Differences Between American & German Business Culture

Written by rachel turner
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Differences Between American & German Business Culture
There are many differences between American and German business culture. (John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

In today's increasingly global marketplace, many U.S. companies do regular business with firms in Europe. According to an article published by the international broadcaster Deutsche Welle in 2007, companies from the United States invested £119 billion in Germany in particular, employing approximately 800,000 people in the country. While many Germans learn to speak excellent English from a young age, there are significant differences between American and German business culture that can cause confusion and misunderstandings for Americans doing business in Germany.

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Business communication in Germany is more formal than in the United States. It is normal practice for Germans to address their colleagues and business partners as either "Herr" or "Frau," followed by their surnames. Germans may be offended if you addressed them by their first names, particularly if they are not experienced in doing business in the U.S. Germans also place great importance on academic qualifications. This means that a German with a Ph.D. will expect to be called "Herr Doktor," rather than simply "Herr." When speaking to your business partners in German, understand the difference between "du" and "Sie." Although both words translate as "you" in English, "du" should only be used when talking to children or close friends. Address business partners as "Sie" always to avoid seeming overly familiar.

Non-verbal Communication

Germans expect to start and end their meetings with a firm handshake. While shaking hands, it is important to maintain direct eye contact. In German culture, lack of eye indicates unreliability and dishonesty. Maintain direct eye contact at all times when talking to your German colleagues.


Americans may be tempted to lighten the mood of a business meeting by cracking a joke, but Germans may be confused or even offended by such behaviour. Germans do appreciate humour in certain situations. However, they also place great importance on being serious when the situation demands it. Generally speaking, business meetings in Germany are serious affairs. Humour in a business environment is therefore regarded as misplaced and inappropriate.


In the U.S., companies place greater emphasis on creating a positive atmosphere in the workplace in than in Germany. Germans typically give less praise than Americans and are more likely to say nothing if they consider a job done well, only commenting if they perceive it tis done badly. This can be confusing for Americans, who are more used to an environment where colleagues routinely award praise for the completion of simple tasks.

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