Hallo! Guten Tag. – How To Say Hello To A German

Sylvie Thenard - Fotolia.com
Sylvie Thenard – Fotolia.com

German society is no longer as stiff and formal as it was twenty years ago. Yet there are still unwritten rules about acceptable behaviour. You should know about these rules if you visit Germany. In Austria and Switzerland, there may be different rules.

Meeting In Public

In large cities people pass each other in the streets and try to ignore all the strange faces. But sometimes it is unavoidable to take notice of other people’s existence .

When you meet people at the bank, at the post office or at the doctor’s, most of the time you do not know them. Use „Sie“ in formal situations for all people who are over school age .

Greeting

Guten Morgen. (until 10.30 Uhr)
Guten Tag. (until 18.00 Uhr)
Guten Abend. (until 0.00 Uhr)

You can use these forms of greeting when you enter a room with people in it, such as a waiting room at the doctor’s .

When you know someone’s last name you can attach the name to the greeting:

Guten Tag, Frau Name.
Guten Tag, Herr Name.

The title of „Fräulein“ for young women or for unmarried women is  no longer in use. Some women become angry, if they are called „Fräulein„. Never use this word!

Saying Goodbye

There is a standard formula for saying goodbye:

Auf Wiedersehen.

You say Gute Nacht“ only among friends or family when you are about to retire to sleep.

Meeting In Informal Situations

The friendly „Du“ is no longer only used among friends or family members. You can hear it in pubs, at the gym or in offices. If you are unsure, how  to talk to other people such as  parents at a meeting at school, listen what other people say or ask how people want to be addressed.

In informal situations you commit no social error when you use the above expressions. People you know and like well on the other hand are always happy to hear you say:

Hallo!

Saying Goodbye

Apart from „Auf Wiedersehen“ and regional variants people say:

Mach’s gut! (Macht’s gut! – for several people, Machen Sie’s gut! – for someone you address with „Sie„)
Bis dann!
Wir sehen uns.
Alles Gute!

Regional Variants

In many parts of Germany people prefer regional variants for greeting and saying goodbye. There is a rule of thumb: the smaller the town the more likely are people to speak a regional language. Listen to your neighbours and colleagues to find out what they say!

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