If you travel for work, or if you plan on re-locating to another country you will want to know how to behave professionally. You got this.
- Be Punctual
This is extremely important in Germany. Being late shows a fundamental disrespect of your colleague – and it can be interpreted as incompetence (or worse).
A girlfriend of mine is so punctual that she can plan to meet her friends at “18:02 at the Karlsplatz U-Bahn station”. This seems like an impossibly specific meeting time to me, but it works for her! (Yes, I am always early when meeting with this woman.)
Calendars are also very important in Germany. It is not unusual to plan a birthday party or other special event months in advance. When inviting German friends / colleagues to do something with a week or two in advance, it is not uncommon to hear “I already have plans”.
- Be Organized
German people have earned a reputation for organization, efficiency, and a bit of impatience. The idea of doing things in a way that better fulfills the needs of the community is pervasive throughout the culture.Being organized shows that you respect the flow of the community.
For instance, I learned to step up to the cash register with cash in-hand, and an open bag for groceries. After a while, one appreciates the flow that comes when the people in front of you are organized.
- Be Polite
German, like many languages comes with two forms of “you”. One is the formal, “default” position (Sie) and the other is familiar (du). When an elder, superior, or leader “offers the ‘du'” it is a sign of mutual respect.
Organization, consideration for your neighbors, and punctuality are all important aspects of being polite.
- Be a Team Player
Although Germany scores rather high on the Geert Hofstede Index for individuality, it is impossible to overlook the strong sense of community people feel with each other. My educated guess is that this relates to the very low power distance within the culture. (Here is a link to an analysis)
For example, several years ago I had a small mishap with my bicycle where the bike chain jumped out of the gears. No big deal, but certainly a jarring experience. I had barely pulled over to figure out what the problem was when a woman dressed in white offered to help me put the chain back in place. This angel (who was clearly not afraid of a little bike grease) was not my only savior. No fewer than four people tried to help me in the space of ten minutes! Although my problem was very small; the people who were able to offered to help. Go team Deutscher!
- Prove it
Again, I reference the Geert Hofstede Institute’s research: Germany is a risk-averse culture. Among other things, this means that when you want to do something be sure that you can back it up with evidence. Even if collecting evidence takes longer than the actual project – you will get further, faster, and with more respect within the society if you can ensure that everybody you are working with has addressed all of the perceived risks or potential problems before entering into any sort of an agreement. (This 2010 DW article seems to agree with my assessment)
- Be Direct
Don’t waste time with frivolties. The people who describe “sleet” as “snowrain” (der Schneeregen) appreciate straight-forward, easy-to-understand communication.
On that note, English speakers – when you can conduct business with Germans in German you will know that you have “arrived”.
- Impress Colleagues with German
The German system works very well. Germans are educated, well-traveled, and aware of the world around them. It is not uncommon to meet people here who speak: English, Spanish, French, or Russian as a second language – especially in big cities.
As many people are fluent in at least one other language, it is often easier to speak English. If you are able to speak German, however, you will be accepted into society much more smoothly than otherwise.
- Friendships Take Time – but Last Forever
Maybe this has to do with German “long-term orientation” and how foreigners only stay abroad for a few years. If you live in Germany, you will hear ex-pats say this on an almost daily basis.
The good news is that once you’re on the guest list; you appear to be welcome for life.
- Be Culturally Sensitive
Set a good example. If you live abroad, people appreciate your understanding of their culture and Germany is no exception. Learn German and pay attention to German pop culture… it will make it easier to establish frienships with the locals.
- There’s a Time and a Place for Everything
German society is extremely organized. Although there are times that this organization is exasperating if you have a more “spontaneous” style; there are times where Germany kicks up her heels. You will be happy to have a chance to experience it.
January – New Year’s Eve
February – Fasching
March / April – work (except for Easter)
May – Jesus Holidays / work
June – Jesus Holidays / work
July – work / summer vacation
August – work / summer vacation
September – Oktoberfest
October – work
November – work
December – Christmas
Did I miss anything? I welcome your input and sincerely hope that my analysis helps you!