German expressions and mannerisms to pass undetected through Deutschland!

Good day all y'all (recently learned that "y'all" and "all y'all" are understood differently in the south of the US!). Today I decided to share some of the subtle quirks used by native speakers I've noticed while living in German-speaking countries; as a bit of background, I've lived in Hamburg, Leipzig, and will soon be moving to Austria, so that's three completely different ways of speaking German. The "schickimicki" (think slightly posh and refined) north German dialect, with a slight influence by their Dutch neighbours, the Sächsich dialect, which is often (and in my opinion correctly) described as speaking with a potato in your mouth (my German certificate helped NOTHING the first month in Sachsen); and the Salzburger accent which belongs somewhere in the Mittelbairisch dialect continuum, which has some rural airs with rolled Rs and a lot of glottal action.

Nevertheless, across this huge language spread in central Europe, there are a couple ways to go incognito if your accent is not too bad (even then, you can claim to be Swiss, God knows what gibberish they speak!!).

1. Na, du?:
If you've lived in Germany for a while, you'll understand this. This is the universal conversation starter for any kind of situation, ever. Seeing an old friend after a long time? "Naaaa du?", running into someone in the U-Bahn? "Na, Duuuu?". Trying your luck with that lady at the bar? Approach her with a glass of red wine and "Na, du?"; it can't fail. This is also especially helpful if you are like me and often forget names. "Na, du?" is a great tool, so use it responsibly!

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2. Tschüüüüß:
So, Tschüss just means goodbye. But you can't say Tschüss as you say any other word. It needs to be intonated properly, and it's a craft of its own. If you're a musician you can think of it as a descending major third like on the picture right here. Saying it in any other way is just kind of weird and rude. You might be with the president, your soulmate, the doctor, or your nemesis, and regardless of the tone of the conversation, you NEED to do the Tschüss right. And stay on that Ü for as long as you want, in fact, the longer you stay there the more German you'll sound; don't be afraid to sound like a children's cartoon, that's the idea!

3. Ja, Genau:
Genau might be just one of the most used words in the German language nowadays, it translates to "exactly" or "precisely", but its use is quite broad and it's regularly employed as a filler word. When I had to commute 2 hours in the S-Bahn every day I made it a game to count how many times I'd hear Genau being thrown around, I used to lose count after around 150. Use it to express agreement:

-Also du möchtest Ananas auf deiner Pizza??
-Ja, Genau.

Or understanding

-Und es funktioniert so und so..."
-"Hmm, Ja, genau. Aber ...".

Something I've noticed as well is a slight duck face accompanying the expression with some nodding on the side. If you find yourself using too much, you can switch it around with "stimmt" (literally "agrees") on 95% of the cases.

4. Naja:
Look, I know Germans are famous for being direct, but this is not almost the case. Naja is a great hint that there is a storm coming which you might be able to avoid. When you hear "Naja..."; it means that you probably just said the stupidest thing ever and you should have kept your mouth shut, so now it's your time to retract your statement and beg for forgiveness. It also can be used to close an awkward moment like:

-Na?, wie geht's deiner Freundin?
-Die hat mich mit meinem Bruder betrogen.
-... Naja, schönes Wetter heute oder?

Or in a situation which is bad but you can deal with:
-Wir können nicht Fußballspielen, es regnet viel zu viel!
-Naja... Döner?

5. Tja: 
Tja is Naja's older brother. It is especially employed for terrible situations, and it is rather negative in the sense that if you've said Tja, you've accepted and conformed to your fate, and you know there can't be anything done about it, you can directly translate is as "Sh*t happens!":

-Mein Auto wurde geklaut... Tja, muss ein neues kaufen

-Meine Frau will sich von mir trennen und ich habe meinen Job verloren... Tja, sollte den Lebenslauf aktualisieren...
And the worst nightmare of every German:

-Es gibt keine Brötchen mehr in der Bäckerei! Tja... da kann ich mir ja gleich einen Strick nehmen.

Thanks for reading, we've enabled comments if there's anything you'd like me to write about. Like always, check out our evergrowing library of bilingual books at

Happy Thursday!