Inquiry and Response Tactics, German style

As I had pointed out in a previous post, Camp King and Local Guest Houses, there were doubts whether I would get a response to my inquiry from the Municipal Archives of Oberursel.

My inquiry had been sent on 24 March and there has been no response so far. I have not even received a polite I am sorry, we can’t help you or We are investigating from this public institution. Which reminds me of the mechanism I so often see in German bureaucracy: do clerks believe that the inquiring person will fade over time?

I have filled out lengthy documents for the health insurance company to confirm my status. Again, there is never a response in regards to Yes, we have received it and are working on it. And basically, if there is no further response, it means my status remains unchanged. Hence, the lack of  response stands for the result. The German interpretation is such: No news is good news.

Once I had to send important documents to a public notary in my hometown. I did not hear anything about it anymore, so I inquired by e-mail.  The response was: Natürlich haben wir die Papiere erhalten! Well, how dare I ask such a dumb question.

Additionally, I had to appeal my last income tax declaration on 11 Dec 2009. Again, no response from the German Tax Authorities in regards to receipt, or when I can expect a reply. Of course, I would never question this style if I had not learned of other, and better ways, of handling this.

Last time we had to file with the the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), we were notified of receipt, and promised an answer within 60 days. After 60 days, we got another letter, asking for 30 more days and our understanding in this matter. In contrast, the German Tax Authorities tell you to refrain from contacting them while they are working on it.

Well, if the German Public treats inquiries and responses as such, then it comes as no surprise that individuals see it the same way. I am often asked for information on certain topics and then send my research results to the inquiring person. Only about 20% of Germans confirm receipt by writing a short Danke. It only takes a one-liner to confirm, but for the German mind, the subject is closed as soon as the required information has been received. If it is not complete, then you will definitely hear from them again.

In our expat life, this German way of handling inquiries and responses takes some getting used to. This opposite way seems to work for them We will contact you if it is incorrect or incomplete. For many, any common courtesy in print seems to be a waste of time.

I have just resent my inquiry to the Municipal Archives of Oberursel with the headline ZUR FREUNDLICHEN ERINNERUNG ( This is a friendly reminder).


  1. The trouble is, that the German public almost expects it to be this way. I once sent out an e-mail to a client (before I was self-employed!) to apologise for taking so long to answer his question. I think it had been about 4 weeks, and we were either still working on the problem or had a large backlog due to CeBIT or something.

    He forwarded the e-mail to a journalist, who wrote an article about it that was not very positive. I don’t remember everything as it was about 10 years ago, but I think we probably stopped sending out such e-mails at that point.

    Only last week I asked the central tax office in Saarlouis why they hadn’t sent me the information I asked for in writing several weeks ago. They told me that this amount of waiting times was normal at the moment. The problem is I have to fill out a form for them using this information – and submit it by 10th May!

  2. I, too, have made the same observation here in Germany, Maria. German lawyers seem to be a prime example of this sort of misconduct.

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