Duzen and Siezen: a guide to German Höflichkeit
Verbal etiquette differs amongst languages. Politeness (Höflichkeit) is something that is very important in German culture. A concept which is non-existent in English is that of duzen and siezen. These two terms refer to addressing someone in an either informal way, by using “du”, or in a formal way, by using “Sie”. Many German speakers claim this custom is slowly disappearing. Though, it remains important for non-native speakers to be aware of this. This way, they can avoid awkward situations and embarrassment. So, when do you use which? Well, the rules aren’t always straightforward, but there are some guidelines you can follow.
Können wir uns duzen?
You can always use “du” when you are talking to people in your inner circle. This includes mainly friends and family. Generally, you can always use “du” when you talk to children or people who are clearly much younger than you. When you are still in the process of learning German, choosing between “du” and “Sie” might be difficult at times, so using “Sie” by default will prevent you from being perceived as impolite. Some people might be slightly surprised by your formal approach, especially when they’re younger, but at least you’re not being rude, right?
Duzen and Siezen bei der Arbeit
The rules for duzen and siezen in a professional setting are slightly different though. There, a person being younger than you does not automatically grant you the permission to address them in an informal way. It depends greatly on the organizational culture you find yourself in. Startups, for example, generally have a rather flat hierarchy where calling someone Sie would be frowned upon. In more established companies, it would be the other way around. In these situations, the best idea is to use “Sie” automatically and wait until others offer you a “du”.
Figuring out all of the above is easier the more you actively try to speak German and engage with people. DAS Akademie offers you German courses on every level where the emphasis lies on conversation, which prepares you for real life situations.