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Doing business in Germany – Cultural differences

Doing business in Germany – Cultural differences

Although the Netherlands and Germany share a border and are important trade partners, there are major differences in terms of business etiquette. This article explains the biggest differences and pitfalls.

General manners
Using the familiar form of ‘you’ is unusual in Germany. To show respect and courtesy, German business partners always use the formal form of ‘you’, i.e. ‘Sie’. It is normal for Dutch people to feel out the situation in order to decide whether to use the informal ‘jij’ or the formal ‘u’. It is also customary in Germany to address colleagues by their last name preceded by ‘Herr’ (Mr) or ‘Frau’ (Ms). The use of an academic title is also much more important in Germany than in the Netherlands.

Germans keep their business and personal life strictly separate, while Dutch people like to take a more personal approach. One’s personal life is not discussed during business discussions. Appearances are also much more important in Germany than in the Netherlands. Personal care and status symbols like cars and clothing are more important.

Expertise
Giving off an aura of expertise is important for Germans. German business people like to show up for a presentation extremely well prepared. It is not enough to have a general outline ready, the details and specifics are part of a good preparation and demonstrate sufficient expertise in a particular subject. Discussions are held on content and only entered into if someone is very well acquainted with the material.
Dutch people would rather not insult business partners and take a calmer approach. Everyone can have his or her say and people are rarely put on the spot. From the German perspective this evidences inability and lack of knowledge. It is therefore important for German parties to know that Dutch people are no less demanding, simply that they take a different approach.

Meeting and working together
Another point for attention is the difference in consultation structure. When holding meetings with German parties, the decision has often already been made in advance. The director him or herself takes the decision. Germans often feel they are not being taken seriously if a Dutch party shows up with decision makers who are lower in the hierarchy. The negotiating partners in Germany are often authorised to take a decision therefore. A plan does have to be approved by various departments and ultimately by the director. A decision can therefore take some time.

A great deal is invested in collaborations that have existed for years. Business dinners take place in the evening at a restaurant with a good reputation. This demonstrates that the participation of the business partners is valued. It would be unusual to come across the ‘Dutch business lunch’ in Germany.

Experience teaches that a better understanding of cultural differences can prevent many misunderstandings. This can make doing business with German trade partners significantly easier.

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