KNOWLEDGE BASE Business Culture In Germany

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Business Culture in Germany

 

Keeping culture in mind as you do business in Germany

Since you are considering doing business in Germany, it’s important that you understand some of the cultural expectations you’ll encounter. If you miss them or incorrectly interpret subtle cultural cues, you could unintentionally damage your business prospects. On the other hand, if you understand the cultural setting you’ll be entering in Germany, you’ll be in a better position to succeed.

We’ll first walk you through the national culture of Germany, then give you some specifics for how to conduct both business and social interactions as you establish your relationships in a country worthy of your consideration.

 

A window into Germany’s national culture

Each culture has a collective way of thinking, which in turn affects the workplace.  For instance, in cultures where getting along is much more important than arguing, negotiations can be very frustrating or confusing for someone who is used to saying what they think and demanding results.  In order to better understand how values in the workplace are influenced by culture,  Geert Hofstede conducted a comprehensive study around six different dimensions and uses this information to help explain business culture in a number of countries.

The six dimensions are:

Power Distance

A measure for how much the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.  Germany has among the lower scores on this dimension.  Meetings  tend to  have high participation with direct communication. Direct control is disliked and leadership will be expected to show expertise in order to be accepted in that role.

 

Individualism vs. Collectivism

In societies that show more individualism, its members are expected to take care of just themselves and their immediate families.  In societies that show more collectivism, individuals can expect that their family or members of their particular group will take care of them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. German society is individualistic. Self-actualization is very important. Small families and the parent-child relationship are more common than extending out to aunts and uncles. Loyalty is based not only on a sense of duty and responsibility, but also on personal preferences.  German people are very direct, believing that it’s important to be honest, even if what one hears is painful or uncomfortable. By sharing direct feedback, one gives the recipient the chance to learn from their mistakes.

 

Masculinity vs. Femininity

Masculine societies show a preference for achievement, heroism, assertiveness, and material rewards, and are more competitive. Feminine societies show a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak, quality of life, and are generally more consensus-oriented. Germany is a masculine society, where performance matters.  Managers should be assertive and decisive, and people build self-esteem through the tasks they complete. Status is shown through possessions such as watches, cars, and technological devices.

 

Uncertainty Avoidance

The level of discomfort members of a society feel with uncertainty and ambiguity. German’s show a tendency toward uncertainty avoidance. This manifests itself in always being very prepared. All details should be thought out and considered before presenting or proceeding with a plan, rather than starting out and determining details as they go along. Since people are individualistic, they are responsible themselves vs. the larger organization, so they rely on expertise to reduce their uncertainty.

 

Long Term vs. Short Term Orientation

The degree to which cultures prefer to maintain long-held traditions while viewing change with suspicion versus cultures that encourage thrift and modern education as a way to prepare for the future. Germany has a high score on this dimension, meaning that they take a pragmatic approach to things.  The context, time, and situation will determine the right approach, not a time-honored tradition. Being pragmatic, they tend toward thriftiness, saving and investing, and persevering to achieve their goals.

 

Indulgence vs. Restraint

Indulgent societies allow for relatively free gratification related to enjoying life and having fun. Restrained societies suppress gratification of needs and regulate them by means of strict social norms. Germany scored low on this dimension, indicating that they are a restrained society leaning toward pessimism and cynicism.  Indulging too much in one’s desires is considered somewhat wrong and there is not too much emphasis put on leisure time.

 

If you would like to learn more about this research and its findings, Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, Michael Minkov have written a book on the subject

Map the Dimensions on a World Map - In the following video five of the dimensions are explained and then mapped on the world, showing how different parts of the world compare.

 

If you’d like to hear Geert Hofstede himself describe these spectrums, check out the following short videos:

10 Minutes on Power Distance

10 Minutes on Uncertainty Avoidance

10 Minutes on Masculinity vs. Femininity

10 Minutes on Individualism vs. Collectivism

10 Minutes on Long vs. Short Term Orientation

10 Minutes on Indulgence vs. Restraint

 

Business and social etiquette in Germany

Business and social etiquette vary from country to country - even between our own and those countries that we perceive as very similar to our own. Here are some etiquette guidelines for Germany to help you navigate your business interactions.

 

Relationships in Germany

With Germans, personal business relationships are secondary to the task or goal at hand. In their eyes, if doing business is mutually advantageous, a close relationship is not necessary to proceed. Long-term business relationships are important, but they will take time to develop. That is not to say that contacts aren't important for doing business in Germany. It's in your favor to use a local bank or representative whenever possible. 

In Germany, there is a very defined separation between work and private life. Germans are reserved and will take their time warming up to you, so any social activities outside of work will not happen until that personal relationship has developed. And it will take time to establish personal relationships. When getting to know Germans, don't ask personal questions about things such as family, children, age, occupation, or salary. 

 

Greetings and Meetings in Germany

Business cards

Keep a good supply of business cards because you'll want to hand them out in Germany. When you hand someone your card, you don't need to use two hands as you would in many Asian countries, but you will want to look the recipient in the eye while you give them your card. 

As for what you put on your card, Germans respect titles, degrees, and expertise, so include information that shows your status and education above a bachelor's degree. Your cards don't have to be printed in German.

 

 

 

Germans don’t give out business cards as freely as American do. Treat them as confidential, private property.

 

 

Shaking hands in Germany

Shaking hands is a part of German culture. You'll shake hands at the beginning and end of your meetings. Even people who have worked together for years will shake hands every day when meeting. And in social situations, shake hands with everyone in the room - even the children. 

In Germany, handshakes are firm and brief. Make eye contact while shaking hands, showing your respect. Handshakes may be accompanied by a nod or slight bow. If someone does so to you, reciprocate, especially to superiors. 

Remember, be reserved. Smile, but don't exude too much enthusiasm or physicality. No back-slapping. Some cultures are compelled to start off with some small talk, but avoid the temptation. Germans will prefer to be direct and get right down to business.

And once you've shaken hands, know that Germans like their personal space. Now's the time to step back and give them some room. Keep a comfortable distance between you and the German you're talking with. Imagine you are holding your arm out between you and use that length as a good measuring stick. 

This preference for personal space extends to the German desire for privacy and quiet. You may frequently find people in their offices with their doors closed. In the US, if the door is closed it typically means "Do Not Disturb". In Germany, you can knock on the door and could very well be invited in. 

 

Eye contact and gestures in Germany

Did you notice we've mentioned eye contact in several contexts? In Germany, eye contact is often made, which indicates attentiveness, not aggression. That being said, uninterrupted eye contact can be unnerving even to Germans. 

And Germans are checking you out to see if they can consider you trustworthy and someone they'd want to do business with. Inability to make eye contact, excessive gesturing, and indirect speech can be interpreted as insincere or dishonest. Remain calm and direct in your interactions. 

 

Punctuality in Germany

It can't be stressed enough. Punctuality is extremely important in Germany. Schedules and timetables organize German life. Being on time means 5 to 10 minutes early for important meetings. If you are going to be late for some reason (which better be good), contact them immediately and offer an apology and explanation. Offer to reschedule but don't unilaterally cancel. 

Similar guidelines apply when you are invited to someone's home for dinner. Never arrive early or more than 15 minutes late. If you will be late, call to explain or apologize.

 

Titles in Germany

You'll notice in Germany that titles are important. They'll be used during introductions and will be printed on cards. Pay attention to them and continue to use them. Keep it formal until you are invited to be less formal. First names are generally reserved for close friends and family. 

Here's a little primer on titles in Germany:

  • Mr. = Herr (Herr Sandten)

  • Mrs/Ms. = Frau (Frau Sandten)

  • If there is an additional title, use it too (Frau Doktor Sandten)

  • If speaking German, use the formal ‘Sie’ for ‘you’ instead of the informal ‘Du’ until you are invited to be less formal

  • Listen to what titles they use and use them back

And when answering the phone at work, the company name is generally stated first, followed by the name of the person answering (Germans commonly use their last name), then by a greeting.

 

Communications style in Germany

Unless you've skipped around on this page (which is a completely acceptable thing to do), you've learned something about the national culture of Germany, how it takes a while to build a relationship with Germans, how to shake hands and share cards, and how to address Germans while using their proper titles and names. You've read about keeping the right amount of eye contact and how important it is to be on time. Now, we'll look at some other important aspects of communicating with Germans. 

By American standards, Germans can be considered as blunt or abrupt. Germans are very direct, even when they don't know you very well. They like to get right to the point and get results. They will consider it their social duty to correct you if you do something wrong without knowing (such as parking in the wrong place or taking your jacket off in a formal situation). Don't take it the wrong way - it's just the German way. And from their perspective, don't be too familiar or overboard in your compliments as you may actually make the recipient uncomfortable.  

You'll find a lot of written documentation for meetings and phone conversations, as a follow-up to meetings, and as a record for what was agreed to or decisions that were made. In Germany, email is seen as a business communication and is treated formally. And along those lines, though most business people in Germany will have a good command of the English language, make sure throughout your interactions that you are clearly understanding each other, especially during negotiations. 

 

Business dress code 

Germans pride themselves on being well-dressed, neat, and put together, even when more casual.  And what Germans consider casual does not equate to the American casual. Even when walking the dog, a German will often look neatly dressed. If you see ‘casual’ on the invitation, that means you can leave your tie and jacket at home.  You’ll still want to be coordinated and nice.

Men in corporate, banking, and legal offices, especially those at higher levels, will be in dark, conservative suits. Women will be in suits or something else that’s quality and put together, which includes pants. You know what business dress means, so keep it conservative, quality, and classic on your first meeting and follow their lead for future meetings.

The IT sector is less formal, but in B2B situations, your goals is to show your respect for, and commitment to, the German market and business community.  In your first meetings, a sport coat is acceptable but keep it classic and well-tailored. This isn’t the time to show up in your jeans. You can adjust for future meetings once you’ve established a relationship and know how they intend to dress.  

Germans are a formal people. Follow their cues to make sure you aren’t unintentionally committing any mistakes. Wait to hang your coat over the back of your chair or loosen your tie until you see them do it. Be prepared to keep them on the whole time, even if it’s warm outside. Women, showy jewelry or heavy makeup are not the German style. Keep it on the simple side.  

Germans have four seasons, so you’ll have to think about coats.  A well-tailored coat over your business suit will be appreciated.  The down parka is going to make a statement you’d probably rather avoid.  If you are going to be wearing business suits, invest in a good coat to go on top.  

You are a business person and you know it’s important to dress appropriately for your meetings. Use the common sense that got you where you are today and layer the German style sensibility on top of it.

 

Meetings in Germany

In first meetings, we're all trying to get a sense for the other people in the room. Do they have something useful to offer? Do they seem trustworthy and reliable? Do they show the right amount of restraint and respect? Do I ultimately want to do business with them? The first impressions you leave with Germans can lead to your eventual success...or not. Keep these guidelines in mind when meeting with them. 

When you first enter a meeting with Germans, you will be shaking hands and getting introduced. Remember to pay close attention to titles -  if it’s important enough for them to tell you, it’s important enough for you to remember and use when addressing them. Germans will be paying attention to your titles and ranks as well. If you did your homework, you’ll have brought someone along who is at least of the same rank as their lead person.

You probably wouldn’t do so, especially at a first meeting on their premises, but wait until you are asked to sit down. You probably learned that years ago. 

Germans are going to use initial meetings in part to get to know you and determine if you are trustworthy and someone they’d like to work with. Along those lines:

  • Arrive early!

  • Don’t exaggerate and do keep your communications direct

  • You don’t need to compliment them. You will barely know them and it could appear either insincere or too personal

  • Don’t talk about how bad your competition is. Talk about how good you are and highlight the quality of your product or service through facts and data

  • If they have an established provider for something you are offering, don’t suggest that you want all of their business. Instead, ask for a small opportunity to prove your commitment and quality

  • Use data and solid examples to support your position

  • Meetings are serious to Germans so avoid using humor to lighten the mood

In some countries, the first portion of the meeting is used to ease into the topic. There could be discussions about weather or other types of small talk. Not so with the Germans. They like to get down to business. And meetings are intended to achieve results. Keep the following in mind:

  • German meetings follow a precise and detailed agenda

  • Meetings are intended to have decisions and outcomes, not just be a forum for discussion

  • Reliability is a very important aspect of work in Germany.  If you say you are going to do something, follow through, as others are also expected to do. You will lose trust and credibility quickly if you do not do what you say you are going to do

  • Be sure that you are very clearly in agreement on the decisions and deliverables

  • Don’t jump into the conversation unless you have been given the floor or have a meaningful contribution to make

  • A long discussion and analysis of your proposal will indicate their interest and consideration

  • Germans don’t like surprises, so changes in business transactions, even when they would improve the outcome, are not welcome once an agreement and plan is in place

You’ll read throughout this site that most Germans have studied English and senior managers will likely know it quite well and can conduct business in English. However, if you are proficient enough in German to do so, use their language in your meetings. Be sure in any case that you are all in agreement with a clear understanding for what has been said and agreed to. Don’t let a language barrier interfere with your business dealings. You can always bring an interpreter along if you can’t handle it yourself or if your German counterparts do not want to conduct business in English.

And as you near the end of your meeting, Germans show appreciation for a presentation by rapping their knuckles on the table – so don’t be surprised if it happens. Be pleased.  And finally, you won’t be socializing after the meeting until you’ve established a firm working relationship. You’ll have to go sample that good German beer on your own at first. 

 

Conducting a business meeting in Germany

You’ve now come to the point where you are going to be conducting a meeting with Germans. Keep in mind the points we just shared on making a good impression in early meetings, and now we’ll add some more guidelines for when you are hosting the meeting. A lot of the same rules apply; you’ll just be the one in charge of making sure protocol is followed.

Before your meeting

For setting up your own meeting or requesting one at their offices, plan on two weeks’ notice for a date on the calendar. And meetings in July, August, and around national holidays will be harder to schedule.

If they don’t already have it, provide information about your company and any participants who will be attending. If they already know about your company and have received information about your people, do still tell them who is coming and share details again if there will be new people. Address your correspondence to the most senior person on their end.

Develop copies of your written materials in both German and English. Even if you won’t be conducting the meeting in German, having German versions is a good idea. Give yourself enough time to get things translated and proofed before you need them. And get all of your supporting data ready to go, as well. Be well-prepared with facts, figures, case studies, and solid examples. 

Spend time on your agenda. Practice timing if you have to.

During the meeting

As we said above, there won’t be a lot of ice-breaking idle conversation at your meeting, so don’t plan on using it. You’ll need a detailed agenda with a start and stop time and be expected to follow it.

Once you start presenting, remember what we’ve already said:

  • Even if it makes you uncomfortable, make plenty of eye contact while you are presenting

  • Keep it real with data, facts, figures, and solid examples

  • Exaggeration and hype are your enemies. See the previous point

  • Document the meeting by keeping detailed notes reflecting what was said and agreed to. You’ll need them to share with the attendees and as a record for the meeting

After the meeting

Unfortunately, your work isn’t over once your meeting with Germans is done.

  • Follow up the meeting with complete minutes and related information within a day - you’ll confirm your commitment and allow for errors to be caught

  • Follow up on your action items and confirm that other are aware of and are completing their own

  • Win extra points by following up with a phone call

  • If you come to an agreement over the phone, write this into a confirmation letter after the meeting, and if the German party does not object within a reasonable period of time, under German law this will be considered a contract

    • For cross-border situations, the non-German party must be the one to write the confirming letter for it to be considered a contract, unless that country also has a similar rule

    • Be aware of any general business conditions on the back of invoices or other documents as you will also be held to those if you don’t object - even if you can’t read or understand them. Take this into consideration and obtain legal advice if you are uncertain, but you can object to them up front as a strategy

 

Contractual agreements and negotiations in Germany

If you have read a number of the Globig sections on Germany, you have probably gathered that Germans are orderly, rely on facts and data, stick to a schedule, and will judge you on your ability to do the same. If you jumped directly to this section out of all the things you could have read, then that first sentence is really important to understand before you proceed.

Let’s assume that your earlier presentations have gone well and you are ready to begin negotiations. Here are some points to keep in mind to increase your odds for a successful outcome.

Germans tend to start negotiations near where they expect to end up. Don’t use the tactic of starting high in order to ultimately get what you want. You will lose credibility. You may have a long negotiation ahead of you, so start off on the right foot.

During your discussions, remain calm, factual, and analytical, relying on data to support your position. Impress them with your attention to detail and commitment to genuinely want to do business with them. Don’t use high pressure tactics or jokes – keep it formal.

Decisions are made from the top down in German business and follow a lengthy and detailed review process. Many people may spend time going over your proposal and decisions will not be made spontaneously. Consensus will also be sought, which generally takes longer. Prepare to be patient - remain calm and don’t appear to be irritated or to be rushing things.

Once an agreement has been reached, a detailed and comprehensive plan will be developed and will be strictly adhered to. There will be backup and contingency plans to keep from unexpected situations that cannot be handled. Keep your part of the bargain and deliver on time.

A word and a handshake are considered your bond in Germany and will be considered binding. Once decisions are made, they will not change, even when it could improve the original agreement.  

 

Hierarchy at work in Germany - seniority and status

To set the stage, Germans identify with the company where they work and take pride in building a quality product or service alongside their manager. They are working together with quality as a big driver.

In Germany, organizational hierarchy is well-established and strictly observed. There are clear role responsibilities within and across departments. Subordinates will rarely publicly contradict or criticize their superiors. There is a certain order to things and it is acknowledged and supported.

Expertise is valued in Germany and rank and status are based on one’s achievements and expert knowledge. Academic standing and titles are important and show that a person has achieved expert levels of knowledge in their field.

You’ll notice that in formal meetings, the most senior person will generally enter first. Since rank matters, make sure you are aware of the ranks of people in the room and address your remarks accordingly. 

 

Willingness to try new things and risk of failure in Germany

Germans hate to risk imperfection and are not comfortable in just ‘winging it’ or ‘muddling through’. They rely on expertise and detailed planning to be well-prepared and ready for contingencies. A German will have thoroughly researched and vetted an idea before presenting it, rather than throwing out an idea to talk it through and see how it sticks.

 

 “A German leader would never declare 'Ich bin ein Berliner'. He would research first.”  

Joe Geronimo Martinez in a Quora discussion on the main cultural differences between the USA and Germany

 

Humor in Germany

If you go searching online for ‘German humor’, you’ll quickly learn several things.  First, that people who aren’t German think that Germans don’t have a sense of humor.  And second, that once accepted that Germans do in fact have a sense of humor, it’s clear that it’s hard to figure out.  One factor influencing German humor is their sentence structure and use of compound words.  There’s less of an opportunity to leave that last punchline word dangling to the very end, a strategy commonly used in English. One person described the difference as:  

 

“The geographical accident of Germany has denied Germans the fun we have with language, and it seemed to me that their sense of humour was built on blunt, seemingly serious statements, which became funny simply because of their context.”

 Stewart Lee, The Guardian  

 

Here’s an example of German humor, from a classic German comedian, Loriot. It’s based more on the lack of communication than on word play.

German humor is further complicated for the non-Native through the use of various regional dialects.  Combined with the regional cultural differences, one can be left completely in the dark. Spend some time observing what makes Germans laugh and in the meantime, don't be surprised if you just don't see the humor. 

 

Language

You will gain credibility if you attempt to learn the German language and culture. If you are planning on being in Germany for a while, take some time to get to know the people, their culture, and the language. If you are proficient enough in German to do so, it’s best to use that language in meetings. If you are not, upper level managers should be able to conduct business in English if needed. If none of you is proficient in the other's language, bring in people who can help out. 

While your German counterparts have very likely studied English, they may say they don’t speak it rather than not doing it well. (See the section above on "Willingness to try new things and risk of failurein Germany".) And while B2B business can probably be conducted in English, consider hiring an interpreter for important meetings. Be sure that you are very clearly in agreement on the decisions and deliverables. Take the time to be sure to get it right. 

 

Women in business in Germany

Women in Germany are still faced with inequality in the workplace. Females have parity with males at all levels of education, but do not have parity in equal pay for the same work and do not participate in the workforce at the same rate as men.

  • According to the OECD, women with a tertiary (post-secondary) education earn 72% of what men with a tertiary degree earn

  • Women without a tertiary education education earn 82% of men without a tertiary education (OECD)

  • Since there has traditionally been low acceptance of women in positions of leadership and power in German business, women (and in particular foreign women) must quickly establish their credentials and expertise in order to be taken seriously

For a deeper discussion on women in Germany and resources on the gender gap, take a look at the Globig section on the Demographics for Women in Germany

 

Shopping hours in Germany

Shop hours were traditionally controlled at the federal level with the ‘Shop Closing Law’, or Ladenschlussgesetz, but are now determined at the state level. Any state that has not set its own rules will be governed by the federal law. At this time, there are just several states that have not set their own rules.  There are strict opening and closing times and most shops are required to be closed on Sundays. Gas stations can be open extended hours and on Sundays, and bakeries can be open for limited hours on Sundays. Restaurants, theaters, bars, and cultural establishments are generally not regulated by the laws.  Shops in tourist zones can be open longer, but can sell only tourist-related items such as souvenirs.

Four times per year, communities can open shops in conjunction with fairs and market days, usually on Sundays.  If they are on Sundays, they can’t be open during church and must close by 6 pm.  It’s very possible to have a holiday recognized in one state and not in the next, and most holidays are religiously  based.

 

Office hours in Germany

Working hours in Germany are regulated by ‘Working Time Regulations’, or  Arbeitszeitgesetz. The German regulations are based on the European regulation 93/104/EG. Collective agreements in most industries will also control working hours. On average over a six month period, a work week must not exceed 48 hours and as stated above, offices will be closed on public holidays and Sundays.

  • According to the OECD, the average hours Germans worked on their main jobs was 34.5 for 2014

  • Collective bargaining may supersede the federally regulated 48 hour work week, and those contracts determine the hours per workweek

  • You generally won’t reach people in the office after 5 pm Monday through Thursday, or after 4 pm on Fridays

 

Regional Differences

Regional differences in Germany - North and South

In some ways, Northern and Southern Germany are like two different countries. In fact, Bavaria (in the South) is sometimes compared to Quebec or Texas, with its independent nature and feeling that it should be a separate country. And Northern Germans have either a grudging respect or outright disdain for Southerners.

When you are localizing for Germany, be aware of these cultural differences to make sure you are hitting the right target. Here’s an example.  When people think of Germany, they often call up images of Oktoberfest, with dirndls and lederhosen. While that is a familiar scene from Bavaria, it’s not representative of Northern Germany. It’s a bit like using a cowboy to represent all of Americans.

Oktoberfest tuba parade

And showing an idyllic bucolic pastoral scene will not necessarily speak to the 75% of Germans who are urban. It would be like showing the Iowa countryside to entice New Yorkers - unless you were trying to sell them wholesome farm products.  And conversely, even today, Bavarians stick to their traditional foods (for instance, Weisswurst) and clothing (some Bavarians, particularly those in rural areas, can still be seen in traditional tracht attire). Bavarians are also much more likely than other parts of the country to speak their dialect, whereas dialects in other regions were largely replaced with High German (hoch Deutsch).

Bavarians are fiercely proud of their regional heritage, food, clothing, dialect, and independence. Northerners are more in line with the image of the orderly, punctual, data-driven German. While Northerners either grudgingly admire or resent Bavarians, Bavarians are proud and somewhat defensive due to their assumption that others are looking down on them.

 

Regional differences in Germany - East and West

And now consider the East vs. West division.  On October 3rd, 1990, East and West Germany were reunified after 45 years. During the years of separation, West Germany grew as a western nation under capitalism, while East Germany lived under communism. There were distinct differences in the level of affluence, materialism, religion, and sheer ability to obtain luxury items. With reunification, funds were sent from West to East to assist in building up business and young people moved to the West for more opportunity and visions of the lifestyle they felt they were missing.

 

The German states that were part of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) are Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Sachsen, Sachsen-Anhalt, and Thüringen, and of course, East Berlin.

 

 

The reunification has highlighted some noteworthy differences. East Germany has an older population, due to so many young people moving west. There is also a higher percentage of the population who consider themselves atheists. There is also a level of disenchantment in the East as the prospects of a more affluent lifestyle have not materialized and some resentment in the West as funds have been sent to assist in the East, even as areas of the West were struggling.

While the differences are narrowing over time, these are still two different groups of people who were raised in very different economies with different outlooks on life.

 

Personal style in Germany

As we’ve noted elsewhere, Germans are smart dressers, whose idea of casual is still very put together with quality and well-matched clothing. Some Bavarians in rural areas still wear traditional clothing in their daily lives. East Germans did not have access to many of the luxury items available in the West, and may either resent those who have them or still hold to more austere conventions.

It’s important to remember that there are distinct groups within Germany that cannot be lumped into one. Showing symbols of affluence or marketing luxury items to areas that were part of the German Democratic Republic (GDR or East Germany) will not be as effective as in other parts of Germany. Using dirndls and lederhosen to evoke images of old Germany to northerners could backfire. And treating Bavarians as though they have always been part of the great German empire will cause resentment.

 

SOCIALIZING IN GERMANY

Business dinners in Germany

Business entertaining typically takes place in restaurants. While you may talk about the prospects for business, you will not do actual business.

There are some lessons in protocol worth knowing. You'd probably handle it the same way in your home country, but we'll just review them in case things are a bit less formal in your circles. 

  • Remain standing until you are invited to sit down

  • Don’t start eating before the host or someone else has wished everyone ‘Guten Appetit’

  • Use Continental table manners - forks are in the left hand and knives in the right. (This can take some practice)

  • Keep your elbows off the table and both hands visible at all times. In other words, don't hold one hand in your lap while you are eating 

  • When done, lay your knife and fork on the right side of your plate, with the fork over the knife

  • Beer and wine are common at meals and will usually be offered to guests, with Schnapps at the end of the meal

  • It’s always ok to refuse alcohol and it shouldn't be pushed on someone who has declined

  • Use direct eye contact when toasting - ’Prost!’ for beer and ‘Zum wohl!’ for wine

 

Remember that 16 is the legal drinking age for wine and beer and 18 is the age for spirits in Germany.  Don’t be surprised if you see some younger people with a glass of beer or wine with their meal

 

 

 

  • Coffee is very common throughout the day in Germany and is also very strong

  • Water is not automatically provided in Germany as it is in the US.  If you ask for water, you will be expected to pay and will be asked if you want still or carbonated water. Ask for tap water only at the risk of appearing cheap or rude

 

Many restaurants and shops, especially small ones in more rural areas, will only take cash. Germany is also moving to ‘chip’ cards, the credit cards with chips in them. These are typically required for automated vending payment systems such as transit,  flight, and train tickets. Some retailers, hotels, and restaurants still take regular credit cards. It’s always a good idea to ask in advance so you know what your payment options are and it’s best to go to Germany with a chip credit card.

 

Gift giving in Germany

Gift-giving in a corporate setting is not a common practice in Germany and the preference is to minimize the rituals and formalities and get down to business. If you do bring gifts, small gifts when first meeting are acceptable - quality pens, tasteful logo’d items, or imported liquors are good options.

Larger, more expensive gifts are not typical, especially if you haven’t reached any agreement. You may look like you are trying to sway the deal. Large gifts in private should be avoided.  The larger the gift, the more public it should be.

You may ultimately be invited to someone's home for dinner. In that case, always take a small gift to your host for social events. Some good options include:

  • a bouquet of flowers, though avoid red roses (indicating romance),  white lilies (used at funerals), carnations (which symbolise mourning) or heather in bouquets (often planted in cemeteries)

  • fine chocolates, a good imported liquor, or  an excellent imported wine

  • Germans make great beer and it’s widely available. Don’t bring beer as a gift

  • It's always fun to bring something from your home region or country. A good bottle of wine or a local food specialty (provided it isn’t too exotic), would be good options

  • if staying with a host family, a coffee table book from your home region is nice

  • If you bring something wrapped, gifts are usually opened when received

  • always send a handwritten thank you note the following day!

 

KNOWLEDGE BASE Business Culture In Germany