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I am writing my first letter to my oldest, closest German Schwabisch relative. We have never met or corresponded. My brother visited years ago. I am trying to reconnect with my father’s family in his hometown. I got her mailing address from a third party. I grew up in a mixed nationality American household so my German is 2nd hand at best let alone the elements of a personal letter. I don’t dare write it in English because I don’t get the impression that English is a part of her world. It also just seems rude. Please let me know what German/Schwabisch elements/phrases are considered appropriate. Also how do you confer respect for an elder while being warm. I want to build a relationship. I do not want to offend. Thank you in advance for your help.

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    Do you speak any German? I'm not 100% sure what and how much you need. Would the plan be to write it in e.g. English and have it translated by DeepL or Google, and you're only looking for some fitting geetings?
    – HalvarF
    Oct 25 '20 at 10:19
  • Yes, thank you for asking. I speak some. I have also used Google to help translate less personal or business correspondence in the past. This personal note seems harder. I don’t know the rules of personal correspondence to older German people or relatives. Also I usually email people- this is an old school letter. Oct 25 '20 at 21:33
  • okay, so for starters you just want to know how to start and how to end a letter? in your given context? And the body of the letter you might ask in detailed questions afterwards, step by step? If so, please rephrase your question a little bit to make that focussing clear. (and I'm to old school to think that e-mailing requires different greeting than mailing...) More important: is "standard" German sufficient or should it really be Schwäbisch? Because any schwäbisch beyond the greeting might offend if you don't speak it profoundly enough. Oct 26 '20 at 7:25
  • @LindaGerardi: please edit your question so that it gets the focus about the opening and finishing greetings. As I've seen you already came back to your question, just missing this edit for clarity. The SE-model tries to have a clear question - and closes the broad ones. Oct 27 '20 at 7:21
  • Write it in English, translate it by DeepL, do a proofreading. If in doubt about specific sentences, come here and ask again. Oct 27 '20 at 8:52
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There is no need to get creative here:

Liebe (Großtante[1]) <her first name>,

<content of the letter>

<some good wishes>

Deine Linda

[1] Optional but has the advantage of clarifying your relationship immediately, needs to be adjusted to the actual relationship. I actually called my great-aunts "Tante <name>" and I think that's pretty common. You could switch to that in later letters (if she is your great-aunt).

I'd advise against using dialect here. You wouldn't get it right. (I wouldn't either.)

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  • I think a tricky part is if she wants to be referred as "Liebe Tante y" or as "Liebe y" in the following letters, when she signs only with her name while writing back. Otherwise exactly as proposed: "Tante" is quite usual regardless great or not... Oct 26 '20 at 9:57
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    Thank you for the outline and anticipating follow up. In my family often people will call someone auntie whose not really an aunt but just an older relative. Does that happen in Germany? Also I think you are right about skipping the Schwabisch. No time to master the nuances. Oct 26 '20 at 20:31
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    Yes, older relatives are often called "Tante". Usually, that's established when you are a child though. Unless she's an actual aunt or great-aunt, I wouldn't start calling her "Tante" as an adult. However, personal preferences might differ and you shouldn't overthink it.
    – Roland
    Oct 27 '20 at 6:58
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I have a similar background and like to send postcards to my relative.

I generally open with „Liebe(r) [Name],“ as it is a pretty standard opening for personal letters. You can use it for friends and even acquaintances. It’s analogous to “Dear [Name],” in English; it’s not used in professional settings, but it adds enough decorum that it doesn’t feel too informal. The most recent letter I received from my German relative says “Hallo liebe/r [eurieka]!“ (*gender hidden) and we’re relatively close, I’d say. This demonstrates a bit more proximity than what you’re after, in my opinion. So sticking with “Liebe” is probably best here.

Typically I sign off with „Liebe Grüße“ (or even simply with „LG”). There’s probably other ways to sign off, but it’s warm without sacrificing propriety. I even had a very kind professor who signed with “LG” when she sent class emails.

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    Right now the question needs a bit more focus. Nonetheless I think you are on the right track - in that case I'd say the opening greeting is also asked. Oct 26 '20 at 7:26
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    Since OP is writing to an old relative: Some elderly people consider "Hallo" an improper way to address people in writing (as it was mainly used to answer the phone in former times). Also do not write "LG" in a letter. This may be acceptable in an e-mail but certainly isn't in a letter.
    – idmean
    Oct 26 '20 at 19:54
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    Thank you everybody. This is so helpful. Similar to writing an English friendly letter. I am hearing open with Liebe.... Close with Liebe Grüße, kindly but no abbreviations or shorthand. I would never open a friendly letter to an older person with Hallo unless we’ve had previous correspondence. I‘ll keep the body light. Are there any taboos I should know about? For example in proper conversation no religion or politics? Oct 26 '20 at 20:23
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    @LindaGerardi Religion or politics are less of a hot topic in Germany than in the US. However, unless she indicates that she's active in church, I wouldn't talk about religion. And politics seems like a strange topic for a first letter. It's also kind of difficult unless she's particularly well informed. Keep in mind that US democrats would be considered a right-wing party in Germany. However, the US election is the main topic (after COVID19) in the news right now, so she might bring up politics.
    – Roland
    Oct 27 '20 at 7:10
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    @LindaGerardi You should be careful with anything related to Hitler and the world wars. (You can have a conversation about that, but you shouldn't bring it up, unless it comes up when talking about the family history.)
    – Roland
    Oct 27 '20 at 7:10

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