German Business Etiquette

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Willkommen in Deutschland! (‘‘Welcome to Germany!“ in German)

Germany: a traditional country with a storied history known for magical tales, beer, and fairy tale castles. Once a group of smaller kingdom and principalities, Germany is now the fifth largest country in the European Union, with a population of over82 million (as of 2015). As a punctual, down-to-business people, you should really know the way of the country if you plan to do business with the Germans. Below, find some helpful tips to get you prepared.

The Lowdown

  • The national language of Germany is German – over 95% of the country’s population speaks this as their first language. Many Germans will also learn English as their second language.
  • About two-thirds of the population is Christian (Catholic or Protestant).
  • The corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement is very important to Germans, especially in regards to environmental issues. In 2000, the German government made a pledge to stop the use of nuclear power over the next 15 years.
  • Proper planning and preparation in advance ensures that the facilities you will need for your meeting will be available for use.

Dressing Sharp

  • Germans value conservative, neat, understated clothing in the business setting.
  • It is frowned upon to appear disheveled or sloppy.
  • Businessmen: dark colored business suits, white shirts, solid color ties.
  • Businesswomen: dark colored suits with white blouses or conservative dresses; do not wear flashy jewelry or heavy makeup.

Make or Break Meetings

  • Germans are extremely punctual and their time is scheduled to the minute. Meeting start times should be respected and followed.
  • Germans also value careful planning, rules, and laws.
  • After the meeting is scheduled, there should be no changes made – Germans do not like surprises or sudden changes.
  • Do not try to inject humor into business situations as Germans view business as a very serious matter.
  • In Germany, business cards are not given out freely or in bulk; rather, the exchange of business cards is treated as a personal exchange of sensitive information and is done prudently.

Dining Decorum

  • Business dinners are considered to be business affairs; as such, German business associates will not lapse into first-name basis
  • Shake hands at the beginning of the dinner.
  • Hold the fork in your left hand, the knife in your right hand. Keep both in your hand while eating – do not put them on the table or plate.
  • Germans rarely eat with their hands! So no “finger foods.”
  • Acceptable beverages: sparkling water, tea, coffee, wine, and (of course) beer

Giving and Getting Gifts

  • Gift giving is not a common practice among business associates in Germany.
  • Gifts, if given, should be small but of good quality.
  • Acceptable gifts when invited to a German home: chocolate, wine, flowers, or a trinket from home.
  • Acceptable gifts when invited to a business meeting: a company pen, office supplies, or liquor.
  • Avoid giving: red roses, carnations, lilies, chrysanthemums, or 13 of anything.
  • Gifts are generally opened upon receipt.

Down to Business

  • When entering negotiations, be patient: Germans do not appreciate hostility or irritability in the business setting.
  • Business is hierarchical. The final decision will be made by the higher levels in the company, not by subordinates.
  • Germans appreciate formality and find it inappropriate if jokes or a “hard sell” approach are used in negotiations.
  • A person’s word or handshake is considered their bond.
  • The decision-making process is slow, but once a decision is made, it is final and will not be changed.

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

Auf Wiedersehen! (“Goodbye” in German)