How to Do Business in Germany
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value order, privacy and punctuality. They are thrifty,
hard working and industrious. Germans respect perfectionism
in all areas of business and private life. In Germany, there
is a sense of community and social conscience and strong
desire for belonging. To admit inadequacy — even in jest
— is incomprehensible.
Meeting and Greeting
- At a business or social meeting,
shake hands with everyone present when arriving and
- When introducing yourself,
never use your title. Introduce yourself by your last
- Never shake hands with one
hand in your pocket.
Names and Titles
- Use last names and appropriate
titles until specifically invited by your German host
or colleagues to use their first names.
- Titles are very important. Never use titles
incorrectly and never fail to use them. If unsure, err
in favor of a higher title.
- A Doktor can be either a medical
doctor or a holder of a Ph.D.
- Two titles should not be used
at the same time, except when addressing a letter to
someone. If a person does hold several titles, the higher
one is used in speaking to him/her.
- Germans may appear reserved and unfriendly
until you get to know them better.
- “Thumbs up” gesture means “one” or is
a sign of appreciation or agreement.
- Making hands into two fists, thumbs
tucked inside the other fingers and making pounding
motion lightly on a surface expresses “good luck.”
- Never use the “okay” sign (index
finger and thumb jointed together to make a circle). This
is considered a rude gesture.
- Don’t point your index finger to your
own head. This is an insult.
- Germans take punctuality for business
meetings and social occasions seriously. Tardiness is
viewed as thoughtless and rude. Call with an explanation
if you are delayed.
- Send company profiles, personal profiles,
etc., to German colleagues before your visit to establish
- Contacts are vital to a business success.
Use a bank, German representative or the Industrie und
Handelskammer (Chamber of Industry and Commerce) when
- Rank is very important in business.
Never set up a meeting for a lower ranked company employee
to meet with a higher ranked person.
- The primary purpose of a first meeting
is to get to know one another and to evaluate the person,
to gain trust, and to check chemistry.
- Meetings are often formal and scheduled
weeks in advance.
- Germans generally discuss business after
a few minutes of general discussion.
- Arrive at meetings well prepared. Avoid
hard-sell tactics or surprise.
- Germans take business very seriously.
Levity is not common in the workplace.
- Business cards in English are acceptable.
- Germans are competitive, ambitious and
- Germans value their privacy. They tend
to keep their office doors closed. Always knock on doors
- Objective criticism isn’t given or received
easily. Compliments are seldom given for work product.
- Strict vertical hierarchy exists. Power
is held by a small number of people at the top. Deference
is given to authority. Subordinates rarely contradict
or criticize the boss publicly.
- Organization is logical, methodical
and compartmentalized with procedures and routines done
“by the book.”
- Decision making is slow with thorough
analysis of all facts.
- Germans are not comfortable handling
the unexpected. Plans are cautious with fallback positions,
contingency plans, and comprehensive action steps —
carried out to the letter.
- Germans produce massive written communications
to elaborate on and confirm discussions.
- Written or spoken presentations should
be specific, factual, technical and realistic.
- Reports, briefings and presentations
should be backed up by facts, figures, tables and charts.
- Germans have an aversion to divergent
opinions, but will negotiate and debate an issue fervently.
- Remain silent if the floor has not been
given to you or if you are not prepared to make an informed
- Decisions are often debated informally
and are generally made before meetings with compliance
rather than consensus expected in the meeting.
- Always deliver information, products,
proposals, etc., to clients on time.
- Do not call a German at home unless
it is an emergency.
Dining and Entertainment
- To beckon a waiter, raise your hand
and say, “Herr Ober.” To beckon a waitress, raise your
hand and say, “Frдulein.”
- Business breakfasts are arranged, but
more often a business lunch is preferred.
- Lunch with business colleagues generally
involves social conversation. Do not discuss business
during lunch or dinner unless your German host initiates
- Business entertaining is usually done
- Spouses are generally not included in
- Nobody drinks at a dinner party before
the host has drunk. The host will raise his glass to
the woman on his right and then toast to the health
of the group. Thereafter, people may drink as they see
- When toasting as a guest, hold the glass
only at the stem, clink your glass with everyone near
you at the table and say Prosit, then take a drink.
Then look into the eyes of someone at your table and
lift your glass just slightly, then bring your glass
down to the table.
- Guten Appetit is said before eating
and means “enjoy your meal.” It is the host’s way of
saying, “please start.” Guests can respond by saying
Guten Appetit or Danke ebenfalls, which means, “thank
- A guest of honor is seated to the left
of the hostess if it is a man and to the right of the
host if it is a woman.
- Keep your hands on the table at all
times during a meal — not in your lap. However, take
care to keep your elbows off the table.
- Use a knife and fork to eat sandwiches,
fruit, and most food.
- Do not use a knife to cut potatoes or
dumplings (suggests food is not tender). The general
rule is whatever does not need a knife, should not be
touched with your knife.
- Never cut fish with anything but a fish
knife. If a fish knife is not offered, two forks are
- Do not leave any food on your plate
when you are finished eating.
- Do not smoke until after dinner is finished
and coffee is served. Then ask permission.
- When finished eating, place knife and
fork side by side on the plate at the 5:25 position.
- If you are taking a break during the
meal, but would like to continue eating or would like
more food, cross the knife and fork on your plate with
the fork over the knife.
- Germans don’t tend to stay long after
dinner. The honored guests are expected to make the
first move to leave.
- A “thank you” is usually done in person
or with a telephone call.
- Do not ask for a tour of your host’s
home, it would be considered impolite.
- Being well and correctly dressed is
- Casual or sloppy attire is frowned upon.
- For business, men should wear suits
(dark colors) and ties. Women should wear dresses, suits,
pantsuits, skirts and blouses.
- Gifts are normally not exchanged at
business meetings, but small gifts may be appropriate
at the successful conclusion of negotiations.
- Give books, bourbon, whiskey or classical
music. American-made gifts are very appropriate.
- Do not give pointed objects like knives,
scissors, umbrellas (considered unlucky), personal items,
extravagant gifts or wine (Germans are very proud of
their wine cellars).
- When invited to someone’s home, always
bring a small gift for the hostess.
- For a large party, it is nice to send
flowers before the party or the next day.
- Give an uneven number of flowers (unwrapped,
not 13), yellow roses, tea roses or chocolates.
- Do not give red roses (love symbol)
or carnations (mourning). Yellow and white chrysanthemums
and calla lilies are given for funerals only.
- Germans are more formal and punctual
than most of the world. They have prescribed roles and
seldom step out of line.
- A man or younger person should always
walk to the left side of a lady.
- Traditional good manners call for the
man to walk in front of a woman when walking into a
public place. This is a symbol of protection and of
the man leading the woman. A man should open the door
for a woman and allow her to walk into the building,
at which time the woman will stop and wait for the man.
The man should then proceed to lead the woman to her
designation. If going to a restaurant, the man may relinquish
his leadership role to the maitre' de.
- Don’t be offended if someone corrects
your behavior (i.e., taking jacket off in restaurant,
parking in wrong spot, etc.). Policing each other is
seen as a social duty.
- Compliment carefully and sparingly —
it may embarrass rather than please.
- Don’t lose your temper publicly. This
is viewed as uncouth and sign of weakness.
- Stand when an elder or higher ranked
person enters the room.
- Don’t shout or be loud, put your feet
on furniture or chew gum in public.
Especially for Women
- Traditionally, there has been
little acceptance of women in high positions of responsibility
and power in business.
- Women, especially foreign
women, must establish their position and ability immediately
in order to conduct business successfully in Germany.
- A woman should not feel inhibited
to invite a German man to dinner for business and will
not have any problems paying.
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