# How are we polite without using “bitte”?

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"?

• 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
• 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
• 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
• 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

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!

• "Sie hätten gerne 3 Brötchen, wenn ...?" würde ich auf diesen Konjunktiv antworten wollen. – user unknown Sep 14 '11 at 9:20
• Dann würde ich mit Dir als Verkäufer aber ein ernstes Wörtchen sprechen wollen ;-) – Jan Sep 14 '11 at 9:26
• @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
• 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
• 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

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.

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 stand out in a positive way using it.

• One "stands" out in a positive way (outstanding). Thorns "stick" out. – Tom Au Jul 19 '16 at 8:21

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).

• 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
• Auch das Wort "bitte" kann als sarkastische "Bitte" dienen, man muss es nur betonen: "Hören Sie bitte auf!" – celtschk Jul 18 '16 at 13:26

I wondered if any regional variant of German has a parallel to the Yiddish

Sei aso(j) gut un [e.g.] derlangt mir das putter.

and indeed there is the (not only regional):

Seien Sie so gut/nett und [e.g.] reichen Sie mir die Butter.

• Again, this is quasi-Yiddish. Yiddish is written in a different alphabet, and all the spellings here reflect German (e.g. "das" which in Yiddish is written "דאס" and is pronounced "dos" or "dus"). I suspect that a German speaker could understand "dos" without compromising the Yiddish. – user36833 Aug 19 '20 at 17:32
• To illustrate further why this is misleading, consider the word "aso(j)" which in Yiddish is written "אזוי" and is pronounced "azoy" or "azey." I imagine that the parenthesis are inserted to harmonize "azoy" with the German "aso"="ach so." However, they are not direct cognates. "Azoy" etymologically derives from the Middle German "ein so" or "ie so." – user36833 Aug 19 '20 at 17:34
• I posted this Yiddish example (nothing "quasi" about it) as a legitimate question, but a subsequent user @Wrzlprmft has edited it to make my meaning almost incomprehensible by inserting his own answer into the question. The cognate in question is readily seen (aso = so) and the fact that Argon is able to draw a false and misleading cognate is irrelevant both the the question itself and to my choice of spelling system for Yiddish. – Marty Green Aug 20 '20 at 19:41
• It is not false or misleading--I have demonstrated that "aso" and "azoy" are literally not cognates! Using this "choice of spelling system" is, like I said, writing Spanish in Portuguese words, and you end up in pitfalls like this. – user36833 Aug 20 '20 at 20:23
• Yes, "aso" (Ger) and azoy (Yid) are false cognates. The true cognates are "so" (Ger) and "azoy" (Yid). Your example of false cognates is misleading because you ignore the true cognates. Your phonetic spelling system (which I have followed here) obscures the identity between the Yiddish and German forms. Carried to its extreme, your phonetic system makes a Yiddish text all but incomprehensible to a German reader. – Marty Green Aug 20 '20 at 22:03

The waiter doesn't sound that polite, too.

"Was bekommen Sie?"

"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.

Politeness begins with proper salutation and ends with a kind goodbye. Written fragments of a conversation in a forum help little to understand the concept of being polite as pronounciation, gestures and facial expressions are an important factor - lookup: non-verbal communication.

Example for a conversation without using "bitte":

• "Guten Morgen/Tag/Abend."

• "Guten Tag. Was kann ich für Sie tun? / Wie kann ich Ihnen helfen? / Was darf es sein? Was bekommen Sie?"

the latter question is not necessarily harsh - it depends on the situation and usually relations between communication partners are another factor.

• "Ich hätte gern/Geben Sie mir/Ich nehme ... drei Brötchen und einen Kaffee."

• "Drei Brötchen und ein Kaffee - macht drei fünfunddreißig."

• "Danke und noch einen schönen Tag/einen angenehmen Feierabend."

• "Gern geschehen, auf wiedersehen."

there are many standard phrases that transport politeness. the word "bitte" is always an option but as stated above: Even a "Bitte" can sound harsh and can be meant sarcastically at times.

Best option to act politely is being friendly with a smile on the face while trying not to appear in a stressful hurry. Take the time needed :)

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

• 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