remains your best bet. Even if one member of the staff doesn't speak English, you are likely to find someone who does and is more than willing to help you.

If you address a German with English, always ask "Do you speak English?". It is considered a sign of politeness.

Germans less fluent in the English language often answer questions very briefly (one or two words) because they feel uncertain how to create a complete English sentence. This might sometimes appear impolite but it is not at all meant this way. Germans less fluent in the English also often say "become" instead of "get" because the German word "bekommen" ("get") is phonetically so close to "become". Since it's polite to reply "Bitte" if someone thanks you, Germans may literally translate this with "please" instead of "here you are" or "you're welcome". Another source of confusion is that Germans call mobile (cell) phones "Handy" and regard this as an English word.

While Germany uses the 24 hour format for times, people very often use 12 hour times in conversations. There is no real suffix like "AM/PM", though you can add "vormittags" (before noon) and "nachmittags" (after noon) when it's not clear from the context. In addition, Germans say two-digit numbers "backwards": instead of "twenty-two" they say "two and twenty". Numbers below 20 are said the same way as in English. This becomes especially important when you inquire for prices, although most who speak English with you should use the correct form. Better double check what he/she really meant.


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