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Thread: German Society: Thou shalt not say hello to strangers

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    Senior Member Phlegethon's Avatar
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    Post German Society: Thou shalt not say hello to strangers

    Anyone out for a stroll in Germany will notice that saying hello to passing fellow walkers isn't a simple matter. Those who have attempted it may have gotten the impression that they were breaking a cardinal rule of German society: Thou shalt not say hello to strangers.

    This has been an issue for me as a foreigner in Germany, because I've been forced to recognize that I'm hardwired to say “hi“ even to people I don't know. I feel almost guilty if I don't greet the person coming toward me on our local riverside path. When I spring a hello on them, reactions range from a wary Guten Tag to stone-cold silence.

    I experienced this one morning, jogging around our new town. As I was about to pass an older man I sang out a cheerful Guten Morgen! with, I thought, my most winsome American smile. Expecting an automatic good morning in return, I was surprised when the man stopped dead in his tracks to glare at me as I ran by. I felt like I had committed some major breach of etiquette.

    Gradually, however, I have learned a few things that take some of the guesswork out of the politics of saying hello. First of all, I was relieved to learn that the cold shoulder is not reserved for over-exuberant foreigners - it's something the Germans give each other, as well. Secondly, if you have something in common with the person heading toward you, such as the fact that you're both jogging or have dogs, you're likely to get at least a nod or a cordial Tag! in return. Likewise, if you become a familiar part of someone's routine, you'll get plenty of hellos. Another older man in our town used to ignore me when I first started passing him on my morning jogs but eventually started greeting me warmly.

    Of course, people don't always say hello to passing strangers in many other countries, but in the United States, at least, you will usually get a sincere “good evening“ during a stroll in any smaller town. You can be accosted, in a nice way, on the street in California for not smiling.

    I'm not suggesting that Germany should ever go that far. But I'm going to continue doing my part here for a little thaw in the politics of hello.

    Source: By Melanie Hannon, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, September 19, 2003
    And all my youth passed by sad-hearted,
    the joy of Spring was never mine;
    Autumn blows through me dread of parting,
    and my heart dreams and longs to die.

    - Nikolaus Lenau (1802-1850)

    Real misanthropes are not found in solitude, but in the world; since it is experience of life, and not philosophy, which produces real hatred of mankind.

    - Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837)

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    No to the "politics of hello"! That's not what we are used to here. I also would stare at some stranger on the street who would give me a "hi" or "hello".

    I guess that lady would love Berlin where just everyone blows up everyone with "Wat wolln Se?!" etc. Berlin is definitely the anti-city of all forms of politeness.

    Better would be a little thaw in the politics of "Heil!"

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