If you’re learning German, you probably plan ahead for important conversations. You look up vocabulary before calling your doctor, asking for help in a supermarket, or going to the mechanic.
But what about those unplanned moments you can’t prepare for? What about the moment you step into a near-empty elevator, make eye contact with the only other person inside, and awkwardly reach past them to hit your floor’s button? You’re in the box with this person for 60 seconds. Are you really going to say nothing?
Feeling anxious yet? Fear not! In this guide, we’re going to plan for the unplanned. We’re going to learn some basic phrases and questions to survive the seeming eternity of an elevator ride with a stranger in Germany. We’ve broken it down into 6 easy steps
Step 1. Why are we even talking?
First, we should ask an important question: is small talk really that important in Germany? Though the stereotype of Germans is that they NEVER make small talk, that’s not true. While small talk is not essential, and many opt not to chit-chat in public, plenty of people in Germany have mundane conversations every day in buses, hallways, office kitchens, and yes, elevators. Even if most Germans think small talk is a waste of time, it turns out that breaking the awkward silence is a universal pressure.
That said, you don’t have to do it. And if someone doesn’t seem open to it, let them be!
Another important point is that being too friendly or excited can come across as disingenuous. If you are going to take a swing at elevator small talk, we recommend trying to sound relaxed, and to avoid using superlatives like ‘amazing’ and ‘absolutely crazy’ to describe your day. A genuine, honest interaction can get you far in Germany. Be yourself!