Cultural differences # 1 – Doing business in Germany

April 23, 2008 — 8 Comments

Always a nice feeling

It has been a while since I was in Germany to do business, but every time I come back I have this pleasant ‘doing business‘ feeling. Germany in my case is Munich where the Bavarian culture is quite specific. I guess I’m not the only foreign guy who shares this opinion as I have already 2 Swedish business people in the network, not a coincidence as the one introduced the other. And since I’ve been doing business in the Munich area in the last year, I’m quite sure I have had contacts with people from at least 6 cultural backgrounds. And usually all these encounters end in a Biergarten or a Pizzeria. Many Italians (origins) live in Munich and the home made pasta usually tastes good here. But personally I like the Biergartens better as I love to get my hands dirty on ‘rough’ dishes like ‘Haxn’ with a good ‘Maß’ (1 liter of beer). Hmm … now I remember, I always gain 1 or 2 kilo’s after a week in Munich :). Anyway, this time I came back to assess out the progress of our business development, led by GW. Our goal is to open a unit in Germany later this year.

Easy to get around

Germany is like the Netherlands a mature economy where the infrastructure is good, a lot better than in the Netherlands I would say, and the people are very open for business. It’s much more easier for English speaking people to do business here than for instance in France, as more people are willing to speak English. Here in Germany I have the same and the taxi drivers are always very helpful, but often still have difficulties with English. And as for the public transportation payment system, it works similar to the Netherlands with the ‘Streifenkarte’. But in my opinion the taxi system is great; good cars for low prices, at least 30-40% less than in the Netherlands.

Intermezzo: I think in the list of Non-native English speaking countries, the Netherlands remains # 1. All foreign colleagues who visited our office always were surprised how easy it was to ask for directions in Holland. Slava, my colleague from Ukraine, visited us last week and told me that he had the feeling he could trust Dutch who showed him directions. Naren and Abhay, who came to visit us during the same period, had the opposite experience in Moscow as they couldn’t even get a normal answer on the question ‘What is the local time’. In Ukraine the situation would probably have been the same. As they couldn’t find any English speaking Russian, they staid at the aiport for 3-4 hours without drinks or food as they couldn’t find a money exchange. In the Netherlands it’s quite the opposite, I still get answers in English as in Amsterdam people sometimes think I’m a tourist.

Catching up on my German

But at the same time I always try to talk German whenever I can because it would be a waste of 3 years high-school study if I didn’t. And in the time I had a girlfriend in Hannover some locals even thought I was from Germany. Languages are the opening to cultures and you should practice it whenever you can. So today I met Martin, a young German professional who wanted to understand our business as his boss assigned him to make cold calls for us. Luckily for me Martin asked if we could have the discussion in German as it would help him to take in the knowledge. But man, my German needs some facelift! I was really disappointed about my vocabulary as I had to ask GW for many words. Hmm … maybe I should just try to give my Componence presentation in German on our Enterprise 2.0 seminar in Munich, still 6 weeks to go. Nah … challenges are nice, but I must remain realistic, the impact I want to make can be achieved better in English.

Work hard, play hard

Of all the differences with the Netherlands I was really surprised with the fact that Germans are equipped with a mentality to work hard, something many Dutch have lost in my opinion. Here people still are happy to have a job and from what I’ve seen are proud to work where they work. Probably more 80% of the days that I’ve worked here in Germany, the length of a working day was usually between 10-12 hours. And working further at home in the evening or giving up a weekend is not uncommon from what I have seen. I have encountered similar mentality in Ukraine and India, but not often in such a developed economy. Of course it might be just the type of project I have been involved in, but then I seriously really have to find other jobs and clients 😐

But after a hard day work there should be always food and drinks. Here the restaurants and biergartens are often open untill midnight, something that is quite uncommon in even Amsterdam. Even with the abundance of eateries, they always look crowded and very often I couldn’t even find a place to sit at 22:00 at the SchneiderWeisse Restaurant. I guess this is because the price level, which is probably also 30-40% lower than in the Netherlands.

Enterprise 2.0 in Germany?

And as for Enterprise 2.0, the guys at the call center agency today didn’t really show any abnormal hype signs when I mentioned Facebook. Later I found out that Facebook was blocked as the bosses didn’t want their people to visit such social sites during working hours. I’m not sure what sign shows more the lack of Enterprise 2.0 hype:

  • the fact that these young professionals didn’t know Facebook;
  • or that the modern managers still think that these social networks are only a ‘private’ thing and should not interfere with business?

Maybe it’s because the conditions of cheap transportation, food and drinks allow the Germans to have more real social contacts and have less time for online contacts. If that’s the case imho many of us should visit Germany more …

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8 responses to Cultural differences # 1 – Doing business in Germany

  1. 
    Marcin Pilarczyk April 23, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    Hi there Ha, when are you going to write something about doing business in Poland? 😉 I totally agree with you “German feeling”. Hours spent on projects working onsite. And German rules, pretty strict…

  2. 

    Hi Marcin,

    I’ll write about that probably early next year 🙂

    Bye, Ha

  3. 

    Concerning the Netherlands..first time I’ve met local guys in Amsterdam. After their answer I was surprised, how fast and with pleasure was their feedback. Well, there are a lot of great things I discovered for myself, and I think, that’s one of interesting topics to start my own blog with too.

  4. 

    Hello Ha, thanks for this very interesting and informative article on your experiences with doing business in Germany. You may want to check out my blog on this specific topic, which I have created at the end of last year and which has recently grown in entries. My blog is called “Doing Business With Germans” and can be found right here: http://dbwg.wordpress.com. Thanks for visiting.

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