Business etiquette

German Flag - business etiquette in Germany Attitudes and values are the foundation of every country’s culture and are the building blocks for developing business culture. Cultural influences, attitudes, and behavior vary within and across nations and within and across ethnicities. They are strongly embedded within communities and influence the business etiquette in Germany.

In many respects, Germans are the masters of planning. This is a culture that likes forward-thinking and knowing what they are doing at a specific time on a specific day. The German thought process is extremely detailed, with each aspect of a project being examined in great detail. Careful planning, in one’s business and personal life, provides a sense of security.


Most aspects of German living and working are defined and regulated by structure. For example, through laws, rules, and procedures, which are evident in all economic, political and even social spheres. Rules and regulations allow people to know what is expected so that they can plan their lives accordingly. Germans believe that maintaining clear lines of distinction between people, places, and things is the surest way to lead a structured and ordered life. In German business culture, as well as the business etiquette in Germany, this is reflected in the following of prescribed business rules. This results in a low degree of flexibility and spontaneity in attitudes and values. 

Germans do not like surprises. Sudden changes in business transactions, even if they may improve the outcome, are unwelcome. Business and business etiquette in Germany is viewed as being very serious. Germans do not appreciate humor in a business context. In addition, counterparts do not need or expect to be complimented.

Work and personal lives are strictly divided. Germans follow the ideal that there is a proper time and place for every activity – this is part of the business etiquette in Germany.

Doing business in Germany

When doing business in Germany, it is essential that you appreciate that the business etiquette in Germany is of great importance. Germany is a nation that is strongly individualistic. It demands a lot of respect at all times. Therefore the highest of standards are expected. Any unethical behavior might seriously harm all future business negotiations.

Business executives who hope to profit from their travels in Europe and Germany should learn about the Business etiquette in Germany, the culture and customs of the countries that they wish to visit. Flexibility and cultural adaptation should be the guiding principles for doing business in this country. Business manners and methods, religious customs, corporate social responsibilities, are all covered in the following sections. Some of the cultural distinctions that businesspeople most often face include differences in business styles, attitudes towards the development of business relationships, attitudes toward punctuality, gift-giving customs and the meanings of colors and numbers. The following sections give an insight into the values, attitudes, culture and business etiquette in Germany.

Corporate Social Responsibility

An important part of the business etiquette in Germany

The German government takes environmental issues in the country extremely seriously and the inclusion of the Green party in the ruling coalition over the past few years has greatly influenced Germany’s energy and environmental policy objectives. From phasing out nuclear power to promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy, Germany has become a pioneer within the EU in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in making alternative fuel sources viable. As a result, Germany has become the world leader in wind energy.

Despite this, however, emissions from coal-burning utilities and industries contribute to air pollution and acid rain in Germany and are damaging the country’s forests. Pollution in the Baltic Sea, along with hazardous waste disposal remain environmental problems for Germany.

In 2000, the government established a mechanism for ending the use of nuclear power over the next 15 years. The government is also working to meet the EU’s commitment to the preservation of nature.

Germany leads Europe by having the greatest solar and wind electricity generating capacity on the continent.

Punctuality – business etiquette in Germany

Germans are most comfortable when they can organize their world into controllable units. Time, therefore, is managed carefully, and calendars, schedules, and agendas must be respected. Trains arrive and leave on time to the minute, projects are carefully scheduled, and organization charts are very detailed.

Do not turn up late for an appointment or when meeting people. Germans are extremely punctual, and even a few minutes’ delay can offend. If you are going to be even slightly late, call ahead and explain your situation. Be five to ten minutes early for important appointments.

Gift-giving – business etiquette in Germany

Gift-giving among business associates is not common in Germany. There has recently been a move towards concentrating much more on the actual business, and less on formalities and rituals like gift-giving when traveling on business. However, for more social occasions, gift-giving is relatively customary. The following issues are important to note when considering giving a gift:

  • A visitor thinking of giving a gift should choose one that is small and of good quality, but not overly expensive
  • Acceptable gifts at business meetings are items of office equipment, good quality pens with your company’s logo or liquor
  • When invited to a German home, it is appropriate to bring a gift of flowers, wine, chocolates, or a small gift that represents your home country or region.
  • Flowers should be given in uneven numbers and unwrapped (unless wrapped in cellophane). Avoid presenting 13 of any kind of flower or red roses. However, this rule does not apply to bouquets arranged/wrapped by a florist.
  • Red roses symbolize romantic intentions, don’t give them away as a present
  • Do not give carnations as they symbolize mourning
  • The same goes for lilies or chrysanthemums as they are used at funerals
  • Gifts are usually opened when received

Germany generally has the same traditions as most other European countries in terms of gift-giving.

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Dress Code – business etiquette in Germany

Germans take great pride in dressing well, regardless of where they are going or what position they hold. Appearance and presentation is very important to Germans, particularly when it comes to doing business.

Even when dressed informally, they are dressed neat and conservative. The following points give an insight into the correct dress code suitable for conducting business in Germany:

  • Being well and correctly dressed is very important. Casual or sloppy clothes not appreciated
  • Business dress in Germany is understated, formal and conservative
  • Businessmen should wear dark-colored, conservative business suits, ties, and white shirts
  • Women also dress conservatively, in dark suits and white blouses or conservative dresses. This form of dress is observed even in comparatively warm weather. Do not remove your jacket or tie before your German colleague does so
  • Women are recommended to refrain from wearing heavy make-up and too much jewelry or accessories
  • Do not be surprised, however, if occasionally you do see a fashion statement with white socks being worn with a dark suit.

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Bribery & corruption 

According to, with a score of 79 out of 100, Germany is ranked 13th out of 176 according to the corruption perceptions index (CPI).

The construction sector and public contracting, represent particular areas of continued concern. Here the German government has sought to reduce both domestic and foreign corruption. Strict anti-corruption laws apply to domestic economic activity and these are rigorously enforced. Germany ratified the 1998 OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in February 1999, thereby criminalizing bribery of foreign public officials by German citizens and firms abroad.

The necessary tax reform legislation ending the tax write-off of bribes in Germany and abroad became law in March 1999. Germany has signed the UN Anti-Corruption Convention but has not yet ratified it. The country participates in the relevant EU anti-corruption measures. Further, Germany has increased the penalties for bribery of German officials, for corrupt practices between companies, and for price-fixing by companies competing for public contracts. It has also strengthened anti-corruption provisions applying to support extended by the official export credit agency and tightened the rules for public tenders.

State governments and local authorities 

Most state governments and local authorities have contact points for whistle-blowing and provisions for rotating personnel in areas prone to corruption. Government officials are forbidden from accepting gifts linked to their jobs. Some individual states maintain their own registers and pressure is growing to reintroduce such legislation at a Federal level. Transparency Deutschland, the German Chapter of Transparency International, sees a national corruption register as one of its main goals in Germany, closely followed by Freedom of Information legislation at Federal and State level, and fast ratification of the UN Anti-Corruption Convention placing bribery of parliamentarians on the same level as bribery of public officials.

The German government has successfully prosecuted hundreds of domestic corruption cases over the years with numbers rising significantly over the last two years. To date, charges have been filed in only one case involving the bribery of foreign government officials since 1999. Changes in German law were enacted to comply with the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

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