Doing business is one thing, doing business with folks in another country is another, and here are 3 tips to help you do better business with Germans.
1. Remember proper greetings & salutations
Manners for greetings, whether in email or in-person, are not only polite, but a wonderful way to make your German guests feel welcome. Take time to learn a good hand-shake and remember to make polite inquiries about their trip to your office or to meet you.
Germans who have received cultural training will know the only real way Americans answer the question "How are you?" is with "I'm good, thanks," and that that's the only culturally acceptable response. Germans who haven't had this training, however, may respond with the truth, whether someone in their family just died or they have a medical issue you really don't want to hear about, you may be on the receiving end of that information.
(Sidenote: I once, without thinking, asked my former landlord in Germany how he was doing and he proceeded to tell me about a sting he got on his foot, the rather displeasing condition of the spot, and what the doctor said. I never made that mistake again.)
2. Be an attentive host
For in-person meetings, being a thoughtful host is an easy way to create an atmosphere of ease for your German business partners. Remember to have beverages on-hand like water (Gerolsteiner, anyone?) and coffee, perhaps some soft drinks. Be sure to offer your guests something to drink and remember to ask them again later if they'd like another beverage.
Serving coffee after lunch and/or around 3 p.m. is also a wonderful way to observe German coffee routines.
3. Use your most polite table manners
Germans have a term for this: Esskultur, the culture of food, dining, and manners. It's so important I've written an entire post about it: Esskultur- 9 Rules for Dining with Germans. Read it, learn it, live it.
When you host a lunch, especially if it is a serve-yourself or buffet-style meal, be sure to invite your German guests to be first in line. It's polite to offer your guests to go first, and they will gratefully accept. It's considered proper in German culture to always allow your guests to go first, so if you're used to a mob-scene-like-free-for-all at lunch, it's best to prep your team beforehand.
Really what it comes down to is: how would you like to be treated as a guest in another country? What social niceties would make you feel at home? Do that.
Stay tuned for Part 2 next week! Be sure to sign up for the RSS feed above and for free German learning tips, too!