Luxembourg’s business culture has a well-defined and strictly observed hierarchy, with clear responsibilities and distinctions between roles and departments. Power is held by a small number of people at the top. In formal business meetings, it is customary for the highest-ranking person to enter the room first. However, in more informal business situations, this is less important. Contacts are helpful to business success in Luxembourg. For foreign visitors, courteous behaviour, respect, and consideration are essential in trying to open the doors to a successful business meeting.
Business meeting planning
As with most European countries, meeting etiquette in Luxembourg relies on professionalism, good business sense and formality. Bearing that in mind, together with a good attitude will ensure results. When setting up a meeting with your Luxembourger counterparts, there are a number of considerations to ensure the optimum outcome from your negotiations. Punctuality for meetings is taken extremely seriously. If you are going be more than 5 minutes late, telephone and offer your apologies and an explanation. Arriving late may brand you as unreliable, since this may create doubts in your ability to meet a business deadline. When scheduling your meetings, remember that appointments are necessary and should be made 1 or 2 weeks in advance, if arranged by telephone and 1 month in advance, if arranged by letter.
As previously mentioned, business is hierarchical in Luxembourg and bureaucracy and administrative procedures are generally considered far more important than efficiency or flexibility. Consequently, business and negotiations are conducted slowly. Luxembourg business protocols require constant formality and reserve in negotiations; so, decisions are reached very gradually, since Luxembourgers study both the long-term and the immediate effects. Be patient and do not appear ruffled by this adherence to protocol. Decisions are made at the top of the company and in private. Therefore, having high-level contacts in a business is more effective. Be aware that the people, with whom you will be dealing with initially, are probably only intermediaries. Despite the intensely hierarchical nature of this society, working successfully with all levels of the organisation is still crucial to your success. Do not appear overly friendly and refrain from discussing your family or other personal matters during negotiations, as Luxembourgers compartmentalise their business and personal lives.
Greeting etiquette in Luxembourg relies on professionalism, formality and politeness. A good attitude in these matters will ensure your counterparts have a favourable impression of you. Greetings are reserved and formal until a relationship has been established. Upon arrival at a counterpart’s office, it is common practice to give a business card to the secretary and to your counterpart before the meeting. The most common greeting is a brief handshake at the initiation of the senior person. This is different when a woman is involved, in which case the initiative is left up to her. Men never kiss other men, they always shake hands. Addressing a person by their surname with the title Monsieur or Madame is used in most social situations. Finally the formal pronoun for you, “vous” is preferred over the informal “tu” form, as a sign of respect.
How to run a business meeting
Business organisations in Luxembourg are well structured and highly organised. Consequently, rules and administrative practices are favoured over effectiveness or flexibility, and the administration of a meeting should be taken very seriously. In Luxembourg, meeting agendas tend to be very specific and strictly adhered to. Written communications concerning a meeting may be in English, but should also be provided in formal French, German or Luxembourgish that is grammatically correct, depending on the working language of your counterparts business. All presentation materials should be bilingual, if at all possible. If the common language of all parties is English, prepare your presentation in English. Given the available time and resources, you should also prepare supporting documentation in your counterparts working language of either French or German. Luxembourgers will be impressed with your attention to detail.
Follow up letter after meeting with a client
Once a meeting has concluded with Luxembourger counterparts, then normal post-meeting procedures should apply. Follow-up with a letter outlining what was agreed upon, what the next steps are and who is the responsible party. Expect a great deal of written communication in the weeks following a meeting, both to back up decisions and to maintain a record of discussions and outcomes. Always prepare and distribute minutes and supplemental documentation within 24 hours of the meeting.
As Luxembourgish businesspeople are very formal, socialising after meetings will not occur until firm working relationships have been established. While a degree of formality will continue to exist within the business relationship, an effort to build a shared understanding of languages and culture will improve relationships significantly.
Business entertainment is done mostly in restaurants. Sharing a meal is intended to help establish a personal acquaintance, gain trust, and as a time to enjoy good food, wine and discussion. Enthusiasm for traditional dishes will be appreciated. In Luxembourg, the people enjoy French tastes in German quantities, so portions are very large, the food is rich and cocktails are usually served before dinner. Special dishes are consumed on national and religious holidays, as well as on Sunday afternoons. After consuming these large meals, Luxembourgers are fond of taking walks in the country, along well-marked trails. A business lunch will start at 12:30 or 1:00 pm and may last until 3:00 pm, or later if required. Dinner invitations are usually for 8:30 pm and you will be expected to stay until 11:00 pm at the earliest.
Business meeting tips
The following are some useful tips to remember when travelling to or working in Luxembourg:
- Lower your voice a little and behave graciously and you will enjoy a warm response from the people of Luxembourg.
- Luxembourgers value their privacy and personal space immensely. Do not ask personal questions related to occupation, salary, age, family or children, even if you have a well-established friendship.
- Try to demonstrate some knowledge of the history, politics and culture of Luxembourg. Recognize Luxembourg’s uniqueness and its nationality. Do not lump Luxembourgers together with the French, Belgians or Germans.
- Expect the pace of life to be less hurried than most of Europe
- Candour is appreciated in Luxembourg.