Basic German: A Visit to Someone’s Home

By Wendy Foster, Paulina Christensen, Anne Fox

This section provides you with useful German vocabulary so you can describe the activities you do at home both during the week and on the weekends. It also explains what you need to know about being a guest at someone else’s home. The time you spend at home is an important part of your life that defines who you are. It’s where you prepare meals, relax, entertain friends, do work, and much more.

Knowing what to do when you’re a guest in someone’s home is a simple matter of being aware of the differences in the conventions of others and then observing them. This section outlines some of the things you need to know before visiting someone’s home in a German-speaking country.

Living behind closed doors

Privacy plays an important role in German-speaking countries, so in general, people close doors between rooms in homes and office buildings. As an added benefit to maintaining privacy, closed doors keep noise levels down and may conserve energy. When you’re in doubt about whether it’s okay to enter a room with a closed door, simply knock and say,

Darf ich? (dârf iH?) (May I?)

Helping yourself

When you’re at home, you think nothing of going to the fridge to help yourself to something to drink. Your friends may do the same in your home. Germans tend to be more formal about opening up the fridge door in someone else’s home without asking. If you’re thirsty and you want something to drink, you can say,

Könnte ich etwas zu trinken haben? (kern-te iH êt-vâs tsooh trin-ken hah-ben?) (Could I have something to drink?)

Behaving politely at the dinner table

Table etiquette in German-speaking countries involves a couple of polite phrases at the start of the meal, as well as appropriate eating customs. Before beginning a meal, Germans often say Guten Appetit (gooh-ten âp-e-teet) (enjoy your meal) or its more informal version, Mahlzeit (mâl-tsayt) (enjoy your meal).

You may also hear Mahlzeit used as a means of greeting colleagues at the workplace around lunchtime. People gathered around a dinner table use the phrase zum Wohl (tsoom vohl) (cheers) as they raise their glasses before taking the first sip of something like wine. Prost (prohst) (cheers) is an alternative, informal expression more typically associated with drinking only.

Table manners in the German-speaking world deem it polite to have both hands on the table but not the elbows. In fact, your fellow diners would consider you strange if you kept your hands hidden in your lap during a meal. (No funny business under the table, please!) By the same token, eating with your fork while holding your knife in the other hand is acceptable.

During meal preparation, if you’d like to offer your help, by all means do so. You may use either the formal or informal version of you. Here’s the formal you formulation:

Kann ich Ihnen helfen? (kân iH een-en hêlf-en?) (Can I help you?)

The informal you version looks like this:

Kann ich dir helfen? (kân iH deer hêlf-en?) (Can I help you?)

In another situation, you may be offered something (more) to eat or drink. Check out the question and some replies:

Darf/Kann ich Ihnen . . . anbieten? (dârf/kân iH een-en . . . ân-beet-en?) (May/Can I offer you. . . ?)

Ja, bitte. Ich möchte. . . . (yah, bi-te. iH merH-te. . . .) (Yes, please. I’d like. . . .)

Danke, nein. (dân-ke, nayn.) (No, thank you.)