Wie Geht's? Think it's a harmless question... Think again.

Don't ask Angela how she is doing.

One of the worst cases of culture shock I have ever experienced happened shortly after I started working in Germany.  During the first few months I was doing my best to integrate.  I was speaking German and doing everything I could to fit in.  I was being the happy, polite and chatty American which are infamous in Germany.  Doing so led me to saying “Wie geht’s?” or “How’s it going?” to my work colleagues as I passed them in the hall or as I walked into their offices.  This was a fatal flaw that went on for about two months until the department Christmas dinner.

During the dinner, my colleague, one who fulfills almost all of the German stereotypes you could ever imagine without remorse, happened to be sitting across from me.  After the appetizer and a few glasses of wine I noticed that he happened to be giving me a very stern look, not uncommon in Germany.  He finally said to me, “Why do you ask me ten times a day how I am doing? You must only ask once and mean it!” 

The only way to describe my reaction is that I was in shock and embarrassed.  Everyone got quiet and turned to enjoy the converstation that had just started.  I had spent years in Germany but I was completely unprepared for this. The best I could come up with was, “I don’t know. In America it is just something you say to pass the time and minimize the awkward silence in the hallway.”

His reaction, with the same firm expression was, “There is no awkward silence. You either say hi or nothing.  If you ask me how I am doing, you need to be sincere about it.”

This was not the tone of cultural understanding. He thought I was being rude.  This scared the shit out of me as I was trying to be nice and friendly and doing everything I could to fit it. All I can say is that this was a harshly learned lesson.  From that point on I have done anything in my power to only ask how Germans are doing with utmost sincerity.

Since then a very nice relationship has developed with my colleague and this incident has become a running gag. I have been "officially instructed" to inform all foreigners, especially Amis and Brits, that they are only to ask "wie gehts?" once daily.

This situation has forced me to analyze myself and my culture.  Why is it that we are so afraid of silence and why do we ask questions and not be really interested in the answer?  And why are Germans so damn sensitive when you ask them how they are doing? 

The officially certified process for German fun on a sunny day


Germany is not known for its good weather. When it is finally a beautiful day outside, there is a list of obligatory events which must take place in order to enjoy this even.

  • Ice cream must be consumed.

This one is pretty easy.  If you don't want ice cream, that's alright.  You can have a frozen yogurt. (Picture resulting from extensive testing)

  • Man capris are to be worn

Nothing says party like pants that are 10 cm shorter than your normal pants.  Capris, which are solely worn by women in the US, are the main summer attire of the German man.  The only people who wear them more are the French.  I think the French own stock in the companies because, man, they wear them all the damn time.

  • You must take part in nature.

You will be outside.  If you tell someone you weren't outside during a beautiful day you will get a look like you committed a cardinal sin.  Many places will assist you in this as they will not open until the sun has set. (Ex. Movie Theaters)

  • Extremely pale skin will be exposed

Nothing says great weather in Germany like the sudden display of white skin.  Followed the next day by the display of extremely red skin.  This is only topped by the British whose complexion is a mix between Golem and a vampire.  They really should stay out of the sun whenever possible.

  • You will amplify the heat by standing next to a grill

Nothing like celebrating a hot day like making it warmer by standing next to a fire, getting smoke in your face and eating meat.  Thank god for German beer.

  • You finally can put your top down on you convertible

Finally, one day of the ten days a year where you can put your top down on the convertible and finally enjoy why you paid thousands of Euro extra.  But in Germany make sure to leave you windows up and wind protector to avoid the Zug (For info on the Zug see post Here).

Follow these steps on you are on your way to the officially certified process for German fun.