There are a number of verbal and non-verbal communication issues you should consider, when doing business in Luxembourg:
- Luxembourgers are excellent linguists and many are sufficiently fluent to conduct meetings in English. This does not mean that they are familiar with the latest idioms or expressions, so be careful to speak slowly.
- Luxembourgers prefer subtlety to directness and being blunt is considered rude.
- Although their communication is more direct than many cultures, they use tact and diplomacy when speaking and expect the same in return. They will tell you what they think, even if it is not what you want to hear, but they will do so with the utmost of discretion and consideration.
- Luxembourgers prefer communication to be logical and based on reason. If you do not understand what has been said or want further clarification of a point, you may ask questions, as long as you do so politely.
- Luxembourgers do not ask personal questions and will refuse to answer if you intrude on their privacy. Personal life is always kept separate from business. If a friendship develops at work and is carried through into the personal arena, this camaraderie will not be brought into the office. Personal matters are rarely discussed with friends, no matter how close.
- Business cards are important in Luxembourg. Give business cards to the receptionist or secretary upon arrival at an office and to each person you meet subsequently.
- Print cards in English and preferably with either French or German on the reverse.
- Do not include academic degrees or titles, as the Luxembourgians find such boastfulness rude and a sign of poor breeding.
Luxembourg is considered a trilingual country; Luxembourgish, French and German are official languages. Luxembourgish is the national dialect, which is mostly spoken at home and on social occasions. Official documents are usually not available in Luxembourgish. German as well as Luxembourgish can be used for administrative or judicial purposes. The official language of the civil service, law and parliament is French, although criminal and legal debates are conducted partly in Luxembourgish. French and German are taught in the schools. German is spoken mainly at the primary level and French at the secondary level.
In most business environments, the main spoken and written language is French. Almost half of the population speaks at least two foreign languages and about 45% speak three or more languages. A concentration in French or German can be an asset to a career in business or international affairs; while good knowledge of foreign languages, combined with business training, could open up opportunities to a variety of small to medium sized enterprises that are based in Luxembourg and active throughout the European Union.
Business relationships in Luxembourg are relatively similar to other Western European countries. Initially, business deals are negotiated and agreed upon verbally. This is then followed up and formalised in writing with both parties signing the document as confirmation of the agreement. Although friendly and informal with close friends and family, the Luxembourgish are often reserved and formal when dealing with outsiders. They are a private people who do not put their possessions or emotions on display, particularly in the business environment. The Luxembourger prefers subtlety to directness. They do not ask personal questions and will refuse to answer should you intrude on their privacy. It is very important when developing your relationships with the Luxembourger,that you remember to keep personal life separate from business.
Luxembourgers usually maintain a clear separation between their personal and business lives. Showing interest in the country and the people can be important in building business relationships. Luxembourgers are generally polite but reserved, so loudness, assertiveness, and over familiarity are all considered inappropriate at the beginning of a business relationship.
Luxembourgers are careful, prudent and take time to develop a relationship before they trust people. They approach the task of getting to know you in a deliberate and measured manner, which cannot be rushed. If you appear impatient, they will not do business with you. Although third-party introductions are not necessary, they are recommended, as they demonstrate an expression of trust in business. They will, however, go on to develop personal relationships with the people with whom they conduct business, once trust has been established. Building a relationship requires the demonstration of a sincere interest in the country and the people. Thus, it is imperative to understand the history, culture and identity of Luxembourg.
Luxembourgers, in general, are typically conservative as far as physical gestures are concerned. Unlike France, men never kiss men, and public displays of affection are not common, particularly in the business environment. Public gestures of affection tend to be reserved for close family and friends. Loud, aggressive, and arrogant behaviour is regarded as highly unacceptable and rude, by the Luxembourger. Common courtesy such as handshakes and politeness go a long way to creating a good impression on your counterpart. Luxembourgers prefer direct eye contact and in a business context, a person who avoids eye contact may raise suspicions. Therefore, you should maintain eye contact with a Luxembourger, when he or she is talking to you. Expressive use of the hands is minimal in most conversations.
Luxembourgers tend to like titles, especially in corporate hierarchy; so, surnames with honorific titles are used in most social situations. Academic titles and degrees are not considered important and are avoided as a rule, since mention of them is considered a sign of poor breeding. The most common language to address a Luxembourg counterpart in is French. In accordance with European business protocols, use last names and appropriate titles until specifically invited by your host or colleagues to use their first names. In Luxembourg, use of first names is generally reserved for close friends and family, or until a trusting relationship has been established.
It is normal to address people as Monsieur, Madame or Mademoiselle without adding the surname. Madame is a basic title of courtesy used for all adult women, married or single, over 18 years of age (except for waitresses, which are addressed as Mademoiselle, as is ‘Monsieur’ for men). Be very formal in the way you address people. The “vous” form of address is mandatory in business circles. It is up to the superior to determine whether the “tu” familiar form, is appropriate.