Are you eager to travel to Germany and meet people from different cultures or of different descents (‘Herkunft‘)? Then get ready to learn how to ask people where they are from in German!
How to ask ‘Where are you from?’ in German
Now that you know how to exchange greetings and introduce yourself in German, many Germans that you meet will be interested to know where you come from and learn some basics about your culture. And in turn, as Germany has become more diverse over the years, you will also meet people from different countries living in Germany.
When addressing someone in German, you need to know how to distinguish between the formal ‘Sie‘ and the informal ‘du‘. The rule of thumb here is to always use ‘Sie‘ when you meet an adult for the first time, and keep using it until they offer you to use ‘du‘ with them. With children, you use ‘du‘ at all times.
If you’re not sure if a person you meet is underage or already of age (in Germany, you become an adult at the age of 18), it is safer to go for the polite ‘Sie‘. Accidentally addressing an adult with ‘du‘, no matter how young they may seem to you, is incredibly rude!
This is how you ask ‘Where are you from?’, using first the formal and then the informal version:
Woher kommen Sie?
Where do you come from?
Woher kommst du?
Where do you come from?
You can see that the ending of the German verb ‘kommen‘ (to come) changes depending on whether you use ‘Sie‘ or ‘du‘. You will learn more about verb conjugations in more advanced units.
Beware: If you ask someone with visibly non-German roots where they are from, and they tell you that they’re German, do not insist on asking them “where they are really from”. This is a form of xenophobic behaviour that many Germans of non-German descent often experience.
How to answer ‘Where are you from?’ in German
To answer to the question ‘Woher kommen Sie?‘ or ‘Woher kommst du?‘, you reply with ‘Ich komme aus …‘.
Ich komme aus Deutschland.
I’m from Germany.
And where do you live?
You might also want to ask where someone lives now, as this may be different from where they’re initially from.
In this case, you say:
Wo wohnen Sie?
Where do you live?
Wo wohnst du?
Where do you live?
The German word ‘wo‘ means ‘where’. In the previous examples, I used ‘woher‘, meaning ‘where … from’.
The answer to ‘Wo wohnen Sie?‘ or ‘Wo wohnst du?‘ is ‘Ich wohne in …‘.
If you’d like to tell someone where you’re from and where you live in one sentence, this could look something like this:
Ich komme aus Deutschland, aber jetzt lebe ich in Kenia.
I’m from Germany, but now I live in Kenya.
German and Austrian cities – in German!
Most German cities are spelled and pronounced the same or quite similar to the way that they’re also spelled in English – for example, Hamburg or Berlin. However, some well-known German and Austrian city names are quite different from their English names.
Here are some large cities that you should know:
And finally – country names in German
In most cases, country names in German are very similar to their English counterparts. However, there are some exceptions. I’ve listed eleven country names whose spelling and pronunciation in German are quite different from the English one.
die Vereinigten Staaten
the United States
Learn more about German names for countries around the world!
Ready to travel to Germany?
I hope by now you feel ready to travel to Germany and meet Germans from various cities as well as people from other countries. But before you travel, you might want to brush up on your travel vocabulary.
What cultures are present in Germany?
Germany has become diverse, especially in larger cities, where you will meet people from everywhere. However, some nations have a higher representation than others.
After the second world war, Germany was lacking the labour force to rebuild the country’s infrastructure. This attracted many foreign workers, especially from Italy and Turkey. That’s the reason why you’ll find so many Turkish and Italian restaurants all over Germany, as well as many Germans of Italian or Turkish descent.
In more recent years, due to the war in Syria and the ruthless dictatorship of Isaias Afwerki in Eritrea, a lot of Syrians and Eritreans have migrated to Germany. Most of them have by now mastered the German language flawlessly. So you can do it, too!
If you’re interested in getting an insight into different cultures in Germany, the best place to go is Berlin! As Germany’s capital city, it is arguably the most diverse city by far.
Will I experience racism and xenophobia in Germany?
Unfortunately, racism and xenophobia are on the rise in Germany, as is the case all over the Western world. For your safety, I’d advise avoiding villages and small towns. However, even in large cities, you might experience systemic racism as well as xenophobic behaviour from some people.
If you find yourself the victim of racism and xenophobia in Germany, make sure to speak out and look for allies. You can reach out to the Anti-Discrimination Agency and inform yourself about how organizations and people in Germany are working towards tackling xenophobia.