A Guide to German Business Etiquette 

By:  Paul Buckley

January 4, 2024

One of the keys to success when conducting business internationally is understanding and respecting the business etiquette of different countries.

When it comes to business dealings in Germany, mastering the nuances of German business etiquette is essential for building successful professional relationships. German business culture is known for its formality, precision, efficiency, and respect for traditions, and this guide to German business etiquette will help set you up for success.




Business cards

Business attire


Business meeting etiquette

Dining etiquette

Things to avoid when doing business in Germany

Finding success in German business culture

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There is a popular saying in Germany: 'Five minutes before the time is the German punctuality.' This perfectly sums up how valued punctuality is in German culture, and why it's better to arrive at appointments and meetings early to avoid being late.

The same is true in the German business world. Arriving on time for meetings and appointments is a sign of respect for the other person's time and reflects your commitment to the business relationship. Tardiness is generally considered disrespectful and unprofessional.

Aim to arrive 10 to 15 minutes early for all business engagements, and apologize sincerely if you're ever delayed.


German companies often have a clearly defined hierarchical structure, and respect for authority and seniority is crucial. Disregarding this aspect of their culture could lead to misunderstandings or friction. Always acknowledge seniority and authority appropriately.

Ranking 12th in the EU for gender equality, women make up a significant portion of the German workforce, though remain underrepresented at the management level. Only around one in three executives (35.1%) was female in 2022, in Germany, 28.9% of management positions were held by women. Equal pay day for women in Germany  is 7 March, indicating there are still high differences in salary between women and men.


When entering a room or office, it's customary to greet each individual present. Always greet the highest-ranking person first out of respect for the hierarchy.

Handshakes are the standard form of greeting in Germany's business setting. Maintain eye contact, offer a firm handshake, smile, and greet the other person with a simple 'Guten tag' (Good day) or 'Hallo.' Address colleagues and business partners using their professional titles, 'Sir' or 'Ma'am,' and last names until you're invited to use their first names.

English is widely spoken throughout Germany, and odds are that most business meetings with foreign colleagues will take place in English. However, it's still a good idea to learn some beginner phrases and words in German to show respect for your German host's language and culture.

  • Hello – Hallo

  • Goodbye – Tschüss (informal); Auf Wiedersehen (formal)

  • Good morning – Guten Morgen

  • Good day – Guten Tag

  • How are you? – Wie geht es dir? (informal); Wie geht es Ihnen? (formal)

  • My name is... – Ich heiße...

  • Thank you – Danke

  • Please – Bitte

Business cards

It's common to exchange business cards in German business culture, typically at the beginning of business meetings. As many Germans speak very good English, it's not necessary to have a German translation on your card, but it can still be a nice touch. If you have any special honors or high degrees, add that to your card as well.

When receiving a business card, take a moment to examine it before placing it carefully in a cardholder or a pocket. This action signifies respect for the information and the person.

Business attire

German business attire is typically very neat, formal, and professional. Dressing well is seen as a sign of respect for the business environment and your colleagues. Opt for dark suits, well-polished shoes, and minimalistic accessories.


While gift-giving is not a prominent feature of German business culture, it's still appreciated on certain occasions. Gifts should be of good quality and should not be overly extravagant. It's a good idea to present gifts at the end of a successful business deal or during festive occasions.

Business meeting etiquette

Here's how a typical business meeting in Germany will play out from setup to follow-up.

Preparation and arrival

  • Reach out to set up business meetings at least a few weeks ahead of the desired date to showcase your organizational skills, professionalism, and attention to detail.

  • Avoid scheduling important meetings on national holidays or during July and August (summer vacation season). It is also best to avoid scheduling important meetings on Fridays.

  • Be thoroughly prepared for the meeting, whether it's assembling the necessary paperwork or rehearsing any presentations.

  • On the day of the meeting, arrive 10 to 15 minutes early in proper business attire.


  • Greet all the business associates present, starting with the most senior individuals, with a firm handshake, smile, eye contact, and a simple greeting, like “Guten Tag” or “Hallo.”

  • Exchange business cards if necessary.

  • Take your seats following the host's lead.

  • Keep small talk to a minimum.

Discussion and negotiation

  • Stick to the agenda and avoid going off-topic with conversations.

  • Maintain eye contact when talking with someone.

  • Be attentive and take notes.

  • Don't talk over anyone; be patient and wait your turn to contribute.

  • Be direct, blunt, and to the point.

  • Don’t use high-pressure negotiation tactics or confrontational behavior.

  • Actively participate with lots of questions, opinions, and contributions to the discussion.

  • Germans are very detail-oriented and like having all the facts, so be prepared and patient for long discussions.

Conclusion and follow-up

  • Some Germans may rap their knuckles against the table to signal their approval as the meeting wraps up

  • Conclude the meeting with standards thanks to everyone; maintain a professional demeanor

  • Send a follow-up email promptly (ideally within 24 hours) that includes a summary of the meeting with any action items, deadlines, etc.

Dining etiquette

Business meals are a bit less common in Germany than in other European countries. If you do dine out with your German colleagues, it's usually toward the end of business dealings.

When doing out after German business meetings, follow German dining etiquette:

  • Wait for the host to initiate the seating arrangement, and always remember to place your napkin on your lap.

  • Avoid resting your elbows on the table.

  • Wait for everyone to be served before beginning to eat.

  • Toasting is common, and it's polite to maintain eye contact while clinking glasses.

  • The person who makes the invitation generally pays, and it's rude to argue over the bill.

Things to avoid when doing business in Germany

  • Small talk: Small talk is common in German business culture as a way to establish rapport, but steer clear of controversial topics like politics and personal matters. Stick to neutral subjects like travel, cultural events, and general interests. Germans also like to get down to business quickly and not waste time, so keep it brief.

  • Joking around: Keep humor and jokes to a minimum, as Germans take business matters very seriously.

  • Being aggressive: Don't be pushy or aggressive during negotiations, as Germans value calm, honest, and straightforward business dealings.

  • Being unprepared: Germans are known for their thoroughness and attention to detail. Failing to prepare adequately for meetings, presentations, or negotiations may reflect poorly on your professionalism and dedication. Make sure you're well-prepared and have all the necessary information at the ready.

  • Interrupting: Interrupting others while they're speaking or dominating the conversation can be seen as rude and disrespectful. Germans value well-considered, thoughtful communication. Allow others to express their thoughts fully before responding.

  • Wasting time: Germans value efficiency and organization. Meetings should have a clear agenda, and discussions should stay focused on the topic at hand. Rambling or wandering off topic may be seen as a waste of time and patience.

  • Missing deadlines: The German love for punctuality and timeliness extends to deadlines, so ensure that you meet the deadlines for the assigned action items and keep the communication lines open for any necessary clarifications or updates.

Finding success in German business culture

Understanding and respecting German business etiquette can significantly enhance your chances of success when conducting business in this culturally rich and economically powerful country. Embrace this etiquette with an open mind and a respectful demeanor, and you'll find yourself navigating the German business landscape with finesse.

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