Excerpted from the Germany Career Guide
Located in the center of Europe, Germany is the region's most populous country, excluding Russia. It is also a founding member of the European Union.Germany has survived a difficult history, including defeats in two World Wars, to emerge as an economic powerhouse. In addition to healing from a painful past, Germany struggles with cultural pluralism and the negative effects of the 2008 global recession. Furthermore, the reunification of East and West Germany is an ongoing societal project.
Germans are very fond of sports, with more than 90,000 sports clubs across the country. Football (soccer) is the most popular among both men and women; more than 1 million women play football. In fact, Germany will host the Women’s World Cup in 2011. Other popular sports include gymnastics, tennis and handball.
Germans are direct in their communications and can appear aggressive to those who come from less confrontational cultures. Openly-expressed criticism is normally focused on a specific project or problem and should not be taken personally.In general, Germans are not fond of small talk and will not necessarily greet strangers, even if eye contact has been made in an office setting. Germans strongly prefer third-party introductions.
If You Want to Act Like a Local...
Dining etiquette is Continental, meaning the knife is held in the right hand and the fork in the left. The fork should not be switched to the right hand during eating. Do not begin eating until the host says 'guten appetite.’ Elbows should not rest on the table. To indicate one has finished eating, the knife and fork should lay parallel across the right side of the plate, fork over knife. Common toasts are “Zum Wohl!” (when toasting with wine) and “Prost!” (with beer). Both phrases mean “health.”
When entering a store, it is customary to say “guten tag” ('hello') and “vielen Dank, auf Wiedersehen” (thank you, good-bye) when leaving.
Germans are hard and serious workers, and they are masters of planning. Plans often include contingency plans and action steps to be taken. Overall, Germans value privacy, hierarchy, clear communication and efficiency.
German management is ultimately concerned with product quality, product service and customer satisfaction. Both the manager’s style of management and the teams he or she oversees will be product-oriented. Most managers are expected to know their production lines, not just the ‘bottom line.’ Relations between management and employees tend not to be close or familiar, but managers do look out for their team members. Managers are also quite loyal to their employers; most managers remain with one company throughout their working careers.
Corporate Hierarchy / Boss and Subordinate Relations
The German workplace is highly structured and strictly hierarchical with every individual’s role and responsibilities clearly defined. Rank most definitely has its privileges. Hierarchy is something to be respected, and there are definite routes through life that one follows according to one’s rank in the hierarchy of society and in work. No matter what the career field, there usually is a hierarchy one must follow, a proper way for communicating with particular individuals, and a rigid chain of command and expected procedures to follow. Deviating from the proper or expected way will generally make more problems, even if the intent is to bypass what appear to be difficulties or obstacles. Although this results in all participants knowing exactly what is expected of them and the procedure to be followed, it also results in a system that can be seen as inflexible and slow to change.
Conducting a meeting or giving a presentation
Appointments, made well in advance, are expected for most meetings. It would be unusual to discuss significant issues by way of an unannounced, unplanned meeting. All meetings and preparations should be confirmed in advance, and a polite confirmation the day before is often appreciated. Casually changing a meeting’s time and place is not appreciated, nor is tardiness. As mentioned above, punctuality is very important in the German business environment, and it is imperative to call ahead if one expects to be late. The best times to schedule a meeting are between 10 am and 1 pm or 3 and 5 pm. Many offices close early on Friday afternoons, around 2 or 3 pm.
This is just a short sample of what you’ll find in over 100 pages of information in the complete Germany Guide.