Business Etiquette in Germany
By: Ruth Viviane Tanujaya, Novita
Attitudes and values are the foundation of every country’s culture, and are the building blocks for developing business culture. Cultural influences, attitudes and behaviour vary within and across nations and within and across ethnicities, and are strongly embedded within communities.
In many respects, Germans can be considered the masters of planning. This is a culture that prizes forward thinking and knowing what they will be doing at a specific time on a specific day. The German thought process is extremely thorough, with each aspect of a project being examined in great detail. Careful planning, in one’s business and personal life, provides a sense of security. Most aspects of German living and working are defined and regulated by structure, for example, through laws, rules, and procedures, which are evident in all economic, political and even social spheres. Rules and regulations allow people to know what is expected so that they can plan their lives accordingly. Germans believe that maintaining clear lines of demarcation between people, places, and things is the surest way to lead a structured and ordered life. In German business culture, this is reflected in the adherence to prescribed business rules resulting in, a low degree of flexibility and spontaneity in attitudes and values.
Germans do not like surprises. Sudden changes in business transactions, even if they may improve the outcome, are unwelcome. Business is viewed as being very serious, and Germans do not appreciate humour in a business context. In addition, counterparts do not need or expect to be complimented.
Work and personal lives are rigidly divided, and Germans subscribe to the ideal that there is a proper time and place for every activity.
When doing business in Germany, it is essential that you appreciate that business etiquette is of great importance to your German counterpart. Germany is a nation that is strongly individualistic, and demands the utmost respect at all times, therefore the highest of standards are expected. Any unethical behaviour will seriously diminish all future business negotiations.
Business executives who hope to profit from their travels in Europe should learn about the culture and customs of the countries that they wish to visit. Flexibility and cultural adaptation should be the guiding principles for doing business in this country. Business manners and methods, religious customs, corporate social responsibilities, are all covered in the following sections. Some of the cultural distinctions that businesspeople most often face include differences in business styles, attitudes towards the development of business relationships, attitudes toward punctuality, gift-giving customs and the meanings of colours and numbers. The following sections give an insight into the values, attitudes and culture of Germany.
Corporate Social Responsibility
The German government takes environmental issues in the country extremely seriously and the inclusion of the Green party in the ruling coalition over the past few years has greatly influenced Germany’s energy and environmental policy objectives. From phasing out nuclear power to promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy, Germany has become a pioneer within the EU in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in making alternative fuel sources viable. As a result, Germany has become the world leader in wind energy.
Despite this however, emissions from coal-burning utilities and industries contribute to air pollution and acid rain in Germany, and are damaging the country’s forests. Pollution in the Baltic Sea from raw sewage and industrial effluents from rivers in Eastern Germany, along with hazardous waste disposal remain environmental problems for Germany.
In 2000, the government established a mechanism for ending the use of nuclear power over the next 15 years. The government is also working to meet the EU’s commitment to the preservation of nature.
Germany leads Europe by having the greatest solar and wind electricity generating capacity on the continent.
Germans are most comfortable when they can organise and compartmentalise their world into controllable units. Time, therefore, is managed carefully, and calendars, schedules and agendas must be respected. Trains arrive and leave on time to the minute, projects are carefully scheduled, and organisation charts are meticulously detailed.
Do not turn up late for an appointment or when meeting people. Germans are extremely punctual, and even a few minutes delay can offend. If you are going to be even slightly late, call ahead and explain your situation. Be five to 10 minutes early for important appointments.
Gift giving among business associates is not common in Germany. There has recently been a move towards concentrating much more on the actual business at hand, and less on formalities and rituals like gift giving when travelling on business. However, for more social occasions, gift giving is relatively customary. The following issues are important to note when considering giving a gift:
- A visitor thinking of giving a gift should choose one that is small and of good quality, but not overly expensive.
- Acceptable gifts at business meetings are items of office equipment, good quality pens with your company’s logo or liquor
- When invited to a German home, it is appropriate to bring a gift of flowers, wine, chocolates, or a small gift that represents your home country or region.
- Flowers should be given in uneven numbers and unwrapped (unless wrapped in cellophane). Avoid presenting 13 of any kind of flower or red roses. However, this rule does not apply to bouquets arranged/wrapped by a florist.
- Do not give red roses as they symbolise romantic intentions.
- Do not give carnations as they symbolise mourning.
- Do not give lilies or chrysanthemums as they are used at funerals.
- Gifts are usually opened when received.
Germany generally has the same traditions as most other European countries in terms of gift giving.
Business Dress Code
Germans take great pride in dressing well, regardless of where they are going or what position they hold. Appearance and presentation is very important to Germans, particularly with regard to business.
Even when dressed informally, they are neat and conservative; their clothes are never ostentatious. The following points give an insight into the correct dress code suitable for conducting business in Germany:
- Being well and correctly dressed is very important. Casual or sloppy attire is frowned upon.
- Business dress in Germany is understated, formal and conservative
- Businessmen should wear dark coloured, conservative business suits; solid, conservative ties, and white shirts.
- Women also dress conservatively, in dark suits and white blouses or conservative dresses. This form of dress is observed even in comparatively warm weather. Do not remove your jacket or tie before your German colleague does so.
- Women are recommended to refrain from wearing heavy make-up and ostentatious jewellery or accessories.
- Do not be surprised however, if occasionally you do see a fashion statement with white socks being worn with a dark suit.
Bribery and corruption
According to www.transparency.org, with a score of 79 out of 100, Germany is ranked 13th out of 176 according to the corruption perceptions index (CPI)
The construction sector and public contracting, in conjunction with undue political party influence, represent particular areas of continued concern and the German government has sought to reduce both domestic and foreign corruption. Strict anti-corruption laws apply to domestic economic activity and these are rigorously enforced. Germany ratified the 1998 OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in February 1999, thereby criminalising bribery of foreign public officials by German citizens and firms abroad.
The necessary tax reform legislation ending the tax write-off of bribes in Germany and abroad became law in March 1999. Germany has signed the UN Anti-Corruption Convention but has not yet ratified it. The country participates in the relevant EU anti-corruption measures and Germany has increased the penalties for bribery of German officials, for corrupt practices between companies, and for price-fixing by companies competing for public contracts. It has also strengthened anti-corruption provisions applying to support extended by the official export credit agency and tightened the rules for public tenders.
Most State governments and local authorities have contact points for whistle-blowing and provisions for rotating personnel in areas prone to corruption. Government officials are forbidden from accepting gifts linked to their jobs. Some individual States maintain their own registers and pressure is growing to reintroduce such legislation at a Federal level. Transparency Deutschland, the German Chapter of Transparency International, sees a national corruption register as one of its main goals in Germany, closely followed by Freedom of Information legislation at Federal and State level, and a speedy ratification of the UN Anti-Corruption Convention placing bribery of parliamentarians on the same level as bribery of public officials. The German government has successfully prosecuted hundreds of domestic corruption cases over the years with numbers rising significantly over the last two years. To date, charges have been filed in only one case involving the bribery of foreign government officials since the 1999 changes in German law were enacted to comply with the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.
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