Time keeping – a German virtue

Learning to tell the time in German

One of the first things you will learn in your German language classes are numbers. It will help you say what floor you need in a lift, or on railway concourse, or in an office block. It will also enable you to tell the time.

Timekeeping, for all German people, is very important. Arriving late for a meeting, is considered unprofessional; and arriving late for a dinner appointment is seen as just plain rude.

Learning to tell the time isn’t just about looking at your watch, your phone or the clock in the town centre. That’s easy. Knowing what the time is, if it is said to you over the phone or face to face, isn’t quite so simple. For example: You take a phone call from your German business colleague, he asks you to meet him in the bar, next to their offices at halb acht. Make sure you understand the time; otherwise you will arrive an hour late.

Halb, in German is half, like our half past and acht, is the number eight. So in English we might translate this to mean half past eight, because, we say, it’s thirty minutes past the last hour.
However, in German, they say, it’s thirty minutes to next hour. So, halb acht means, that it is thirty minutes to eight. What time is thirty minutes to eight? Yes, half past seven!

Once you get used to it, it will become second nature, but meanwhile, when you are in Germany on business; or speaking over the telephone, remember, to stop and think.

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