Germans 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 leaving.
- When introducing yourself, never use your title. Introduce
yourself by your last name only.
- 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
- 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.
- Never put your hands in your pockets when talking with
- "Thumbs up" gesture means "one" or is a sign of appreciation
- Making hands into two fists, thumbs tucked inside the other
fingers and making pounding motion lightly on a surface expresses
- 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
- 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 credibility.
- Contacts are vital to a business success. Use a bank, German
representative or the Industrie und Handelskammer (Chamber of
Industry and Commerce) when possible.
- Rank is very important in business. Never set up a meeting for
a lower ranked company employee to meet with a higher ranked
- The primary purpose of a first meeting is to get to know one
another and to evaluate the person, to gain trust, and the check
- Meetings are often formal and scheduled weeks in advance.
- Germans generally discuss business after a few minutes of
- Arrive at meetings well prepared. Avoid hard-sell tactics or
- Germans take business very seriously. Levity is not common in
- Business cards in English are acceptable.
- Germans are competitive, ambitious and hard bargainers.
- Germans value their privacy. They tend to keep their office
doors closed. Always knock on doors before entering.
- 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 contribution.
- Decisions are often debated informally and are generally made
before meetings with compliance rather than consensus expected in
- 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, "Fršulein."
- 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 the conversation.
- Business entertaining is usually done in restaurants.
- Spouses are generally not included in business dinners.
- 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
- 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,
- 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 acceptable.
- Do not leave any food on your plate when you are finished
- 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
- Do not ask for a tour of your host's home, it would be
- Being well and correctly dressed is very important.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Donít lose your temper publicly. This is viewed as uncouth and
sign of weakness.
- Stand when an elder or higher ranked person enters the room.
- Donít shout or be loud, put your feet on furniture or chew gum
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
- A woman should not feel inhibited to invite a German man to
dinner for business and will not have any problems paying.