Business Custom Practices in Germany that Differ from the US

Written By Steps To Faculty Published August 23rd, 2010

American and German businesses have been interacting on a regular basis for decades. Some business personnel may not see Germany as a foreign country with vastly different business customs and etiquette like they would a country like Japan. In many cases, European customs are very similar to US customs, and therefore it may be easier for a US business person to make errors in etiquette or think that there is no need to educate themselves on local business customs. However, there are many customs and business practices which are different and should be observed to prevent offending business colleagues and associates.

Step 1 Research by township

While many customs may be similar, assuming there is no need to learn about German business customs is an arrogant way to approach a new business connection or venture. To help highlight some of the differences in business customs between the US and Germany, the following list is intended only as a beginning. Smart business professionals should research and learn more about German business customs before trying to conduct business in Germany or with German business professionals.This is especially true in Germany where each township has its own customs. For example,

Step 2 Be formal

German business is based in formality. Proper greetings, addressing a person by title, and waiting to be seen and introduced are far more pronounced than in the United States. In short, many customs are the same in terms of shaking hands, waiting to be introduced, and other formalities. However, in Germany these are carried on far longer than in the United States. Where an individual may start a business meeting addressing a colleague by their formal name, by the end many professionals are on a first name basis. This is not the case in Germany. Formality remains intact throughout a business meeting.

Step 3 Make an appointment

Appointments are a mandatory and strictly adhered-to custom. One or two weeks is the expected lead time for an appointment. Promptness is expected and tardiness can end a relationship before it starts. Agendas are strictly followed, including what time the appointment will start and what time it will end. When entering a room for business meetings or other business functions, there is a hierarchy to the entry process.

Step 4 Follow the leader

Highest ranking officials and executives enter first and are followed, in order, by the next ranking official or employee. If attendees are of equal rank, men enter before women.

Step 5 Play by ear

In Germany you need to listen to what the other person is saying very carefully. In the US although you may listen, nothing is agreed upon until a contract is signed. The opposite is true in Germany. What is said is considered an implicit contract.

These are just a few of the differences in proper business etiquette in Germany. There are others regarding gifts, business dress, and assorted other customs. The underlying theme of all German customs is formality and serious attention to business matters. Please visit for more great business advice.

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