Turning a nein into a ja

If you ask any Brit what they think of when they think of Germany, they’ll probably mention beer, bratwurst and Germany being Europe’s economic powerhouse. Germany is the UK’s third most important export market and many businesses form strong links with the country. However, despite its geographic proximity and comprehension of the English language, understanding the cultural divisions can make the difference between getting a ja or a nein in response to your business proposal.

By Jennifer Barnes, account executive and international PR specialist

Language

Although a lot of Germans speak impeccable English, learning a few words of German will really impress your hosts. A simple guten Morgen or danke will go a long way.

The German language has a fondness for compound nouns and words such as Lebensmittelverarbeitungsbetrieben (or food processing plants, for the non-German speakers), can put a lot of people off learning the language. However, a lot of German words are very logical. Staubsauger, or vacuum cleaner, literally means ‘dust sucker’. How’s that for simplicity?

The direct approach

Business owners working with German companies for the first time may perceive their counterparts to be unfriendly, humourless or even rude. Brits are used to small talk at the start of meetings and may find it odd to get directly down to business right on the hour. However, Germans value a distinction between their efficient professional life and personal lives, so rarely engage in small talk. It’s not a personal attack on you, or your company.

Germans have maintained a level of formality in their business engagements that many sectors of British business have lost. German contacts should never be referred to by their first name and instead should be addressed with their correct title, whether that is Herr, Frau or Doktor. In fact, titles are so important to Germans, the British media was recently criticised for referring to Angela Merkel as Ms Merkel, when she is in fact Dr Merkel.

Punctuality

Just as Germans like to compartmentalise their personal and private life, they also like to make their time at work as efficient as possible. When arranging meetings with Germans, you should always present a detailed and specific agenda and arrive early enough to set up so the meeting can start exactly as scheduled.

With the same approach to punctuality, Germans won’t leave you hanging on for a decision on a project. However, Brits should also be aware that Germans will be open in voicing any disapproval of an idea. Rather than being hostile to criticism, British business owners should view it as an opportunity for constructive feedback or to avoid wasting time on an unproductive idea.

Many British companies have developed successful business ties with Germany and as Germans are often interested in British culture and value the quality of British products; it’s a relationship that has proven to work well. So, next time you go to Germany, instead of trying to impress your client by buying them the nicest Bier in town and talking about the Wetter, think about your danke’s, use titles and stick to the agenda and you’ll see how those nein’s quickly become ja’s.

Reaching your target German audience with PR tactics such as media relations can be an entirely different kettle of fish. So give us a call today to see how we can help increase your international reach on +44 (0)1785 225416.

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