Posted on 12.02.2013


Something interesting happened to me a few months ago, and I’m just getting around to writing these things out now. Before I get into my story, I feel the need to share, with anyone who MIGHT NOT be English or American reading this, the proper etiquette for dealing with the service industry in the USA:

It is considered extremely rude to pay for something by throwing your money on a counter, or anywhere that makes it hard for the person you’re paying (watier, cashier, whatever) to pick it up. Becuase of this, it’s considered polite and classy to nicely place the money, or your credit card, in the hands of the person you’re paying. It’s courtesy, and making it easier for the person to count the money or handle your card.

AIPTEKThis is NOT the case in Germany, where they don’t want to touch your possibly grubby hands. In every shop you’ll see a square tray on the counter (I’ve circled it for you in the left photo). This is where you place your money for the person to count it and pick it up, and then if you get change back, they will place it here for you to take back.

This is the same in Japan, where you place the money in a small tray next to the register, and never touch the person helping you. I’m not sure it’s quite for the same reasons, due to the Japanese ideas of cleanliness and purity… based on what happened to me the other day, I think the Germans do it because it makes the money easier to count.

What happened was this: I got on the bus and asked for a ticket. The bus driver told me how much, and in my moment of not thinking, just doing, I handed him the correct amount of change. I handed it to him, and did not place it on the pay tray (as you can see this nice man doing in the left photo) as I should have, had I been thinking. I didn’t hand him the money to be rude, it was actually my ingrained politeness winning over my internal ‘act like a German’ monologue, which apparently has to be turned on at all times. In my own defense, his hand was out, so I reacted as normal for an American, rather than a German.

He proceeded to rip my ass out, auf Deutsch, about how I should never touch a bus driver, and I’m lucky he’s not angry today (I beg to differ), and don’t ever let that happen again, how can I count it like that?, and don’t you know better, you fool? and so on. Thankfully, as it’s my second language and not my first, I just ‘ja, ja’ed him and tuned him out as I walked away. I’m getting better at not standing there trying to be polite, taking more shit than necessary these days.

But still, remember this lesson: NEVER hand a service worker in Germany the money, even if it is polite by your standards to do so. Always put it down where they can see it and count it before picking it up.