Continuing in this series of doing business with Germans, here are 3 things to avoid when working with Germans--and what to do instead!
1. Do not use "du."
Germans are used to keeping their professional distance, which is a helpful benefit of using the formal you form "Sie." In the US Americans toss around "du" and use first names for practically everyone except school teachers. Even when you greet someone you've never met, say waitstaff at a restaurant, their nametag references their first name, not their last name. We are very casual in using others' first names, especially if it is someone in our same age group; this is not exactly the same for Germans (although some younger people would certainly switch to "du" right away, even at work).
If you have trouble remembering which to use when, make sure you practice "Sie" with your German teacher and in dealings with other Germans. Use "Sie" and Herr/Frau + the last name of every one of your fellow students. You could even start thinking of every woman as "Frau" and every man as "Herr" if that helps.
2. Don't bring up the Nazis.
It can be a hard topic to avoid in Germany where, as I like to say, history is hautnah (very close to your skin). Germans spent the second half of the 20th Century rebuilding their country and creating an impressive infrastructure, repairing damaged and demolished buildings and trying to make sense of what happened (work that goes on today). Everybody knows what the Nazis did, however there is a way to recognize this without speaking about it directly.
If a topic arises, like the architecture of a city (which may have been built quickly after it was destroyed in WWII), just talk about the second World War. You're smart, your business counterparts are smart, and if you are tactful when a situation arises like having a business dinner in a restaurant in an Altstadt (old city center), which somehow wasn't destroyed when the Allied forces practically flattened Germany, it leaves the atmosphere pleasant and you can diplomatically inquire about the history of the area without speaking directly about the Nazis or the Third Reich.
3. Don't be offended...Germans are blunt.
Germans are very direct, a bluntness that Americans are not usually accustomed to (although this differs depending on which part of the US you are from). Germans don't tend to understand small talk, a truly American activity. A German friend of mine who had cultural training for coming to the US was told "With Americans, you'll have to talk small talk until it hurts, and then you'll talk more small talk."
Be prepared for direct responses. Practice getting right to business in meetings and know that this is a form of efficiency and respect for others' time. Know that a German offering criticism isn't doing it because they want to prove you wrong--they want the situation to be bettered or fixed.
It's never business-as-usual here, so sign up for the newsletter below and let's get down to German business!