Long Meetings, Silent Underlings, Limits, and Stamina

If you’re going to be spending a lot of time with German businessmen soon, God help you.

And so does the Financial Times Deutschland, with this essay on German business culture (hat tip Ed P.). I’ve highlighted the most important passages in bold, for those of you cramming for the exam:

Be prepared for long meetings. Readiness to handle lengthy sessions shows you possess the essential prerequisites of seriousness, stamina and structureDo not smile too much. It can be regarded as foppish. The Germans are tolerant of English foibles. Some of them [Germans, that is, not English foibles] even affect a certain air of relaxation. But they have their limits.

Allow the boss of the company you are visiting to do most of the talking. That is why he is the boss. Do not expect his underlings to do much more than nod in silent compliance. That is the way German corporate bureaucracy functions. On the whole, it works.

Do not worry about your ignorance of German. Your hosts will love outsmarting each other in showing how well they command your language. Speak English slowly and distinctly. Avoid nuances. Be direct. Do not play with words. Many misunderstandings – wars, even – are caused by the Germans not being able to understand what the English are saying, but being too proud to ask…

…If you end up taking taxis, do not expect the drivers to know the way to your destination. But expect an erudite, if irritable, conversation. Many German taxi drivers are unemployed engineers, neurologists, pharmacists, software writers or computer technicians. They know they should be doing something more useful than ferrying you around.

If you sit down to dinner after the meeting, do not believe the old adage about "not mentioning the war". The Second World War retains a fascination for many Germans. Sometimes it is hard to get them off the subject.

Expect your German hosts to tell you how much poorer the country has become since reunification. If you pre-empt them by telling them that 3 to 4 per cent of west German gross domestic product flows to the east each year, they will think you are hugely knowledgeable. Your chances of winning that sale will rise.

Invite your counterparties back to Britain. Treat them to a traditional dish of beef or suckling pig. The Germans have a soft spot for the English. Many of them send their sons and daughters to school here. If we could only manufacture more cars, kitchen goods, machine tools, chemicals, power stations and railway equipment that they would want to buy from us, then they would probably like us even more.

I’m just kidding about the "God help you," by the way. In my limited experience, German businessmen are often courteous and sometimes pretty interesting, if you can crack their facade without pissing them off. Which is a very tricky high-wire act.

Next Up: German Joys‘ very own guide to impressing unemployed German alcoholics!

3 thoughts on “Long Meetings, Silent Underlings, Limits, and Stamina

  1. One important thing:

    In every conference room are so called conference pastries (Konferenzgebäck) which is ordered by the secreatary and delivered in unusually large boxes. It often tastes terrible but, trust me on this, you need the sugar for a lengthy meeting 🙂


  2. I had one of those taxi drivers in Düsseldorf, may have been a student. I took a taxi to the Gehry buildings and he pointed out all the other buildings to me, recommended me to go up the tower and explained what a Landtag is, so I felt like a completely ignorant foreign tourist when I got out.


  3. I wish I had this information ten years ago when I was working with a German company. At one point I used the phrase “a pat on the back” and it was interpreted as “a spanking!”


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