The Germans are a hard-working, orderly and loyal people who take pride in their family and their home. That said, they also enjoy a celebration, as Oktoberfest clearly demonstrates. You'll find most Germans to be understanding and helpful.

German is the official language of the country, however you will hear strong regional dialects as you travel. Some English and French are also spoken.

The majority of Germans are Christian, Catholics and Protestants equally represented. Different worldwide religions are also found in smaller numbers.

Literature, music and art have played a large role in German traditions for hundreds of years, and still influence the country today. Germans appreciate culture, and nearly every city offers museums, theaters and music festivals for all to enjoy.

When greeting friends and acquaintances, a handshake is customary. If you are sharing a meal with German companions, say guten appetit before you start eating. The reply to this is danke, gleichfalls - thank you, the same to you.

Hearty German cuisine includes tasty snacks like sausage or wurst on a roll, pretzels, sauerkraut and schnitzel. Other favorite dishes include bratwurst; eisbein or pork with potatoes; Schwäbische maultaschen, a ravioli dish usually served in Stuttgart; and eierpfannkuchen or pancakes (not the IHOP variety). For dessert, look for Schwarzwälder kirschtorte on the menu - that's delectable Black Forest Cake. Germany is known for world-class wines and beers. It's rumored - and it may well be true - that there are more than 5000 varieties of beer, varying from region to region in strength, flavor and color. There's even a smoky beer in the Bamberg area. And the vineyards of Germany are legendary for their fine varietals and blends. In addition to beer and wine, you might want to sample ebbelelwoi or apple wine, schnapps and Kirschwasser, a cherry liqueur.

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