1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: German
  4. >
  5. Formal or informal when talki…


Formal or informal when talking to shopkeepers

Hey everyone. 'cluney walks up to Hogs breath. He says, 'Hast du Steaks?'. Or do he say 'Haben Sie Steaks?'. The worker replies 'Ja, möchtest du eins?' or does he say 'Ja, möchten Sie eins?' So pretty much my question is first how do Customers address Restaurant assistants and shop assistants and how do these people address customers.



October 21, 2017



Normally, you will always use the formal version: "Haben Sie Steaks?"

There are a few bistros and pubs where people address each other with "Du", especially among young people.

But I would suggest that you always use the formal form when entering a place you don't know. It's just safer. You can then listen to what the other people say, and adapt your form of address accordingly.

In one bistro I once saw a nice object: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sowka/17741414926/in/album-72157652958143512/

With this device, the guests could choose which form of address they preferred.


lol. That funny.


Usually you use formal speech (Sie) in shops, but companies try to use in personal (du) to give the impression that all clients are somehow part of 'a big family'. Companies like Apple, Google or Ikea come to mind. Also in the 'trendy' shops, bars and restaurants in the metropoles formal speech is frowned upon, e.g. in Hamburg or Berlin.

Personally, I resolve these situations sometimes by using ihr, as in Habt ihr einen roten Pullover?. This is not formal, but at least I'm not addressing an individual person as du, but the entire staff of the store as ihr.

When in doubt, it is always better to start out formal and step down if appropriate. Although, speakers with a notable accent are usually excused for not using the right address.

In general, the formal address is used less and less. In the 19th century is was still common that children used Sie for their parents, declaring somebody his Dutzbruder was a commitment to deep friendship.


I see it as a matter of respect that you don‘t go into a shop or something similar and say „du“ to the person there. And I for my part don‘t want to be „duzt“ as well. So when you speak to someone you do not know personnally, please use the polite „Sie“. „ihr“ as someone mentioned, is neither polite nor rude, but simply not correct German any more. I must say, nowadays between young people, it can be otherways. But that depends on the situation.


Don't 'du-dich' someone unless you are pals.


I read somewhere recently that 'Sie' is becoming more popular again in Germany, that the trend for 'dutzen' has peaked. True/false??? It is difficult for English speakers to get our heads around the informal and formal, I think. Especially the plural 'Ihr', I personally have difficulties with that one. 'Sie/sie' is easy because it takes the infinitive, so I would love it if we could use 'Sie' all the time!! If you don't know someone and you call them 'du' could it be a little bit patronising/talking down to them/treating them like a child?


„Sie“ does not take the infinitive, but is third person plural. As you say, „du“ and „Sie“ is a matter of manners and the situation you are in. But you are always on the safe side, when you use „Sie“ to unknown people.

Learn German in just 5 minutes a day. For free.