Austrian Business Etiquette

Willkommen in Österreich! (‘‘Welcome to Austria!” in German)

Austria, the central European nation bordered by the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein, is extremely historically rich. Originally, Austria as know it was once part of the Holy Roman Empire and was ruled by the famous Habsburg family. Austria was once a dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary, and when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1908, Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, territories in the Balkans.

Austria is also culturally rich and has produced some of the greatest composers and scientists, including: Hedy Lamarr, Gregor Mendel, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Strauss, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Erwin Schrödinger, and (of course) Sigmund Freud.

Before you take a business trip to Austria, let’s first learn about the dos and don’ts of Austrian business etiquette.

The Lowdown

  • The capital of Austria is Vienna, which is also the country’s largest city.
  • The official language of Austria is German.
  • 81% of the population identifies ethnically as Austrian, and about 3% identifies as German.
  • Austria is a federal semi-presidential republic.
  • Fun fact: Arnold Schwarzenegger, famous bodybuilder, actor, and politician, was born in Austria in 1947. That’s an Austrian accent you’re hearing when he talks!
  • Additional fun fact: PEZ is an Austrian candy company! Bet you didn’t know that.

Dressing Sharp

  • Men should wear: dark, conservative suits of good quality with a solid white shirt. Men should also wear ties.
  • Women should wear: dark, conservative suits (with either pants or a skirt) or a dress. All clothing items should be clean and neat and accessories should be elegant.
  • Avoid gaudy, loud clothing that may be considered tacky.
  • Austrians avoid dressing sloppily even when not in the office (ie, when going to eat or shopping), so follow your host’s lead.
  • Don’t wear shorts or sweatpants.

Make or Break Meetings

  • Punctuality is of the utmost importance in Austrian society, especially in business. Set calendar appointments or alarms to ensure that you are on time or early for all scheduled meetings.
  • Greet the Austrian party with a firm handshake and eye contact to assert confidence.
  • Business cards can be exchanged at the outset of the first meeting.
  • Austrians do not place stock in body language and will not read into those types of cues.
  • Greet the Austrian party with their official title (it, Dr. or Prof.). If you do not know their official title, address men as “Herr” (last name) and women as “Frau” (last name) unless you are specifically told to use first names.

Dining Decorum

  • In dining, as in business, punctuality is highly valued. Be sure to arrive on time or early for engagements.
  • The Austrian party will instruct you where to sit.
  • As in many other countries, table manners are Continental.
  • As the meal commences, the host will usually give a toast in the form of, “Prost!” In addition, someone will usually say, “Guten Appetit” (like “Bon Appetit”).
  • Finish all food on your plate and signal you are done eating by placing utensils parallel on top of the plate.

Giving and Getting Gifts

  • Gift giving is not a standard part of Austrian business etiquette. Appropriate times to give gifts include: around the holidays, in celebration of the close of business negotiations.
  • Acceptable gifts include: liquor, wine, chocolate, flowers, or an item from your homeland. If giving flowers, give in an odd number and avoid red blooms.
  • Unacceptable gifts include: sharp items, exorbitantly expensive pieces (Austrians frown on bribery), or objects with a glaringly large company logo.
  • If invited to an Austrian’s home, bring a thank-you gift.

Down to Business

  • Austrians, like Germans, are very direct in their speech and are quick to get down to business.
  • Speak formally and avoid using humor.
  • If you are giving a presentation, stick to the facts and don’t add a lot of fluff. Austrians like solid data and concise points.
  • Presentations should be: organized, well-thought out, detailed, accurate, and robust. No need for frills.
  • Austrians prefer to do business with those they know and trust, so it is worthwhile to spend some time getting to know your host.
  • Business is conducted slowly and decisions are made from the top-down based on company rank. Be patient and do not appear overly anxious or aggressive!

Now that you're well prepared for your next jet-setting business trip to Austria, don't forget to stay tuned for our next Business Etiquette blurb!

Auf Wiedersehen! ("Goodbye!" in German)

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