German culture – explained in short videos

USA.GERAnalyzing and explaining German culture and how it relates to other cultures is a big part of my job. Naturally, I always try to watch how others in the field are processing and formating cultural knowledge. Here is a find from the Netherlands: The Goethe Institute in Amsterdam created a few short video clips in which it highlights some unique behavioral preferences in German business culture.

Now, I am always wary of over-simplification. However, sometimes it helps to point towards tools which – despite (or perhaps: because of) their simplicity – can serve the goal of transferring information in a nice and concise manner.

UPDATE 1: It appears that the GI in Amsterdam has removed the videos from YouTube. Let’s see if I can fix the issue.

UPDATE 2: Just got word from the GI that they’re moving their videos. Please stay put.


UPDATE 3: GI Amsterdam has moved the videos to a new location on YouTube. So they’re back and available here now, too. However, where there used to be four clips, there are now only three. We’ll see if they’ll upload more in the future. Enjoy. 

In this first clip the Goethe folks take a look at how time is perceived in Germany:

What does “Made in Germany” really mean?

International business. Is it really that different from doing business in your own country? — I’m sure you can guess what my answer is.

Since I am already focusing on simple show pieces allow me to recycle an “info poster” I saw online at Bloomberg BusinessWeek a few years ago. Again: This is very simplistic but it’s a start to learning about cultural differences:


Once you’re past the stage of not embarrassing yourself, try to get a deeper understanding of how business is conducted in Germany. This blog post from the archives should get you started: “What you should know about Germans before doing business with them

If you feel that you want to dig deeper and hear more about the intricacies of German business culture, you should reach out to me via my website.

ch (April'14).2Christian is a cultural trainer, coach, and consultant with extensive experience in working with multinational companies and especially in developing global leaders. He is the President and CEO of The Culture Mastery, LLC, where he leads a team of dedicated training, destination services, and expat support specialists. Christian works with global organizations (or those who are going global) to help their employees overcome cultural differences. Typically he only uses the word “normal” in quotation marks and he is an advocate for helping people understand the why of behaviors – not just the dos & don’ts. Most just call him “The Culture Guy”. Find out more about Christian here and follow him on Twitter. You can also see him, listen to him, and experience his work – just invite him!

7 thoughts on “German culture – explained in short videos

  1. Germans are like most Europeans, often unaware of their own cultural shortcomings. Just as the British and others are too – just as I am unaware of many of my own. My love of Germany – and my frustrations with Germans can be summed up by the things I am intolerant of is the very thing they value! There is a point at which orderliness can be taken too far – I wanted to sit by the window in a hotel and the waitress blew a gasket! What she didn’t say wasn’t worth saying.

    We had inadvertently sat at a table for six when there was but two of us. Bear in mind that the restaurant was practically empty at the time. Now, for me the one pleasure of that hotel was being able to have my breakfast siting by the window looking out onto the marketplace. The needs of the staff obviously came first … and there was nothing I could do about it since she was in such a rage!

    Which is the root of my problems with Germany – they expect people to do as they’re told and being dutiful Germans, they do. By and large; this is a culture we’re talking about and doing U-turns where none are allowed I discovered was accepted practice under certain circumstances. Knowing where the invisible boundaries are is crucial.

    For me as a marketer this raises other problems too, because a German business will merely assume that people will buy their products whatever barriers they put up to deter people from buying. Putting the customer first would seem ridiculous simply because customers do not expect to be treated in any other way than meet the needs of the company they’re buying from!

    I could go on …

    • Gemma,

      Thank you for reading and commenting.
      I think you are correct: Most people are very much unaware of their own shortcomings.
      Sorry to hear that your experience with a certain hotel was underwhelming. Reading your comment it does, however, feel like your frustrations with Germany outweigh the love you have for the country.
      How would the hotel staff have been able to make your stay more pleasant? What specifically disappoints you about Germans and German businesses?

      Since neither you or I will be able to change this past experience, allow me to suggest a book: “Global Dexterity” by Andy Molinsky. It might change how you feel about behaviors you can’t change.

      • I had exactly the same experience a couple of days ago – I wanted to sit near the window and was politely asked to sit at the back. I asked her if she was paying for the coffees. She pertly said she didn’t intend to sound mean, but you can’t change things.

        I had much the same from the Dutch railways; their bureaucrats make awful marketers (and lose them substantial sums of money) – “they don’t intend to seem mean, even if they appear that way”. The issue isn’t whether they intend anything! It’s that they lose goodwill in doing so and people buy a motorcar instead despite it costing them more. It’s worth not having the hassle!

        I’m not out to change things, I do seek out the kind of people who can listen. That means finding out what it is in people who don’t, can’t or won’t. Sadly in Europe there are rather a lot of them – yet the wonderful conversation I had when someone sat next to me whist enjoying a coffee taught me that there are people who can listen.

  2. “Which is the root of my problems with Germany – they expect people to do as they’re told and being dutiful Germans, they do.”

    Right on the money, Gemma, and I can understand how you feel about it, given your encounter To be fair, not all Germans are like that – as a matter of fact, I am pleasantly surprised each time I visit the old country how much globalization has taken its – positive – toll 😉

    And not so pleasantly surprised when I find, after so many years in the U.S., that my German upbringing gifted me with some of it. Something to work on 😉

    However, seeing negative traits like the ones experienced by you being justified with “history” and a unique (?!) German need for stability, like in one of the videos, is quack history, MHO.

    • Always appreciate your candor, Gerd.
      While history in and by itself can never be the only explanation for the present, in the case of Germany it does offer some clues, though. The video over-simplifies its point a little but I think there is some validity to the argument that centuries of territorial fragmentation have created a certain degree of insecurity among Germans about their cultural identity. Hence the desire for “Ordnung” and “Klarheit.” Just remember the “deutsche Frage” and the way Bismarck formed the 2nd Reich. The accursed years from 1933-45 did their part to manifest among the Germans that taking risks is dangerous and that creating rules that everyone has to adhere to is a way of life. Don’t you dare come from abroad and challange the status quo! It took us three decades to rebuild from utter disaster. Now you’re telling me I have to change the way I do things here?
      Ever since 1989 I feel that changes to this mindset are underway – albeit slowly (

    • Gerd,

      believe me, there are a lot of things the Germans are great at. The problem is when the clerk gets to be the CEO, and this is not a problem that Germany faces on its own: too many American businessmen should be doing the clerk’s job.

      Just because he has a sparkling CV does not mean he can take decisions – that’s something that can’t be seen from a piece of paper.

  3. Pingback: How to get ready for trade shows in the U.S. | Southeast Schnitzel

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