The meaning of “Wie geht’s?” in German

Last night I was out with a German friend. Somewhere during the conversation, she remembered a question she had stored for me for a while.
She leaned towards me and said, “Do you remember my American neighbors, X and Y? For some reason, every time they see me, they ask me how I am doing. Do they think there is something wrong with me?”

I had a good laugh about it and then proceeded to explain that a simple “Hello, how are you?”, when spoken in English, is mostly meant as a greeting. The proper reply would be “I’m fine, thanks. And you?”.

The neighbors’ try at German by asking her “Hallo. Wie geht’s?” is seen as a true inquiry by most Germans. A true question deserves a true answer, and sometimes a rather lengthy one. My friend also saw this anywhere from being inquisitive to downright nosy. She had to laugh too, when she realized she had given them a straight answer, and much more, every time.

I had to learn this one myself, too. On the way to the supermarket, I often encounter elderly neighbors, and being the friendly sport I am, I asked them how they were… Then the time for grocery-shopping was gone, lunch break was over, and I had to return to work. But I learned about their lives spent in the last six months.

By now you might wonder how do you greet Germans without having to say “Wie geht’s?”. You can say it if you are absolutely bored or want to practice your German listening skills.

If you need to avoid this time-consuming pastime, then it is best to bite your tongue after the initial hello saying. Or you could add “Guten Morgen!”, “Guten Tag”, etc.,  but then do not forget to lower your voice on the last syllable. This indicates the end of the communication.

If I don’t hear from you soon, I know you did not adhere to my suggestions.


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