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