Discover Nonverbal German Communication

By optilingo

What Gestures Do Germans Use When Talking?

Before you begin working your way to foreign language fluency, it helps to understand the culture behind the language you’re learning. After all, language exists to help a group of people express their ideas and beliefs. Germany is an old country with a rich history and culture. As you begin your German language program, gaining a strong grasp on this history, the values, and the etiquette will help you rapidly achieve success. In particular, Germans use a vast array of nonverbal communication that emphasizes their conversations.

The Importance of Body Language

Some social scientists claim that up to 80% of communication is non-verbal. Those scientists clearly did not study Germans! The German people tend to be reserved and introverted [How to Socialize in Germany], and generally try not to draw attention to themselves. Facial expressions are usually less demonstrative than those of American or British people, and smiles are usually kept for families and close friends, though most Germans do enjoy the smiling element of US culture. Straight posture is still considered the proper way to carry one’s self in Germany, and children are still taught to sit up straight. Laid back postures, though sometimes adopted by the young, are not well regarded.

There is an old joke that says in Germany you shake hands with everything that moves, whenever it moves. There is a ring of truth to this, as Germans will shake hands with everyone present, both on meeting them and on leaving. Body language in Germany is less expressive than in parts of the US, but is similar to those of the British. Though Germans tend to be less expressive, proper posture and appropriate body language is still important for smooth communication. Visitors and negotiators should consider moderating their body language to mimic what they observe around them.

The Gist of German Gestures

Knowing what some of the common German gestures are will help you relax around new people you meet and avoid awkward moments because of differences in culture. Here are some examples:

  • Pressing your thumbs equates to crossing your fingers for good luck. So, if someone says they’ll press their thumbs for you or makes this gesture, you’ll know they have the best of intentions. A fist with a thumb inside might also come with this gesture.
  • If you see a German tapping the side of their head using their index finger, it means just what you think- they’re saying someone is crazy.
  • If you’re ordering beer in a bar, don’t raise your index finger unless you want two. When Germans count, they start using the thumb, rather than the index finger.
  • Be prepared for some noise if you do a presentation that meets the group’s approval. Instead of polite applause, Germans are likely to rap the table using their knuckles to show approval.
  • Remember that what’s merely a silly gesture in one country might be extremely offensive in another. In Germany, sticking your thumbs between your first and second fingers is a rude gesture best left alone.

If you keep these gestures in mind while in Germany, you’ll likely be a social success.