German Business Etiquette
The world’s leading export nation is a major trade partner for many countries, which makes it important for international business partners to have certain knowledge about German social behavior and business etiquette.
One of the most significant characteristics of German business etiquette is the formal way of addressing one’s colleagues. While it is common to say you and use the person’s first name in English-speaking countries, it is very inappropriate to say du to a German colleague or superior.
It is a basic rule in Germany to use the impersonal and polite form “Sie” for any person, except children, that have not offered the casual “du”. For a German, it would be highly insulting and expressing disrespect to be addressed “du” by a foreigner or a colleague unless he or she has not offered the “du” before.
This formal way of addressing people expresses a certain emotional distance between colleagues, as Germans tend to sharply separate their working lives from their private lives. In addition, it expresses the rather hierarchical structure of German culture and business environment.
Another characteristic of German business etiquette is punctuality. Being 10 or even 5 minutes late is perceived as impolite. If somebody is not able to come to an appointment, it is common to change or cancel the appointment at least 24 hours in advance.
At the beginning of a meeting, as an introduction to a foreigner or even among colleagues who have worked together for years, it is very common to shake hands as form of salutation.
It is also very common in Germany, and new to strangers, that Germans express their approval at the end of a meeting, a presentation or a lecture and university by rapping their knuckles on the tabletop.
When going to a restaurant in Germany, you do not wait to be seated. In addition, it is not uncommon to share a table with strangers. However, the initiation of a conversation that goes beyond the question if the seats are available will be considered odd in Germany.
Contrary to most other countries, German employees are given a lot of vacation by their employers. They have generally six weeks of paid vacation per year. Most people take long vacations over Christmas, Easter, and during the summer school break.
Although German society is rather formal, and law obeying, it is not uncommon to be pushed or shoved, and apologies are rather uncommon.
It is also not as common as in other countries to hold the door open for other people or to line up when waiting for the bus or when standing in a bakery.