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German business etiquette: never remove your jacket before your host

By Josian Phillips, 

Switch on the news, pick up a business publication or skim the internet and you’ll see in no uncertain terms that Germany, Europe’s largest economy, is enjoying an upturn. It’s THE place to do business at the moment and many foreign companies are attempting to do just that. Of course, in order to increase the chances of success, it’s important to understand any cross-cultural differences. As such, here’s our bite-sized guide to German business etiquette:

Organisation is crucial

While it’s often considered a stereotypical behaviour, the truth is that Germans like structure, good planning and knowing precisely what’s going on at any specific time; therefore organisation is crucial. Attend a meeting with German colleagues, partners or prospects and you’ll notice each project has been thought through in minute detail, adhering to various rules and regulations. It’s said that this über-organisation creates a sense of security, though it can also mean a lack of flexibility. It goes without saying that you should be sufficiently prepared for your meeting, but to really curry favour with your hosts, demonstrate that you’ve done some forward-thinking, too.

Always be punctual

Given the above, it’ll come as no surprise to learn that lateness is not tolerated. Most Germans share the belief that good organisation allows a person to efficiently compartmentalise their tasks, hence there should be no need for it. Schedules are respected and time management is of the essence. It’s rude to be late in any situation, but in Germany it can be deemed offensive. It can also create a disastrous first impression. Try to be at least ten minutes early for an appointment and call in good time should something unexpectedly spoil your plans.

Dress (conservatively) to impress

Much like in the UK, business attire is typically smart and conservative. Suits and dresses tend to be dark and understated. Shirts, ties and other accessories should be simple. Hair should be neatly arranged and make-up should be natural. One custom you must observe is to not remove your jacket until your host removes theirs. That goes for a tie, too. It matters not how warm the temperature is, nor whether you are in an office, at a business dinner or any other kind of social event; don’t do it. Hopefully, your observant host will offer to take your jacket from you.

Formality not familiarity

Business meetings are formal affairs and communication is suitably professional, if not a little aloof. It is customary to address someone using their title and surname until invited to do otherwise, and you will be expected to shake hands with your new acquaintances. This is because German employees work within, and rarely stray from, strict hierarchies. Status is greatly valued, so ensure your contacts understand your level of authority in relation to their own; it could work to your advantage. With clear demarcations between work and home life, it’s best to leave humour and compliments behind until you know your hosts better. Business is serious and there’s no requirement for familiarity. Naturally, if you are visiting a funky young start-up and the vibe is altogether different, then some of these rules could be out of place. If that is the case, take your cues from your host.

Top tip: If invited to a business meal, remain standing until you’ve been invited to sit and never place your napkin on your plate after the meal – instead put the folded napkin to the left of your plate to ensure it is recycled properly.

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