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TJC Global: Doing Business in Germany

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G en eral Etiquette  

Meetings tend to be formal, with a brief and firm handshake to everyone in the room. 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 Wohl!, and for beer: Prost! both of which must be said while holding eye-contact with the other person. It is also considered very impolite to begin eating before everyone is ready and it is common practice to begin a meal by saying: Guten Appetit! (the equivalent of the French: Bon Appetit) - 'enjoy your meal!'. A handwritten note the next day addressed to the hostess thanking them is appropriate in most instances.



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Business Etiquette


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. Communication is formal and often direct to the point of bluntness to someone not used to dealing with business in this way. Like many other European languages, there is both an informal and a formal means of address in the second person. The word for 'You' is informally 'Du' but in a business context (and as a means of showing respect in any context), the more formal 'Sie' is used to address another person. This pronoun also changes the way the verb is conjugated and can be confusing for new speakers of German. This rule must be observed until one person invites the other to be 'per Du' or to 'mich duzen' - to call them 'Du' instead. This shift also signifies being on a first name basis with someone - but you should still refer to this person by their last name when speaking to others.

There is an emphasis on written forms of communication, as a way of both communicating information and also providing a record of business negotiations.


Business Meetings

Appointments are essential and should be made well in advance, and 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 to 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

Business dress is not flashy, it should be understated, formal and always appropriate.
For men, dark coloured business suits are best, and for women either business suits or conservative dresses.




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