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8 No-Nos to Avoid Doing in Germany

Gestures, hand signals, and body language can be a minefield for the uninitiated and a potential cause for misunderstandings and offence when visiting a different culture.  Many societies attach meanings to a range of actions, and you do not want to fall foul of good manners and make a slip when in Germany.  Whether you are visiting on business or for pleasure, take note of these gestures to avoid:

Photo via torbakhopper/Flickr

1. The Middle Finger

As in many countries, flipping someone the middle finger, commonly referred to as flipping someone the bird, is very offensive.

2. Thumb Between Index and Middle Fingers

This is a rude gesture that Germany share with Russia.  It basically symbolizes a sexual act, and is seen as being highly insulting.

3. Forearm Jerk

A crude gesture, used in other countries too, the forearm jerk is not treated as a casual joke in Germany.  It is performed by making a fist with the right hand and bringing the arm up whilst simultaneously slapping the upper part of the right arm with the left hand.  It means the same as saying “get lost” or “go screw yourself”.

4. Yellow Roses

Don’t give yellow roses as a gift, as they suggest a person’s partner is being unfaithful!

5.  Hands in Pockets

Talking to somebody with your hands in your pockets is usually seen as very sloppy, lazy, and disrespectful.  It is certainly not a good idea in a business setting.

6. Clicking Your Fingers in a Restaurant

Trying to summon a waiter or waitress by clicking your fingers is likely to get you ignored.  It is seen as ignorant and boorish.  Instead, raise your hand to get their attention.

7. Sharp Objects

A gift of scissors or knives will not be well received, and umbrellas are seen as unlucky.

8. Elbows on Tables

It is considered very rude to put your elbows on the table whilst eating.  Regarding meals, it is also polite to clear your plate to show your appreciation.


Germans are known for being very proud and proper.  Whilst some actions will be overlooked if performed by foreigners, others can earn you a sharp reprimand, which is embarrassing for both parties!  Being able to communicate effectively with people around you can allay some mistakes; people can explain what you did wrong, and why it was wrong in the first place.  You can also know how to apologise and save a situation!  Learn a bit of basic German and avoid these gestures to have a successful trip to Germany.