Have you been invited to a German wedding and are clueless about a perfect wedding present? Or you are wondering what should you bring for your German SO’s parent’s for that dreaded first family dinner? Read this guide to learn about German gift giving customs and general business and personal German gift giving etiquette.
Like in most countries around, it is very common to receive and give gifts in Germany. Most of the time you will have no problems picking a present for a German friend or acquaintance, however, there are some unique German gift giving customs and cultural etiquette to bear in mind to avoid any awkward cultural faux pax.
If you are travelling to Germany or have been invited to a German home for dinner, there are some things you might want to know before choosing the gift. Even though Germans tend to be conservative in tastes, quality and thought behind the gifts are greatly appreciated.
Let’s take a look at some of the common German gift giving etiquettes.
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Personal Gift Giving Traditions in Germany
In Germany, gifts are expected for social events like weddings, birthdays, or to simply express a thank you gesture after you have been invited to a dinner party at a home.
Below are some common social situations where you might be expected to bring a present for a German friend or family member.
Birthday Gift Giving Traditions in Germany
Birthdays are important in German culture. German kids are spoilt on their birthdays and often wake up to a table filled with birthday presents. Most likely your SO and friends will take it seriously.
If you have been invited to a child’s birthday party, simply ask the parents of the kid if there’s something specific that he/she may like.
If it’s for your adult German mate or SO then simply use their personal preferences as a guide. While physical presents are greatly appreciated, I have noticed very commonly that experiences are often given as birthday gifts in Germany. An escape room, football game tickets, cinema gift cards, beer walks, are pretty popular experiences for everyone.
German gift giving customs for parents of your German SO
Your German SOs parents have finally invited you for dinner. Things must be getting pretty serious then, eh! 😉 But now you have to start the great gift hunt for your potential German in-laws. Of course, they will say that you don’t need to bring any presents but never buy into this, okay.
Bringing a gift is seen as a token of appreciation. They will love your thoughtfulness after all. You better consult your SO and ask what their parents might enjoy as a present. What do they like? Do they have an interest in something specific?
If it’s your first time meeting them then avoid buying anything too expensive. It might be considered as trying too hard or make them feel a bit obligated.
If they have never been to your home country, then you can pick something like a book or a travel guide about your home country. It will also function as a little ice breaker and they will get to know a bit about you.
You could also choose a food item or a speciality from your home country. Presenting a food item from your native land might be hit or a miss depending on their taste. And you may know already that Germans are not really known for trying out new cuisines.
If you want to go for a simple route, then get a nice bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine. It always works!
German gift giving customs for a German acquaintance
If you’ve been invited to a German home by a local friend, then you can take a small present for the hosts as a token of your appreciation.
The typical German gift-giving custom is to bring your host(s) small gifts such as chocolates, wines or a lovely bouquet of flowers. Yellow roses or tea roses are more appropriate for friends and acquaintances. You may want to avoid red roses because they show a romantic intent (unless that is your intent 😉 )
Italian and French wines are also much loved in Germany. I have read a few German gift-giving guides claiming that gifting a bottle of German wine is largely considered cheap by the locals.
I beg to differ though. Some German wines such as Reisling, Schwarzriesling or Spätburgunder are highly reputed worldwide. If you are visiting during the fall season, then Federweisser is also a good choice for a seasonal beverage. Bringing a Federweisser also demonstrates your knowledge of German culture! 😉
Another safe bet is a beer gift basket. Germans are known for enjoying a pint of beer. You can choose a high-quality locally brewed beer since many of the finest brands in the world are already produced and widely available in Germany. Once again, with a careful beer selection, you will also demonstrate your knowledge, recognition and appreciation of the German culture.
Most Germans may consider a hand-written thank you card very thoughtful, so you also add that for an extra touch.
German gift giving customs for a German wedding couple
You have just been invited to a German wedding. Now Germans tend to invite only close family and friends to their wedding. So first of all, congratulations on the German friendship, dear foreigner, you have cracked the code that most of us cannot!
Even though you might be friends with either the bride or groom, remember that a wedding gift should be for the couple, instead of just one of them.
Wedding registries exist in Germany, although they are not super common. Sometimes, the couple specifies in the wedding invite that they appreciate no gifts at all, or just money as a gift, or some specific type of presents.
If you are presenting money as a gift in a German wedding then you might want to gift wrap it in a creative way. So far I have seen some really cool wedding money gifts with money decorated in a cardboard sailing boat, in a photo frame, in a world map, in origami etc.
Kitchen gadgets are also pretty common bridal gifts according to German gift giving customs. Maybe you can pick a nice little cooking aid for your newly married German friends. Make sure to get the presents personalised so they are extra special to your mates.
If you have known them long enough, you can also prepare a photo book highlighting your best moments with the wedding couple. CEWE Fotobuch is one of the best-known photobook creation services in Germany at very reasonable prices.
German gift giving customs for Christmas
Christmas is a BIG deal in Germany. If your friend or SO invites you to celebrate Christmas with their family then keep in mind that it is customary to exchange gifts with every guest that evening. Also, unlike some other countries, Germans exchange gifts on Christmas Eve i.e. 24th December.
Now don’t let this stress you out. There’s absolutely no need (and obligation) to splurge on gifts for each and every guest. It’s the gesture that counts not the actual value of your gift.
You can prepare for the Christmas evening with the help of your SO. Ask them how many guests will be present on Christmas eve. Then get some tips or ideas for different family members.
Avoid anything personal such as perfume, jewellery or clothing unless you are 100% about the taste of the recipient. For the parents, you could take wine or delicacy from your region. Avoid anything too exotic though because Germans aren’t exactly known for being adventurous with the cuisine.
As a general rule, you want to focus on getting gifts that represent the personal interests of your SO’s family. If you are unsure then play safe by getting a nice souvenir or a travel book related to your native country. Scarves and fluffy warm socks, (personalised) coffee mugs also work well.
Gifting an Advents calendar to your German friends or SO
Advents calendars are very popular during the pre-Christmas season. Many Germans love to count the days of Advent in anticipation of Christmas.
Typical German Advents calendar will have about 24 little doors (or windows) containing a small gift, such as a toy or a chocolate item. You should start the hunt for a good Advents calendar at least by October or November since the advent month starts from the first day of December.
Not everyone likes chocolate or has a sweet tooth, but the good news is that you can find an Advents calendar for practically any niche or hobby. I have given and received Advents calendar with Legos, breakfast assortments, beer and teas assortments, spices,
snakes snacks etc.
You will have absolutely have no issues finding trouble finding a suitable Advents calendar for your picky German SO.
So here was low down on the top German gift giving traditions. Keep them and your German mates/ SOs personal preferences in mind and you will be golden!
In my personal experience of living in Germany for nearly a decade, Germans seem to prefer gifts that have some sentimental meaning rather than material objects. Perhaps thoughtfulness is valued over plain low effort presents in German culture?
Read more: Expat life in Germany
Do you have anything to add to these typical German gift giving customs? Let us know in the comments below.