A Chinese expression goes:

(Néng piàn jiù piàn.)
(If you can trick/cheat, then trick/cheat.)

The idea is that there is no reason to be honest just for the sake of being honest. That is, if you can benefit from a dishonest action and know that you definitely won’t suffer any financial, reputational, or other damage that outweighs the benefit, then you should act dishonestly. To put it simply, if you can cheat and get away with it, then cheat.

My question is this: How is this idea commonly/idiomatically expressed in German?

I did a lot of research by making various Google search requests and reading lists of German proverbs, but was unable to find anything close enough:

  • The closest thing I could find is:

    Wer es allen recht machen will muss früh aufstehen.
    (He who wants to do right things to everyone has to wake up early.)

    This sounds to me like:

    If you want to be fair and just to everyone, you will have to live a very hard life.

    and is apparently a sort of justification of cheating, but I am unsure as to what the standard interpretation is. Even if it is the same as mine, this German phrase is rather weak and indirect as compared to the Chinese expression, whose idea is to cheat whenever possible.

  • I also found an aphorism by Otto von Bismarck:

    Prinzipien haben heißt, mit einer Stange quer im Mund einen Waldlauf machen.
    (Having principles means to run through the forest holding a pole with your teeth.)

    Although this phrase apparently can be used as a justification of being unscrupulous, it seems to be rather about impracticality of being too rigid in the most general sense.

Other languages have pretty direct equivalents:

  • An English saying goes:

    Never give a sucker an even break.

    This phrase means that one should take advantage of those who are not well informed if given the chance, and is fully equivalent to the Chinese expression, as the logic is fully preserved: If you can trick, then trick → If he can be tricked, then trick him → If he is a sucker, then trick him → Never give a sucker an even break. The emphasis by the word never is very much in the spirit of the Chinese expression.

  • Russian sayings are pretty direct, too (link):

    не обманешь – не продашь
    (If you don’t lie, you won’t sell)

    не наебёшь – не проживешь
    (If you don’t f*ck people over, you won’t survive.)

  • 15
    Das stellt nun allerdings die Chinesen in kein gutes Licht. Commented Jun 29, 2019 at 21:19
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    You misinterpret the Wer es allen recht machen will, muss früh aufstehen. This does not mean that people who try to please everybody will have a hard life (i.e. it is an undesirable thing to do), it means: This is a lot of work, it is time-consuming. But the message, if phrased that way, is not necessarily that one should not do it. Commented Jun 29, 2019 at 21:33
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    @ChristianGeiselmann keep in mind that the Chinese language has a lot of set phrases that describe bad behaviour. Mitsuko's interpretation that this "saying" is giving the advice that you should cheat, instead of criticizing cheating, is not really supported by how I've seen this phrase used, though some people may well use it like that.
    – KWeiss
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 6:50
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    @KWeiss What are other readings of this proverb?
    – Kami Kaze
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 8:01
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    @KamiKaze it's not a proverb, more like a "phrase". You could use it like "He was a real villain, cheat-as-much-as-you-can was his way". It's not (normally) advice, although you could, of course, say something like "cheat-as-much-as-you-can is how life should be lived".
    – KWeiss
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 9:06

8 Answers 8


I cannot think of a really close equivalent, because your proverb shows an attitude that is not well received - at least few people would publicly admit they feel this way. The closest one that comes to my mind is

Nimm, was Du kriegen kannst

which literally translates to take whatever you can but rather means to take any benefit that is offered or available up to the point where you exploit someones generosity or take something that you may formally claim even if you are not the intended beneficiary of the rule
Still by saying this you exhibit an attitude many people might not agree to. It is not a widely accepted rule of behaviour.


There is a common German proverb from a slightly different angle:

Der Ehrliche ist immer der Dumme.

translating to "The honest one will always turn out to be the dumb one", or paraphrased: "Acting honest is just not worth it".

The connotation can be a bit different though, I believe. Often, the proverb is used by someone who has been honest himself and lost out to someone who wasn't, and who uses it to complain that the world isn't fair... without necessarily changing his mind about his own willingness to cheat (well, maybe a little).


There is an idiom referring to the ten commandments.

Das elfte Gebot heißt: Du sollst dich nicht erwischen lassen.

The eleventh commanments reads: Thou shalt not get caught.

One variation is

Du kannst alles machen, du darfst dich nur nicht erwischen lassen.

You can do everything you want, just don't get caught.

which is quite fitting for your saying.

The 2nd part of this became relatively famous because of a talk last year at the 35th Chaos Communication Congress (35C3) named "Du kannst alles hacken – du darfst dich nur nicht erwischen lassen."

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    I think the translation should be "do anything, not do everything" Commented Jun 29, 2019 at 10:03

Wo kein Kläger, da kein Richter.

No plaintiff, no judge.

  • 3
    Die Redewendung zielt auf absichtlich gesetzwidriges Handeln (siehe dessen Herkunft). Das tritt weder automatisch durch Schummeln ein, noch andersrum.
    – AmigoJack
    Commented Jun 29, 2019 at 19:46
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    Kann es aber, von daher finde ich die Antwort ok. Außerdem bezieht sich Kläger und Richter nicht automatisch auf die juristische Definition, es kann auch im übertragenen Sinne gemeint sein.
    – plocks
    Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 11:12
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    @AmigoJack Die Anwendung ist vielfältig. Im allgemeinen bedeutet es solange es niemandem auffällt/stört, bleiben die Konsequenzen aus. Oder im erweiterten Sinne sogar so lang dein "Vergehen" nicht so schwerwiegend ist das jemand sich die Mühe macht es zu verfolgen,(Klage zu erheben) wird die Strafe aus bleiben (Richtspruch)
    – Kami Kaze
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 8:07
  • Solch ein Gebrauch ist ebenso falsch wie "sich entschuldigen": die Herkunft ist die fehlende Anklagemöglichkeit, nicht das fehlende Interesse.
    – AmigoJack
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 10:23

There are a couple German sayings or idioms which at least acknowledge selfishness as a general trait, although they don't seem to appreciate it, let alone encourage cheating:

  • Jeder ist sich selbst der Nächste
  • Das Hemd sitzt näher als die Hose (i.e. close things, in particular possessions, are more important than things farther away, e.g. other people's things).

The saying Gelegenheit macht Diebe (opportunity creates thieves) comes close to the idea in the Chinese proverb, but again it acknowledges more than it endorses and looks at the connection from the other end: It encourages you to lock your door and watch your valuables.


German has the counterpart:

Ehrlich währt am längsten.
(Honest lasts longest.)

I was raised to live that way, hence I’m disappointed by people who want to cheat me. But being honest nowadays has worn off drastically, though, so sayings like:

Der Klügere gibt nach.
(The wiser head gives in.)

have been expanded to:

Der Klügere gibt solange nach, bis er der Dumme ist.
(The wiser head gives in, until it is the dumber one.)

in the sense of remaining honest and not cheating.


If selling a used car or something there is the saying

Jeden Tag steht ein Dummer auf

which can be regarded as an invitation to exploit someone's naïvety (by obtaining a price over value) whenever the potential buyer is qualified.

Besides that we have the following euphemistic expressions:

[Chinesen sind] Schlitzohr[en]
(for cheaters)

mit List und Tücke
(for their behaviour, instead of »mit krimineller Energie«)


One similar saying is:

Was ich nicht weiß, macht mich nicht heiss.

It literally means "that which I do not know does not make me hot". Hot here means "angry" or "excited".

Although it has an "ich" in it, it's not normally used to talk about yourself. So for example, when teenagers sneak out of the house at night, this dialogue might happen:

Hans: "Haben dir deine Eltern nicht verboten, raus zu gehen?"
Peter: "Was ich nicht weiß, macht mich nicht heiss."

The meaning is that you will not get punished if the authority doesn't find out what you did.

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