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Public noseblowing in Germany (thoughts on manners)

In the part of the U.S. that I grew up in, it was taught to us since childhood, that one must be conscientious about where one blows their nose.  Not in front of large groups, not in public, and definitely NOT at the dinner table.  Preferably, one would go to the bathroom to blow their nose, or somewhere private where hot water and soap is readily available (perhaps this is one of the influences of our Puritan ancestors?).  When I arrived in Germany three weeks ago, I was shocked to see that people of all ages and all levels of education/income blow their noses everywhere and anywhere!  You could be in the middle of a conversation and boom the man you are conversing with has suddenly whipped out a used kleenex and is emptying his mucous into it, while you can only watch, mouth agape, horrified.  People do it at the dinner table, they do it in the street, on the bus, anywhere!

I find this hilarious, because my German mother always went on about how mannerless we U.S. Americans are, and here I am in her homeland, noticing all the things that we in the U.S. would consider rude.  Is anyone right or wrong?  Are there truly good or bad manners that can be recognized globally?  Or are there are there just "different" manners?

Any other experiences on "different" manners here in Germany, that is, manners differing from your homeland?

Welcome to the world of being an Expat!
Remember: Success in relocation involves seeing, but not judging differences. This includes personal manners like you described.

I have a related anecdote, from a friend who as intercultural trainer advised an elderly German couple on a planned move to Japan: When she explained that there, the social norms regarding mucus are even stricter than what you describe from the USA, the trainee stood up in agitation and said "If THEY think they can dictate what I do with MY nose, then they are WRONG!"

So please don't do the same mistake as them (or your mother) and tell your hosts that they are mistaken. They aren't! You are welcome to continue blowing your nose in secret - and if you travel to Japan, please don't blow at all!

Nothing wrong with that. I don't see the problem with it. I don't understand why someone should have to find somewhere to hide and do it in secret (unless if they are picking their nose or bushman's blow).

Beppi, I loved your story/anecdote, it made me chuckle.  I have to agree, there is nothing worse than a judgmental foreigner!  We have to accept that each culture has its own set of social rules regarding manners, none is wrong, they are just different.  However, if you go to live in a different culture, it is impossible not to notice the differences.  Preferably this should be done with an objective mind, to better adapt your own behaviors to your new home (within reasonable boundaries of comfort).  When I was a newbee in Costa Rica (before I moved to Germany), I treaded carefully, trying not to offend anyone, just patiently observing their social nuances to better tailor my own behavior fittingly.  I believe that doing this with an open mind is essential to proper integration and adaptation in any culture.

On a side note to xb23, you're right, there is nothing wrong with blowing your nose is public!  However, if you go to certain parts of the U.S., you may find that it is considered impolite to do so.

Manners are subjective, and completely depend on the societal norms of the country. While a boss in the USA would have no problem putting his feet up on his desk and relaxing in his office, this would be the hight of rudeness in Japan where showing the soles of one's feet is an absolute no-no.

I'm not sure about blowing one's nose in public... I'd certainly rather see someone take out a Kleenex and blow their nose in public, even at the dinner table (if done discretely) than I would seeing mucous running down their upper lip. YUCK!!!

Go to some countries, they don't even bother with the formality of using a Kleenex or handkerchief, they block one nostril with their finger, expel air forcefully from the other, sending that revolting stuff flying in all directions... NOW THAT REALLY IS GROSS.

We cannot and should not think we have the right to impose our standards on other cultures, that's certainly a lot less polite than blowing your nose in public.

Cheers,
James   Expat-blog Experts Team

James :

Go to some countries, they don't even bother with the formality of using a Kleenex or handkerchief, they block one nostril with their finger, expel air forcefully from the other, sending that revolting stuff flying in all directions... NOW THAT REALLY IS GROSS.

I'm playing devil's advocate here:
In some countries, they blow the yucky stuff into a piece of tissue or textile AND PUT IT INTO THEIR POCKET! Much better to have it expelled onto the floor, which is dirty in any case!
(And I'm noticing, with some satisfaction, that even our old friend James isn't entirely free of double standards.)

elektraX :

On a side note to xb23, you're right, there is nothing wrong with blowing your nose is public!  However, if you go to certain parts of the U.S., you may find that it is considered impolite to do so.

To be honest, I find it polite someone bothered to take some tissue with them, or ask for it, and use it, and yes, even at the dinner table. That is far more preferable than someone constantly breathing in, with the horrible noise that comes with it, in an attempt to prevent the mucus slipping out of their nostril (where sometimes it ends up in their mouth after a rather forceful push and they have the horrid options of either swallow or spit - both disgusting, and yes as you've guessed, I'm talking from experience), or if they use their hands/sleeve to discreetly wipe it away (which I've gotten away with a few times) - again disgusting. Or even worse, picking it out with their finger (I know what you're thinking by now, but no I'm not that disgusting!). It's a sign of consideration that someone used a tissue instead, and so I respect them for doing so. Looking at the alternatives of not using a tissue, is probably why I (or from my experience, we collectively (the Brits) and it appears the Germans too) don't find anything wrong with it (regardless of where it's done).

XB23 :
elektraX :

On a side note to xb23, you're right, there is nothing wrong with blowing your nose is public!  However, if you go to certain parts of the U.S., you may find that it is considered impolite to do so.

To be honest, I find it polite someone bothered to take some tissue with them, or ask for it, and use it, and yes, even at the dinner table. That is far more preferable than someone constantly breathing in, with the horrible noise that comes with it, in an attempt to prevent the mucus slipping out of their nostril (where sometimes it ends up in their mouth after a rather forceful push and they have the horrid options of either swallow or spit - both disgusting, and yes as you've guessed, I'm talking from experience), or if they use their hands/sleeve to discreetly wipe it away (which I've gotten away with a few times) - again disgusting. Or even worse, picking it out with their finger (I know what you're thinking by now, but no I'm not that disgusting!). It's a sign of consideration that someone used a tissue instead, and so I respect them for doing so. Looking at the alternatives of not using a tissue, is probably why I (or from my experience, we collectively (the Brits) and it appears the Germans too) don't find anything wrong with it (regardless of where it's done).

A fine example indeed of the judgemental attitude we have been critcizing throiughout this thread.
You may want to read the above posts again and try to understand them.

Eh what.

I wonder if the U.S. custom of blowing your nose in private may go hand in hand with our general shame of bodily functions.  I've noticed that here in Germany, people openly discuss their bowel issues and other bodily functions, so maybe the nose-blowing is just a part of that openness.  It's "this is natural, there is no shame in it" train of thought, which practically speaking, makes more sense than bodily function shame. 

It may also be an issue of hygiene (in which case, Beppi, you're correct, perhaps it would be ideal to discard a dirty tissue after use); mucus often contains bacteria or viruses that we would prefer not to expose others to, nor be exposed to.  In this case, blowing your nose in a bathroom may have more importance or motivation related to hygiene/hand-washing than privacy. 

I'm curious, do people in Germany ostracize/isolate the contagiously sick like they do in the U.S.?

elektraX :

I'm curious, do people in Germany ostracize/isolate the contagiously sick like they do in the U.S.?

There are a (small) number of highly contagious diseases that the authorities must be notified of and where the sick person is kept in an isolation ward of a specialized hospital (see https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonderisolierstation - not more than 50 beds for all of Germany).
But nobody is ever ostracised for being sick.

I thought it was just me. I'm British and I found it odd at first. Just getting used to it after 11 years.

elektraX :

In the part of the U.S. that I grew up in, it was taught to us since childhood, that one must be conscientious about where one blows their nose.  Not in front of large groups, not in public, and definitely NOT at the dinner table.  Preferably, one would go to the bathroom to blow their nose, or somewhere private where hot water and soap is readily available (perhaps this is one of the influences of our Puritan ancestors?).  When I arrived in Germany three weeks ago, I was shocked to see that people of all ages and all levels of education/income blow their noses everywhere and anywhere!  You could be in the middle of a conversation and boom the man you are conversing with has suddenly whipped out a used kleenex and is emptying his mucous into it, while you can only watch, mouth agape, horrified.  People do it at the dinner table, they do it in the street, on the bus, anywhere!

I find this hilarious, because my German mother always went on about how mannerless we U.S. Americans are, and here I am in her homeland, noticing all the things that we in the U.S. would consider rude.  Is anyone right or wrong?  Are there truly good or bad manners that can be recognized globally?  Or are there are there just "different" manners?

Any other experiences on "different" manners here in Germany, that is, manners differing from your homeland?

Mmmm; not sure about this; my family on my fathers side are Americans (from Kentucky); I lived there in my youth.  I'd never heard of this not blowing your nose, so just asked my cousin, she's not heard of it either.  Where abouts in the States is this meant to come from?

Loud, ongoing sniffling. the moving up of mucus in the nose... That is offensive to my ears!

The situation at a seminar, a group of maybe 25. The guy next to me kept making 100 times more noise than if he had blown his nose and thus  e n d e d  it.

Hi Cynic, I grew up in the Pacific Northwest.  I've never visited Kentucky, nor do I know anyone from there, so I can't comment on the cultural differences that make it unique.  I have noticed that speech, courtesy, mannerisms, attitude, driving, hospitality, vocabulary, cuisine, and social habits tend to vary regionally, by state, by county, even by city in the U.S..  To say that everyone in the U.S. is exactly the same would be be unfair, because it is such a large country with varying cultural differences influenced by each area's local economy, exports, geography, heritage, climate, history, etc..

elektraX :

Hi Cynic, I grew up in the Pacific Northwest.  I've never visited Kentucky, nor do I know anyone from there, so I can't comment on the cultural differences that make it unique.  I have noticed that speech, courtesy, mannerisms, attitude, driving, hospitality, vocabulary, cuisine, and social habits tend to vary regionally, by state, by county, even by city in the U.S..  To say that everyone in the U.S. is exactly the same would be be unfair, because it is such a large country with varying cultural differences influenced by each area's local economy, exports, geography, heritage, climate, history, etc..

The only thing that stands out to me (and remember I see this from both sides), is that Americans in general tend to eat funny (with a fork); I've not seen this anywhere else.  As for blowing your nose in Germany, as you've noticed, it's quite common in Europe; go with the flow my friend. :)

Cynic, if you go to a nice dinner party or wedding, people tend to put an effort using their fork and knife properly, but informally, yes, we fork-stab our food (as if we were enacting vengeance!) with the fork in our right hand, and primarily use the knife for cutting food.  I've seen differing table manners in Costa Rica too; many people from rural areas eat most everything with a big spoon (not just soups).  I'm curious now, how do Europeans living in more rural areas use their eating utensils?  Is there any difference in eating habits/manners in rural areas vs cities?

elektraX :

Cynic, if you go to a nice dinner party or wedding, people tend to put an effort using their fork and knife properly, but informally, yes, we fork-stab our food (as if we were enacting vengeance!) with the fork in our right hand, and primarily use the knife for cutting food.  I've seen differing table manners in Costa Rica too; many people from rural areas eat most everything with a big spoon (not just soups).  I'm curious now, how do Europeans living in more rural areas use their eating utensils?  Is there any difference in eating habits/manners in rural areas vs cities?

LOL - I honestly don't know for certain, I suspect that most eat with a knife and fork, with the upper classes having more to chose from.  I'm ex-mil and have a thing stored in my attic, called a "Japanese Racing spoon" (it has nothing to do with Japan); it's a spoon that I cut a fork into it and a knife edge honed onto the other side - very useful.  There's one similar at this link.

Oh the kleenex way is for rookies. If you are lucky you might notice someone applying pressure on their two nostrils with the thumb and the index finger and then blowing their mucus towards a random direction. Fun times.

It's 7 months later, and I'm still hoping to hear some examples of

elektraX :

all the things

It did sound like a mighty lot of which nose blowing was just the tip of the iceberg --> and there we know now that nose blowing is basically on par between US and Germany (vs how offensive it is in Japan/China)

elektraX :

noticing all the things that we in the U.S. would consider rude"?

- Same with sneezing openly (it's measured similiarly)

B. Rude Stuff from Germans in US

1- Showering/Bathing only every other day /2days/3days with perceptible odour
2- ? (hoping for stuff from elektraX - note other non-offensive stuff below)

C. Rude Stuff from US in Germany
In contrast there are some usual behaviours that are considered highly rude in Germany witnessed from tourists/expats:
1- Cattle farm shouting - Conversing with another person at the same restaurant table at a volume that allows a person from 30 meters (100 feet) away to folllow your conversation.
2- Boasting about your salary/car/mansion/business at a party so that other people can overhear you.
3- Not having direct eye contact on toasts.


D. Simpleton mistakes (not necessarily offensive) from Germans in US but entertaingly funny :
1- Not shaving armpits, etc.

E. Simpleton mistakes (not necessarily offensive) from US/ others in Germany  but entertaingly funny :
1- Not knowing history - erroneously assuming that the following stuff was invented in the US : aeroplane, icecream, car, lightbulb, toothpaste, pc, gps, steam engine, assembly line, revolver, pc mouse, radio, pizza, french fries, refrigator, portable digital media player.
2- Attending the Oktoberfest in a Dirndl and obvlious that the placement of the ribbon of the apron indicates whether your single, married, widowed or a waitress
3- Giving a present before a birthday, buying baby clothes before birth.
4- Not opening a present directly on receiving it (both sharing enjoyment from it).
5- Pitching up uninvited at a doorstep because you were "in town"


F. Universal rudeness includes (for all countries) :
business people / people on vacation
      1- taking advantage of "anonimity" : rude to hotel/flight staff, road-rage
      2- not washing hands on personal hygiene
      3- no respectfullness of elderly - getting up from bus seat, etc.
      4- not punctual in relation to local customs.
      5- not cancelling of appointments/invitations that you know you cannot attend in advance.


G. Stuff that are just handled differently (between US and Germany) and not necessarily offensive :
1- customer service - performig duties whilst excercising a forced smile vs. no forced smile, storming the customer vs waiting on him/her.
2- attire
         * wearing jeans at formal galas or Viennesse Balls,
         * wearing socks with sandals, (fashion trend in 2010 & 2014 in UK & US), whereas wearing white socks in UK is a no go, and even more so in Italy if the shoes are not also white and the pants even whiter.
3- Giving tips  : US don't pay the service personnel and hence the tips is their income vs Germany where Service Personnel income is automatically included in the bill, and a tip indicates exceptional service on top.
4- au naturell : variations Wearing no make-up, some make-up,  literally layering it.


Maybe this makes it easier to extend the list with further pecularties (and maybe also debatable)

Excellent post!
To add to the "invented in USA" list:
Pretzels and pancakes (they don't even have savoury versions of them there!)

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