German Formalities

I moved to the States from Germany 19 years ago. If I experienced any culture shock, I don’t remember it. My biggest adjustment was probably the casual form of greeting that is prevalent in the United States.

In Germany, relationships with co-workers, friends, and strangers are very formal. A young employee, for example, would be ill advised if he addressed his supervisors and co-workers with their first names – unless they allowed him to do so. Addressing a complete stranger with “Du” is absolutely Taboo. 

This created some conflict when I was younger. When I joined a club, all the other members were on first-name basis. But how was I supposed to address our club president, who was middle-aged? He did not offer me the “Du” and so I avoided the whole issue by never addressing him directly. The situation was similar at my last employment before moving to the U.S. All the other co-workers where on first-name basis, but I was addressed by my last name. The formality seemed odd at an otherwise informal office, but after a while it seemed impossible to overcome. I still don’t know what to do if I encounter old acquaintances on the web. Should I fall back into the old formality or begin a new chapter?

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