Going Shopping for Clothing in Germany

One of the differences you should be aware of when going clothes shopping in Germany is that the sizes are different.

A North American dress size 8 for women is a size 36, a size 10 is the German 38, or a size 12 is 40, size 14 is 42, and so on.

Shoe sizes are also in double digits. A lady’s shoe size 8 is size 39 in Germany, size 9 is 40, and size 10 is 41.

Children’s clothing uses the metric system. A size 140 for children means the child is 140 cm tall. So a size 140 is approximately a size 10 for children.

There are two big sales each year, one at the end of January, the “Winterschlussverkauf” (end of winter sale) and one at the end of July called “Sommerschlussverkauf” (end of summer sale).

However, during the year you can find “Sonderangebote” (special offers) and items marked as “reduziert” (reduced). The sign marking the items might say “ab 20,-” which means the items start at 20 euros. All prices already include the tax.

For information on the German currency, read my post on the euro.

If you just want to browse you can say to a salesperson approaching you, “Ich will mich nur umsehen” oder “Ich schaue mich nur um.”

When you are looking for a changeroom to try something on, find the sign saying “Umkleidekabine.”

Stores close earlier than in North America. Usually, they are open Monday to Friday from 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. In smaller towns, they might close even earlier. Saturdays, stores are only open until 4:00 p.m. On Sundays and public holidays they are all closed. In a smaller town, the banks, the post office, and smaller stores might close for a lunch break of up to two hours.

The German Currency, the Euro

Many Germans still pay for almost everything with cash, unless they are purchasing a very expensive item like a piece of furniture or household appliance. Credit cards (Kreditkarten) or cheques (Schecks) are not used as often as in North America.

20 Euros, 50 Euros, Coins

“Der Euro” (the euro) is the currency used in Germany as well as in 16 other EU countries: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.

The written symbol is EUR or €.

There are seven euro bills: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 dollars.

The values of the euro coins are 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents as well as a 1 euro and a 2 euro coin.

50 Euros and Coins

Visiting Germans

Germans tend to be more formal when it comes to inviting people over. Unannounced or casual visits are not common.

If you have been invited by Germans, you can expect that the visit has been carefully prepared. The house will have been cleaned and tidied up. Host and hostess will be dressed nicely. If you are invited in the afternoon, at least one cake will be served with coffee (“Kaffee und Kuchen”). If it is dinner time, the dinner will be ready or almost ready when you get there. Do not arrive more than ten minutes late. Germans are very punctual and it is regarded as rude to arrive late.

In the afternoon, it is customary to bring a bouquet of flowers or chocolates, or both. Remember to take off the wrapping before presenting the flowers to the hostess. In the evening you can bring a bottle of wine which can be purchased in a regular grocery store, or once again, flowers or sweets.

Wait for the hostess to sit down at the table with everybody or to urge you to begin eating before you begin to eat dinner. Children are usually expected to also sit down at the same table to eat dinner and are not permitted to leave until they get permission from their parents to get up.

To find out how the table manners are different, please read my post about “Eating Out.”

Eating Out in Germany

When eating out in Germany, one notices quite a few differences to North America.

When entering a German restaurant, men generally precede women. This might be a remainder from times when the man was the one to decide whether the locality was respectable enough for the woman to enter. In entering first, he would screen her from curious stares and if the decision was made that the locality was appropriate, he would choose the table.

There are no hostesses in German restaurants to greet and seat the guests. The guests enter and look for a table themselves.

Some more traditional German restaurants have longer and bigger tables and in that case it is customary to join other people at a table if there is no empty table anymore. You would approach and ask, “Ist hier noch frei?” (Are these seats taken?)

When asking for the menu say “Die Speisekarte, bitte.” If you ask for “Das Menü, bitte,” you are asking for the three course meal of the day (soup, dinner and dessert).

German table manners are different from North American ones. The fork is held in the left hand, the knife in the right, keeping them this way throughout the meal. The knife is used to push the food onto the fork. If eating only with a fork or a spoon, the left hand is placed on the table besides the plate, not in the lap. Placing your hand in your lap would be regarded as rude.

Germans rarely drink plain water with a meal. Beer, wine, juices, pop drinks or carbonated water are ordered. If you want to drink regular water you will have to specifically ask for “Leitungswasser, bitte,” or the server will assume you want to drink sparkling water from a bottle. There are also no free refills on drinks.

To ask for the cheque you say, “Ich möchte bitte zahlen!” (I would like to pay please) or “Die Rechnung, bitte!” (The bill please). Normally you pay your server at the table. Tax and service charge are already included in the total amount, so a tip is not necessary. However, most people round off the bill to the nearest Euro if they are pleased with the service. For instance, if the cheque amounts to EUR 15,50, they might say “Sechzehn Euro, bitte!” (Make it 16 Euros please). That indicates to the server that he will only have to give change for 16 Euros.

Most smaller restaurants expect cash payments as paying by credit card is not as customary as in North America. However, bigger or higher-end restaurants will accept credit cards.

 

“Du” oder “Sie”?

Both “du” and “Sie” mean “you”.

“Du” is the informal mode of address comparable to the French “tu.” Family members always say “du” to each other, children are always addressed with “du” until mid-adolescence and if people are close friends who are on a first name basis with each other, they also use “du”.

“Sie” is comparable to the French “vous.” People who work together usually call each other by their last names and use “Sie”, even after they have worked together for many years.

Germans distinguish between “Bekannte” (acquaintances) who are addressed with “Sie” and “Freunde” (close personal friends) who are addressed with “du”.

Young people tend to use the “du” form much quicker than older people.

When first meeting someone “Sie” is used and there is a formal process of offering the less formal address to the other person. Your age and gender determines who suggests to switch from “Sie” to “du”. It is up to the older person and/or the woman to offer this informal address to the younger person and/or male.

 

EXAMPLES:

An adult is speaking to Thomas: Wo wohnst du, Thomas? (Where do you live, Thomas?)

Thomas is speaking to an adult: Wo wohnen Sie, Herr Schmidt? (Where do you live, Mr. Smith?)

What time Is It? – Wie viel Uhr ist es? Wie spät ist es?

Germans do not use the a.m./p.m. system in an official context. When travelling to Germany you will have to become familiar with the 24-hour system, especially when dealing with the official language used on the radio and TV, or at train stations and airports.

Numbers 13 to 24 indicate the hours that English speaking people call p.m., for example

14.21 Uhr = 2:21 p.m.

17.45 Uhr = 5:45 p.m.

20.00 Uhr = 8:00 p.m.

 

Speaking in person to someone, Germans often use the expressions “morgens” (in the morning), “nachmittags” (in the afternoon) and “abends” (in the evening) to avoid misunderstandings. For example, “Wir kommen um acht Uhr abends an.” (“We will arrive at 8 p.m.”)