I'm composing a follow-up email to my university's student government, now in German, as I've received no response to my query in English. I don't have individual names as the published information is just email addresses for the different Referate. I'm looking for suggestions on how to begin my email as I feel that "Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren" is way too rigid and formal for someone likely in the same age group or maybe even younger, their position in student government notwithstanding. Since my original email was a request (I began my email in English with "Dear friends of the [such and such department]"), I want to remain friendly and not get too formal, but at the same time do better than "Hallo".

I looked in emails sent from student government to us and we are addressed as "Mitstudierenden", but this doesn't sound like the right choice here. Is there a better form of address which expresses a sense of collegiality, i.e. of being peers, instead of talking up or down to someone?

Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

  • Rather than sending another letter, you should ask them what they did with the first one. It puts them into an awkward situation not responding to letters from international students written in English so you gain the upper hand.
    – Janka
    Mar 11, 2019 at 21:46
  • To be honest, the only reason I'm contacting them in the first place is because I have contacted at least 4 other administrators and have not received a response (despite me having written to them in German), so I'd rather keep them on my side and try to keep a positive approach --whether I gain an upper hand depends on them feeling put on the spot by such a situation, which at this point I seriously doubt is the case, but your point is well taken. Thank you.
    – user19407
    Mar 12, 2019 at 8:39
  • Yeah, student government is nepotism and slack. Let's hope they at least got really stoned from our money.
    – Janka
    Mar 12, 2019 at 9:37

1 Answer 1


It is better to err on the safe side:

Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren

is IMO never wrong, especially in German speaking countries, even if they are people of your age (or younger) and in a similar situation as you are, and even if they addressed you as "Mitstudierenden".

But it is a bit weird that you did not get any response to your query in English, in an academic environment. I would have expected at least some reply, even if it were something in German saying that you should write your query in German too.

  • I disagree. Certain social settings have very specific social norms and etiquette and it would be extremely odd for one student to address other students with 'sehr geehrte Damen und Herren'. Grandiloquent exaltation is not always the safe side.
    – jarnbjo
    Mar 12, 2019 at 18:00
  • No, it wouldn't be odd at all. You are addressing people you don't know personally, nor have ever met. You don't even know if they are all students. In any case, it is never wrong to use "Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren". Better to be too formal than not formal enough, especially here in Europe. And your use of "grandiloquent exaltation" is quite a bit of hyperbole, right? "Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren" is far from it. Mar 12, 2019 at 18:20
  • If OP is addressing the student government organization, he is addressing fellow students. It does not matter if he doesn't know them personally or have never met them. In Germany, it would be odd and unexpected to do so in a formal tone and it is not unlikely to be deemed exalted or snobbish if you address someone with an exaggerated formal language. I don't know where you refer to with 'here in Europe' though. I am talking about Germany, where I live and have studied. Other European countries will have vastly different social norms.
    – jarnbjo
    Mar 12, 2019 at 18:34
  • @jambjo: I disagree. It is not exalted or snobbish or even grandiloquent to call people you don't know "sehr geehrte Damen und Herren". If this is a formal query, it can well be in a formal tone, even if they are fellow students. That is part of professionalism. Mar 12, 2019 at 18:39
  • 1
    How fascinating that in a protracted debate about the (de)merits of this standard address, no alternatives whatsoever have been put forward. This made me upvote the answer.
    – Endre Both
    Mar 14, 2019 at 8:41

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