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Doing Business in Germany

Germany is an important nation for doing business with. It has Europe’s largest economy and one of the world’s largest economies. It is an important industrial and manufacturing country as well as having an important cultural, educational and scientific status.

Expanding a business into Germany is a goal that preoccupies many growing businesses. To do this often involves direct person to person contact within Germany itself. Although most business people who have familiarity with western Europe, Northern America and Australasia will find it relatively easy to mix with and communicate with their German counterparts, there are various specific nuances of German business etiquette that a business person visiting colleagues or potential business partners should be aware of.

It’s not that German businesspeople are so crusty and conservative that they would be put off someone from outside Germany if they were culturally somewhat inappropriate, but it just helps to “do as the Romans do when in Rome”, or at least “do as the Berliners do when in Berlin!” It’s a good idea to use someone familiar with German business culture and business etiquette when making a business visit in Germany to help you through meetings. If they are fluent in German, then so much the better!

Business Etiquette in Germany

1. Punctuality

There’s nothing wrong with being punctual when attending a business meeting, and punctuality is appreciated in many cultures when people meet for formalities of one kind or another. However, in Germany, punctuality is perhaps appreciated a little more than in some other foreign business cultures. This attitude towards timeliness is not just a feature of business culture in Germany but is part of the couture of the nation itself. Germans tend to like structure and forward planning. Being on time at meetings is just part of making sure that a meeting goes ahead on schedule. It is not regarded as a social occasion, even if socialising does take part at another time and place between business partners or contacts.

2. German Business Attire /Dress Code

German business meetings tend to be relatively formal. As mentioned above, they are designed to do business, not to make friends and have a good, relaxing time. For that reason, business attire tends to be smart and formal. Men wear suits and ties and women wear conservative blouses and dresses. It’s probably not a great idea to turn up in jeans and a sweat shirt as your German counterparts may think you are not serious about the meeting or even take offense.

3. Communication

Many Germans speak English, but more rarely other European languages like French, Spanish or Italian. However, it might be wise to use an interpreter in a business meeting with German speakers to make sure you are not misunderstood. Non-verbal communication is always important. In Germany, direct eye contact is appreciated when speaking with each other and personal space is important, too. Verbal communication, e.g. by phone outside of organised, planned meetings should not take place after 5 p.m. Monday to Thursday and after 4 p.m. on Fridays.

German speakers tend to use formal language unless they are very familiar with you.

4. Gift-giving

Gift giving is not a part of business culture in Germany. In fact, it is actively discouraged. This makes it different from some other cultures, especially some Asian ones where gift giving is often standard. Gift giving in social occasions in Germany as distinct from business meetings is different as small gifts and things like flowers if invited to someone’s home are fine.

5. Titles

It is common in some English speaking countries, especially the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand (less so Britain) for people who don’t know each other to introduce themselves with their first names. This is not the norm in Germany where people are addressed by their correct title (Herr, Frau, Fräulein, Doktor, etc.) and surnames. First names are generally only used between people who are familiar with each other.

Conclusion

To expand into Germany, an understanding of the local business culture and language is vital for your business’ success.