GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — It is customary for many landlords and nearby residents to invite their new tenants and neighbors into their home for dinner. But if you’re new to the area, anticipate some slight differences.
Read ahead to enter this cultural experience well prepared and remember, glasses will be raised and lifelong experiences will be made when you break bread with Bavarians.
Germans don’t do “fashionably late,” so if you are lucky enough to be invited into someone’s home for dinner, be on time and bring a small gift. Wine or flowers generally does the trick.
If you do bring flowers, be sensitive to colors. Avoid carnations as they symbolize mourning, as well as yellow and white chrysanthemums and calla lilies, as they are traditionally brought to funerals.
Red is for romance, so only bring them if the situation warrants. (Wink!) Yellow roses are perfect as a small token of appreciation, but choose an odd number. Not only is this a European custom, but many Germans also believe they are easier to arrange.
If you happen to be delayed, it is polite to call your host with an explanation of your tardiness before the designated time. Showing up late is considered rude.
Upon arriving to a German home, do not expect a tour and do not ask for one. Your host is also not likely to invite you into the kitchen. While German hospitality is warm and friendly, there are formal borders between family and acquaintances.
As the meal begins, the host will offer a toast. Raise your glass high, looking into the eyes of everyone at the table as you “prost.” The host follows the toast by saying “guten appetit,” meaning “enjoy your meal” indicating it is time to eat.
Unlike Americans, Germans do not cut their food entirely before taking a bite. Instead, the knife is continuously held in the right hand, fork in left, and pieces are cut one by one.
A fork and knife is used for nearly everything — including pizza and sandwiches. Don’t cut potatoes or dumplings with a knife, however, as it suggests food is not tender, and do not use a knife to cut salad in the salad bowl as it is not customary.
And like your mother always told you, remember to keep those elbows off the table.
It is also polite to try any food offered, but only take what you can eat as leaving food on your plate is considered impolite. Most Germans are honorable members of the “clean plate club,” so be prepared for concerned questions about if there was a problem with the meal if you do not finish it all. If you have a food allergy of any kind, politely explain this to your host so he or she knows in advance.
German food is generally hearty, but save some room for dessert. The pastries are rich and sweet and will be offered with coffee or an after-dinner spirit. This is also the appropriate time for a cigarette break if you smoke. Politely ask permission before leaving the table.
Dinner tends to run a few hours and Germans rarely linger after the festivities. The honored guests are expected to make the first move to leave — so you mustn’t wait to be kicked out or you’ll end up staying the night.
When in doubt about German dining etiquette, ask your host what is considered appropriate. Germans love to share their experiences and will be more than happy to answer any questions about customs.
After a hearty traditional German dinner with new friends, you will likely feel full of both food and a rich cultural experience.