Language focus | 06.09.2016

Cultural Considerations: German Business Etiquette

Here at The Translation People, we know that the translations we provide for our clients are key to building long-lasting international relationships built on trust and respect. But how can you make a good impression when meeting your foreign clients in person? Here is the first article in our cultural considerations guide, with German business etiquette advice to consider when doing business in the country.

German Business Etiquette

  • Germany’s renowned straight-talking nature is reflected in their business etiquette, with little or no small talk as the norm. There’s also no hedging or skirting around issues, which is a common fixture in English speech, so don’t be taken aback by their very direct approach. Conversationally, this means skipping your questions about the weather and weekend plans, for example.
  • When greeting people always start with the person in the most senior role and then move down the hierarchy.
  • If you know that your counterpart has a personal title, use it (for example “Guten Morgen, Herr Professor Fischer”). Unlike in British culture where this may seem superfluous, addressing people with their title is expected German business etiquette.
  • Whilst they acknowledge that the use of first names is standard in English-speaking cultures, it is not common amongst Germans: favoured instead is addressing business partners with Herr/Frau together with their surname. Even if people have worked together for years, they might still address their colleagues in a formal way.
  • Shaking hands holds special ground in German business etiquette: it is often done on both arrival and departure into a room, and is not reserved exclusively for first introductions. Other situations in which to expect a handshake include when speaking to German exhibitors, greeting work colleagues (especially after time off), on birthdays and when congratulating someone on a promotion or a specific achievement such as a new business deal.
  • The importance of a handshake extends beyond the act itself, so once you’ve sealed a negotiation with a handshake, Germans perceive this to be an informal bond and one which mustn’t be contradicted or changed in any subsequent written agreement.
  • German business etiquette revolves around their prominent punctuality: it’s not uncommon for meetings to be planned months in advance, and changes or cancellations to plans are looked upon with great disdain.
  • Germans are a nation of filter coffee lovers and you shouldn’t be surprised if the tea you’re offered during a meeting is herbal or fruit. They rarely drink the black tea we do in the UK, and even when they do, expect it with sugar or lemon, rarely milk.

Stay tuned for our upcoming articles which will give advice on doing business in other countries. For more cues for your international business ventures in the meantime, Geert Hofstede’s findings on cultural values are priceless and can provide you with deep and meaningful insight to help you on your way and another useful resource is the UK Government’s  collection of country-specific export guides.

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