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Doing business in Germany

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If you intend to practice some German beforehand, make sure you will know the difference between ‘Sie’ (the polite form of ‘you’) and ‘Du’ (the informal one). A foreign lady once addressed a policeman using the form "Du" while talking to him. He was so insulted that he arrested her. A newspaper carried the story under the musical headline, "You DU Something to Me!" We then wondered: is it "Much aDU about Nothing" or are these things to consider carefully?

At Today Translations, we have a broad network of experts, based in both Germany and the UK, on hand to consult and advice on how your business should best approach the German the market. Our Advisory Board member, Patrick Rarden, has a German background and decades’ worth of experience in the German financial markets having worked with industry leaders such as SG Warburg (now part of UBS) and Deutsche Bank.

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Why invest in Germany?

– As Europe's leading economy, as well as one of the world's largest, Germany can boast a leading position within a number of industries, especially when it comes to manufacturing and production.

– The implementation of highly-developed and technologically refined industrial technology means that Germany is one of the world's leading exporters (behind only the US and China), with its production focusing mainly on cars, machinery and chemical products. In fact, according to the World Trade Organisation, Germany boasts the second highest trade surplus, second to Saudi Arabia.

– Germany also finds itself as a global leader in the of sophisticated and green energy industry and in transportation infrastructures, such as motorways, railways and airports.

– Germany’s free-market laws, generally speaking, do not discriminate between German and foreign nationals when it comes to establishing or investing in companies while incentive programs and intellectual property laws apply to both local and foreign investors and entrepreneurs.

– Germany’s free market laws also grant the country freedom from general regulations on day-to-day business practices.

Business Mentality

– German businesses are generally quite averse to risk, making the decision-making process slow. Expect every detail of your proposal will be carefully and thoroughly examined.

– Similarly, German businesses don’t respond well to ambiguity and uncertainty. Business meetings follow a formal procedure. German managers work from precise and detailed agendas, which are usually followed rigorously. Meetings always aim for decisive outcomes and results, rather than providing a forum for open and general discussion.

– German business culture has a well-defined and strictly observed hierarchy, with clear responsibilities and distinctions between roles and departments. Professional rank and status in Germany is generally based on an individual's achievement and expertise, therefore academic titles and backgrounds are important. They show expertise and knowledge.

– In negotiations, Germans are usually direct and frank about what they want and they expect you to do the same.

– Always present all the facts as thoroughly as possible; be well informed. Try to avoid using hard selling techniques, glitzy advertising, illustrations or memorable slogans.

– Similarly, Germans will make presentations using a lot of facts and figures. During a meeting, stock up on coffee and be prepared to go through myriads of figures, graphs, tables, pie charts, etc.

Greetings

– Germans shake hands in greeting. Note that you will have to shake hands with everyone in a room before a meeting or a conference - an ignorant wave will not do. If you have to leave early, shake everyone's hand again starting with the most senior person and working down.

The German handshake is firm and brief, conveying confidence and reliability. Make sure yours is the same; a weak handshake will inspire insecurity.

– First names are generally only used with family and close friends, so always use last names and appropriate titles of courtesy. It is also common for colleagues that have worked together for years to still keep this level of formality.

The Art of Conversation

– If you do not speak German, be careful of addressing a person in English. While Germans can speak very good English, some may well feel offended by the presumption.

– Appropriate welcome topics are: football, recent holidays, work, beer.

– Germans do not find it hard to say "No", "I can't", or "This is impossible", so you will get a straightforward answer.

Body language

– Make sure to maintain eye contact when addressing your German colleagues, especially during initial introductions.

– Never put your hands in your pockets while speaking.

– Do not point your index finger to your own head - it is an insult.

Basic Facts

– Germany's motto is "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit", which means "Unity and Justice and Freedom".

– The official name is the Federal Republic of Germany.

– Germany's total population is 82 million, making it the largest domestic market within the European Union

– The capital and also the largest city is Berlin.

– Frankfurt, Germany’s fifth largest city, is the largest financial centre in mainland Europe.

– The most widely spoken foreign languages are English (spoken by 56 per cent of the population), French (15 per cent) and Russian (5 per cent).

– The most widely spoken immigrant languages are Turkish, Russian and Polish.

Business meetings and meals

– The dress code in corporate business is formal, dark and conservative for both men and women. Dress codes in the IT sector are more casual.

– Punctuality in German business culture is sacred. Arriving 15 minutes late will be considered a very serious offence.

– The best time to schedule a business appointment is between 10:00 am and 1:00 pm or between 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm. Avoid scheduling appointments on Friday afternoon, as some offices will close by 2:00 pm or 3:00 pm on Fridays.

Bring a plentiful supply of business cards. It is not necessary to have the reverse side translated. Include your full title or position, any university degrees you have earned and professional organisations membership.

– In Germany, a small gift is considered polite, especially when contacts are made for the first time. Do not bring a substantial gift, especially before a deal has been reached.

– After returning home, remember to send a hand-written card to your hosts for their invitation.

– If you are attending a business meal, wait for the host to initiate most things - drinking wine, eating and conversation. It is polite to wish everyone "Guten Appetit" before starting to eat.

– When drinking, you can toast with "Prost" or "Zum Wohl" and make sure to keep eye contact. Hopefully, the meal will follow the German toast "Erst mach dein Sach dann trink und lach!", which means "First take care of business, then drink and laugh!"

– The German etiquette says that the person making the invitation should pay the bill. You will not seem generous and polite if you fight for the bell. On the contrary, your persistence will result in a serious offence.

– For restaurants and taxis, a tip of 10% or slightly less is sufficient.

Other fun facts

– Germany is the most densely populated country in Europe.

– Although called Oktoberfest, the popular beer festival starts in September.

– There are 20 million Gnomes in gardens across Germany.

– The world's tallest cathedral is in Ulm, Germany.

– Germans answer the phone with their surname instead of "Hello!".

– The longest word published in the German language is "Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerk-bauuntereamtengesellschaft" (79 letters). Try saying that five times fast!

Did you find this article useful? If so, you might also enjoy our guide to business etiquette in the UK.

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