Doing Business in Germany
Meetings tend to be formal, with a brief and firm handshake to everyone in the room, including children, acting as the normal greeting. Titles denote repsect, and as such are extremely important - you should wait until advised before using an acquaintance's first name, using instead their surname and the appropriate title - for example Herr or Frau. Gifts such as yellow roses or wine are always well received, although you should be careful to select imported bottles, for example from France or Italy. If invited to someone's house you should aim to be on time, and always contact them if you are going to be more than fifteen minutes late. Cutlery is used in the Continental tradition, and common toasts include, for wine, Zum Woh!, and for beer, Prost! A handwritten note the next day addressed to the hostess thanking them is appropriate in most instances.
Germans display great reverence before people of authority, and always take into account the qualifications and expertise of the person they are dealing with. There is no open-door policy in offices, you should knock and wait to be invited to enter. Communiation is formal and often direct to the point of bluntness to someone not used to dealing with business in this way. There is an emphasis on written forms of communications, as both ways of communicating information and also providing a record of business negotiations.
Appointments are essential and should be made well in advance, and once there, punctuality is taken incredibly seriously. It is polite to maintain eye contact and respect the level of formality initiated by the person you are having the meeting with - it will often take a few introductory appointments to get to know the person. Meetings keep by very strict agenda, with specified start and end times. Remember that business is hierarchical, with key decisions made by the people at the top of the company. Decisions will be laid out and you will be expected to follow the next stages of negotiations to the letter, adhering to the formality always implicit in German business. It is custom at the end of meetings for some people to tap their knuckles on the tabletop, and the highest ranked person enters and leaves the room first, with men entering and leaving before women.
Business dress is not flashy, it should be undersstated, formal and always appropriate. For men, dark coloured business suits are best, and for women either business suits or conservative dresses.
If you would like to know more about Germany, please visit our country profile page.
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