Germans are known for being organised, methodical and rigorous in the way they plan their work day and personal lives. This extends to the notoriousness that German planning and punctuality plays in their culture, whether that be for their train to work running on time or for turning up in a timely manner to an official appointment.
Let’s take a look at how the cultural trait of being on time and advance planning plays out in various common scenarios which expats will almost certainly find themselves in.
German Punctuality: Planning you can set your watch by
I learnt this one the hard way. It’s normal for German colleagues to arrive 5-10 minutes early, stand awkwardly by the coffee machine or shuffle papers, check their phones and such whilst waiting for other attendees to arrive, and then meetings typically start promptly on the hour.
There is usually not much small talk of what you did at the weekend, how are the kids, did your team win? Perhaps a round of introductions if some attendees do not know everyone, and then straight into item 1 on the agenda. And yes, there will almost always be a detailed agenda, sent in advance.
While this may sound excruciatingly obvious, BE ON TIME.
If somebody’s business relies on timed appointment slots throughout the day (doctors, tax advisors, lawyers etc), then keeping them waiting is lost revenue from other customers they could have seen due to your inability to get your shit together.
This isn’t just a German punctuality thing, it’s just good manners!
The same is applicable for appointments with government bureaucracy. If you need some paperwork to be signed or approved by an unfriendly and / or bored civil servant, don’t give them an excuse to make your life difficult.
Yes, it’s irritating, especially when you may have been made to wait for them, but it is what it is. If you achieve what you want to from the meeting, then it’s worth it, right?
Going to someone’s home
Be on time. Check in advance how to get there, where the nearest bus or tram stop is or what parking is like. Being late is considered rude in the eyes of your German host. Unless they say “come anytime after 5” or “around 7”, then anything other than being punctual is not the done thing.
It’s not the same as in English or American culture where a given time basically means come any time after this, preferably about 15-30 minutes later. The culture of German punctuality means the other guests will all plan to arrive there at the set time. If it’s a dinner invite, this is even more important. And most definitely the complete opposite to Latin culture, where the time has little bearing on when anybody actually shows up and is almost taken the other way, meaning don’t show up before this time but any time afterwards is OK, whenever that may be!
On the other side of the fence, if you are inviting German guests to your home, bear in mind that the time that you tell them in the invitation will be taken literally as the time they will be there. Don’t get caught still in the shower or cleaning your apartment when your first guests show up!