Travel & Expat Lifestyle Magazine

German Social & Business Customs



Germans value efficiency. They are the masters of planning. Most Germans think ahead of the moment, and like to know what they will be doing at certain hours of the following day. They feel secure in their planning, both in their personal and business worlds. They like order and structure, and feel that when things are planned correctly nothing needs to be thought of to change that. Work and personal lives are very much divided to Germans. For instance, you look sloppy if you do not leave your office at the proper business hour. You did not plan your day that way you were supposed to.

Germans also are very proud of their homes, which are often very clean and organized. Home is important because outside communication is pretty formal, and home it the one place people can relax.

In terms of greeting, they are often formal, and done with a fast, firm handshake. You should say “Herr” or “Frau” (Mister and Misses, respectively) and the person’s last name until invited to use their first name. When you come into a room, you should shake everyone’s hands, even kids’.

If you are invited to a German home, you should bring chocolates or flowers, such as yellow roses or tea roses. Red roses are usually meant for romance, and carnations are for mournings, so avoid those. If you want to give wine, it should be French or Italian, or another fine imported wine (not German). Arrive exactly on time as planned. You must call in advance to explain why you are up to fifteen minutes late.

At dinners, wait to be invited to sit. Wait until the hostess says “Guten appetit” to begin eating. If you are at a large dinner, wait until the hostess places a napkin in her lap before you do it. If you are eating salad, don’t cut the lettuce, but fold it with your knife. Finish everything on your plate. The host gives the first toast, which is “Zum Wohl!” for wine, and “Prost!” for beer. Both mean “Good health.”


Germans don’t consider it necessary to do business with people they have a close relationship with. However, they do value your educational background, and the history of your company. In offices, Germans often have their doors closed, and you have to knock to get in. Communication is formal, and people often do not show emotion. That can be suspicious. They are often very direct, which can sometimes be blunt or rude. If you schedule appointments, the letters should be written in German. At meetings, the eldest or highest ranking person will enter the room first. Meetings have strict agendas, as well as starting and ending times. Decisions are made at the top of the company, because businesses are very hierarchical.


3 thoughts on “German Social & Business Customs

  1. I live and work in Germany and I have to say that it is quite true. Especially the decision making part.
    It is less formal among equal employees though.

  2. I spent a few months as a visiting researcher in a German university and found it miserably disorganized and inefficient. Hopefully the situation is better outside of academia. Hierarchy is also extremely important and exaggerated in the university and seemed to me the root of the problem: since those on top have such a comfortable position, and those on the bottom have no power, the situation is unlikely to improve.

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