Business ABC’s: Dates

This is a blog post about dates: no, not the kind you go out on after „swiping right“. Nope. That’s for someone else’s blog. Here, I’ll keep the focus on the more banal meaning, namely the measure of time. This may not yield as interesting around-the-water cooler stories, but there are some differences worth noting to avoid misunderstandings with your German or American counterparts, namely:

-In abbrieviating dates, the day comes first, followed by the month. If you show up on July 8th for a meeting in Germany set for 07.08, you’ll be waiting for quite some time, cooling your heels while wondering why Germans earned such a reputation for punctuality.

-Germans often make reference to the „Calendar Week“ („Kalender Woche“, or „KW“). There are 52 calendar weeks in a year, meaning that as of this post writing, we are in KW 32. Americans do not use this designation, which will explain the blank stare your American colleague Bob will give you when you tell him the deadline for (xyz) is „in KW 15“. Either give Bob an exact date, or tell him „the week of April 8“ (with April 8 being a Monday, the beginning of the work week).

-Anecdotally, I have come to realize that if it is Monday, and there is a meeting scheduled for Thursday, Germans will say, „I’ll see you at the meeting next Thursday“. This is a point of confusion for Americans, as we would likely interpret „next Thursday“ to be a week from Thursday. In this same sentence, folks from the USA would say „I’ll see you at the meeting THIS Thursday“. Sounds like I’m splitting hairs, doesn’t it? But I’ve actually become confused over this subtle difference in phrasing, so I reckon you could be too.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Americans, when you tell your German colleague that you will do something by or on (insert date here), your German colleague (let’s call him Gunther) will count on you to have whatever it is you have promised–yes, promised–by (insert same date here). So, you’d do well to make sure your initial time estimate is realistic and not overly optimistic, and if you run into time management trouble, tell Gunther exactly that as soon as said trouble becomes evident. Trust me. The way to Gunther’s heart is through his sense of your reliability, not through vague and unfulfilled assurances. Likewise, Bob needs to be open to Gunther’s sense of realistic communication and time estimation and ideally not set deadlines that are unachievable, or at least be open to Gunther’s feedback that a deadline of (xyz) is too optimistic. Remember that—even in this fast-paced business world—Germans are still naturally inclined toward thoroughness, in contrast to the more American „let’s tweak-it-as-we-go“ ethos. These differences will have an impact on what someone’s idea of a realistic deadline is.

-Last but not least: when starting a business relationship with Germans or Americans, it always pays to learn up front which dates you can scratch for business communications and events, namely bank holidays. For matters of urgency, it is sensible to have a Plan B in place in the event of unavailability of your transatlantic counterpart. Aside from the well-known holidays, Americans would do well to familiarize themselves with October 3 as well as the various church-related bank holidays scattered throughout the year (and which states are affected). Likewise, Germans might want to brush up on holidays like Memorial and Veteran’s Day, among others. Oh, and Americans need to remember that Germans get annual, legally mandated paid vacation time–and use it.

Have a missed something on the topic of dates? If so, feel free to leave a comment and set the record straight!

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