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When asking someone for a favour it is considered rude to omit "please" in English. This seems not to be the case in German. In a shop or a restaurant I can frequently hear:

"Was bekommen Sie?" - "Drei Brötchen und einen Kaffee."

This sounds quite harsh. How can we more politely word it when asking for something but do not use "Bitte"?

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Just out of curiosity: what is the reason for asking for ways of being polite specifically other than using "bitte"? Did you just want to have the obvious answers out of the way, or is there more to it? –  Jan Sep 14 '11 at 9:09
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And using "bitte" doesn't always determine politeness… (It's not what you say, but how you say it.) –  feeela Sep 14 '11 at 11:12
    
You mix up two different kinds of politeness, there is no better way to insult someone than to use perfect polite words and phrasing. One meaning of politeness is exactly the outer form devoid of actually meaning it. –  Phira Sep 14 '11 at 15:47
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I believe, one of the reasons why we often don't use "bitte" in such a case is, that it could lead to a conversation like this: Clerk: "Bitte?" (= "How can I help you?") Customer: "Ich hätte gern drei Brötchen bitte." Clerk: "Bitte!" (= "Here you are.") If you ever had such a conversation, it makes you feel a bit weird... –  Chris Lercher Sep 14 '11 at 22:41
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Some fast food restaurant around here has a display on the cash box that literally says "IHRE BESTELLUNG BITTE !!!" - so "bitte" alone does not always make things appear polite :-> –  herzmeister der welten Sep 16 '11 at 18:08

7 Answers 7

up vote 17 down vote accepted

One possibility would be to form complete sentences. This can convey to your conversation partner that this conversation is important enough for you to give up some more of your precious time in order to be polite/correct.

In this example, I would say:

"Ich hätte gerne drei Brötchen und einen Kaffee."

Also, "bitte", "danke", "guten Tag" and "auf Wiedersehen" really go a long way!

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"Sie hätten gerne 3 Brötchen, wenn ...?" würde ich auf diesen Konjunktiv antworten wollen. –  user unknown Sep 14 '11 at 9:20
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Dann würde ich mit Dir als Verkäufer aber ein ernstes Wörtchen sprechen wollen ;-) –  Jan Sep 14 '11 at 9:26
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@feeela: Ich würde aber fast drauf wetten, dass das keine Verkäufer o.ä. sind. Klar ist der Konjunktiv hier unvollständig, weil die Bedingung oder der Aufruf zur direkten Tat fehlt, aber gerade im Kontext von Dienstleistungen hat sich das doch so weit abgeschliffen, dass diese Komponenten fast immer weggelassen werden. –  Jan Sep 14 '11 at 11:44
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I like the notion of forming complete sentences. Usage of subjunctive is optional, in a restaurant you can perfectly well say, "Ich nehme ..." –  Nicolas Kaiser Sep 14 '11 at 13:40
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Wer auf den Konjunktiv nachfragt, ist einfach sprachlich ungebildet, da er offensichtlich nur eine einzige Funktion des Konjunktivs kennt. –  Phira Sep 14 '11 at 15:48

Am gebräuchlichsten wohl Konjunktiv II, wie Jan schon schrieb:

Ich hätte gerne ...

den man auch noch mit „bitte“ kombinieren kann - der reine Konjunktiv II könnte mit entsprechenden sprachlichen Mitteln auch als sarkastische „Bitte“ dienen. Das Wort „gefälligst“ hat ja schon einen entsprechenden Bedeutungswandel hinter sich, zur ursprünglichen Verwendung zB im Grimmschen Wörterbuch, „gefällig“ unter 4 d).

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Wobei "gefälligst" in der Umgangssprache eine andere Bedeutung hat als "gefällig [sein]". –  feeela Sep 14 '11 at 11:17
    
eben :-) - grammatikalisch ist gefälligst ja eine Steigerung (Superlativ) von „gefällig“, die gebräuchliche Bedeutung hat damit nichts mehr zu tun: „Bedeutungswandel“. –  tohuwawohu Sep 14 '11 at 11:53

Polite expressions are often complicated:

Drei Brötchen und einen Kaffee, wenn's keine Umstände macht.

Drei Brötchen und einen Kaffee, wenn Sie so freundlich wären.

Könnten Sie mir drei Brötchen und einen Kaffee bringen?

But you could always append a 'bitte'.

In a modern conversation, it is polite not to disturb your conversational partner with unnecessary complicated conversation patterns. For most situations, I would recommend short and clear sentences:

Drei Brötchen und einen Kaffee, bitte.

The rest is the work of your voice and your eyes.

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Easiest answer is: use a friendly tone and add a smile. Undertones are quite important in Germany, as user unknown has already pointed out. :)

Also, this varies from region to region. A friend from Brandenburg found it strange in Saxony that we wouldn't say "Gib mir mal bitte die Butter", but "Gib mir mal die Butter".

After all, it is never "wrong" to be polite and say "bitte". It just isn't always necessary. However, you usually will stick out in a positive way using it.

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I wonder if any regional variant of German has a parallel to the Yiddish "Sei aso(j) gut un..." (eg. derlangt mir das putter).

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Just guessing what the Yiddish sentence means, but 'Sei so gut und [erfülle meinen Wunsch]', which roughly translates to 'be so kind and [do a request]' is not unusual. –  keppla Sep 14 '11 at 12:34
    
"derlangt mir di putter" doesn't mean "pass me the butter?" –  Marty Green Sep 14 '11 at 12:48
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There indeed is (not only regional): "Seien Sie so gut/nett und..." see Duden Sprachratgeber –  Takkat Sep 14 '11 at 12:55

Well, germans are usually not as polite as people in other countries. Especially compared to very excited north americans.

That said, there are ways to be polite while not saying "Bitte". I'd go with the phrase

Ich möchte gerne ...

The subjunctive is meant as a polite request as well, but as others already pointed out, you might get ridiculed for using it. As there are:

Ich hätte gerne

Ich würde gerne ... nehmen

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I have been in the US, and speed in which you are told to be a friend (2s) or the best friend (3min) is something which I did not always experienced as polite. It can be very pushy, and distanzlos (leo fails). Polite behaviour depends much on what you're used to, to the local culture and the social culture. I guess people all over the world are equally polite, but some cultures are closer to ours than others. –  user unknown Sep 15 '11 at 0:01

The waiter doesn't sound that polite, too.

"Was bekommen Sie?"

...the correct answer would be:

"Drei Brötchen und einen Kaffee, aber zackig!"

;)

"Was darf ich Ihnen bringen?"

Would sound nice for the waiter. Guess you have enough examples here for a polite answer.

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