German Manners: Adolph Freiherr Knigge
Who was Adolph Freiherr Knigge?
Adolph Freiherr Knigge (Adolph Freiherr von Knigge) is author of the book Über den Umgang mit Menschen (On Human Relations) and therefore seen as the “father” of German manners. But his work includes even more than that: Adolph Freiherr Knigge was an educator and sociologist, who analysed society into the deppest depths.
Born in 1752, Adolph Freiherr Knigge was the son of a blue blood, but poverty-stricken family. Nevertheless, he grew up on a palace ground in Bredenbeck and enjoyed a – according to his high social standards – befitting education. When Knigge was only eleven years old, his mother died. Three years later also his indebted father. Creditors took the estate and Adolph Freiherr Knigge received private lessons after the demand of a legal guardian. Later on, he studied law.
The “rules of conduct” are traditional norms which describe the expectations of social behavior within certain social circles. Etiquette rules can deal with different kind of sub-areas:
- Greetings and adoption
- Clothing and outer appearance
- Business etiquette
- Restaurant etiquette
- Social etiquette
Knigge rules were in fact no “rules”, but he was a Counselor for courtesy and tact in dealing with “people of different minds, temperaments and moods of the mind and heart” such as with parents, children, married couples, lovers, neighbors, princes, clergy and many more.
German Etiquette: Men and Women
“Ladys first” doesn’t apply to every situation. Some German etiquette rules between men and women:
- A man should greet old people and women first. If a lady is coming into the room, a man should stand up and shake her hand. However if a man comes inside and a woman is already sitting in a room, its not required for her to stand up. Nevertheless, its considered as a very nice gesture, if the younger woman is showing some respect and stands up, if an old lady or man is coming into the room.
- A man is usually walking on the left side of the woman – doesnt matter if she is his mother, wife, grandmother, friend. The reason: in case something happens, it would be easier for the man the protect the woman with his right hand.
- The old manners rule states that the gentlemen should proceed on the stairs while going up. Decades ago, when the ladies wore long skirts, it was considered as bashful, if a man could see even a piece of a leg. However, the ladies had to pull their long skirts when walking up the stairs. If he man would have been behind her, he would have been able to see her legs. This rule had the disadvantage, that if she really stumbled and fell, he couldn’t help her. The danger of tilting backwards is, indeed, much greater than that of falling down the steps. For this reason, the recommendation has been reversed for some time now: man should go ahead in order to be able to help in an emergency. Upstairs, it goes the other way around. He ahead, she afterwards, so that she can possibly support her. However, this is only necessary if a staircase is too narrow to be able to walk side by side.
German Etiquette: Everyday Life
- If someone is sneezing, the German “Gesundheit” (Bless you) is not a must to say, but most people still stick to this “unwritten rule”. Nevertheless: according to the etiquette, a sneezing should be ignored by both sides, the sneezer and the people aorund him. A short “sorry” from the sneezer is okay, if other people got frigthened by it for a short second.
- On big events or meetings, the mobile should be turned off. A mobile should also be avoided in hospitals and petrol stations. The sensitive electronics in medical devices can irritate and cause disturbances. If the phone falls to the ground at a petrol station during a conversation and the battery is released, sparks could be generated and highly flammable gases from the tank or the dispensing nozzle can be blown. If someone is talking on the phone in public, shouting should be avoided.
- Compliments should always be accepted with a “Thank you” and not shamefully belittled. Except when someone is trying to take advantage from someone by giving him false compliments.
German Etiquette: Restaurants
- In Germany, the man goes ahead. The reason lies far back: it was the mans task to check, if everything in the restaurant or bar was safe. In Italy for example, the woman always goes ahead. The argument for this etiquette: She should get the attention first.
- On the way to the table, the woman goes first because the man already checked, that everything is alright.
- The man is helping the woman into her coat and should not leave this task to the waiter.
- The man is asking the woman first what she would like to order.
- If the waiter is serving soup, its okay to reject it.
- In very noble restaurants, the man stands up if the woman stands up or is coming back to the table – for example when she is going to the rest room.