Three (-ish) Dos and Don’ts of Greetings: You Had Me at HELLOOO!

Greetings—and their cultural nuances—are easy to overlook in preparing for business communication. They’re brief, standard, issued multiple times per day without thought, and have little to nothing to do with the conversational or written content that follows. And yet, failing to recognize a greeting’s cultural undertones can lead to confusion and even offense when interacting with folks from other areas of the world. Not a great foot to get off on when business is at stake. For this reason, it’s worth taking a look at the dos, don’ts and recurring stumbling blocks often encountered during the greetings phase of German / American business interactions. Greetings in Conversation 1a. Germans, you’ll… continue

Cultural Difference ABC’s: Formality, Focus

Today, we’re going to delve into the „f“ word. Two, even: formality and focus. I’ll even throw in a bonus third, if the censors don’t stop me: foreign languages. I’m really pushing the envelope here, but there are some cultural differences here that must be explored, “f” words or no. No risk no fun, right? Buckle up! Formality in German vs. American work relationships I’ll start off this saucy topic with some basic–and probably already well-known– information: doing business with Americans up and down the corporate hierarchy almost always entails the use of first names. The likely reason behind this still-quite-unusual-in-German-corporate-culture practice is that Americans strive for an appearance of… continue

Business ABC’s: Education

Education (noun): The process of teaching or learning, especially in a school or college, or the knowledge that you get from this. (dictionary.cambridge.org) Here we are again…if it’s Friday, it must be „The ABC’s of Business“, this time sponsored by the letter „e“.  E as in education. Education as in, the bedrock of what we bring with us into our professional lives after anywhere from 10-20+ years of hitting the books (and the snooze button on early morning alarms) and willing our eyes to stay open during lectures or lessons on topics whose relevance may or may not have anything to do with our future professional moving and shaking. Education… continue

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 abbreviating 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… continue

Business ABC’s: Communication

This post comes courtesy of the letter “C”, as in “communication”. When it comes to business between Germans and Americans, it is often this very topic that makes or breaks the relationship, which is why I’ll devote the entire entry to communication alone. Buckle up… Germans and Americans are both low-context communicators, which means they both convey meaning explicitly through words. In a business context, when an American is in a position of higher power (such as a customer or a boss), communication can often be very direct, even brusque (I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to use „brusque“. Score!) This does not have to be the case, of course,… continue

From Benefits to Brainstorming: Business ABC’s

Howdy, and welcome to the Thank-Goodness-It’s-Spring (on the calendar, anyway) edition  of Intercultural Reflections I will continue A,B,C-ing my way through the American business landscape…today’s blog comes courtesy of the letter „B“, as in… Benefits: Germans may be surprised to learn that some of the job benefits they take for granted—and are even codified in labor law—are not a requirement (and thus sometimes not on offer) for their American counterparts. For example, paid maternity and sick leave are not mandated by federal law. Companies of over 50 employees are required to give their workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave provided the employee has worked for… continue

Business ABC’s in the USA: At-Will Employment

Well, Howdy! Welcome to the 2018 re-boot-aroo of your friendly neighborhood Intercultural Reflections Blog! After some reflections of my own, I’ve decided to A-B-C- our way through the customs and peculiarities of doing business with Americans. And guess where I’m starting? Yep, with the letter “A”, as in, “At-Will Employment”. Enjoy! At-Will Employment (or Employment-At-Will) is better known here in Europe as „hire and fire“. It is the principle that employees can be released from (or quit) their jobs at any time and for any reason—including for no reason. Good times. In many states, employment-at-will also allows an employer to change the terms and conditions of an employment relationship–including wages–… continue

Fry It: Vocal Quirks of Americans

So, sometimes I know there’s something I want to address in this blog, but I can’t quite bring the idea to fruition. Whatever it is that is under my skin won’t evolve into anything clear and coherent to myself, leaving me unable to communicate anything clear and coherent about it to others. Then, out of nowhere (and usually while doing something completely non-blog-related), the epiphany dawns, and boom–just like that–I have a grip on what’s been sizzling in the pan. It’s called “vocal fry“ Go ahead and follow the link. I’ll wait. Yeah. This is a thing. It refers to a vocal quirk Americans (most often, but not only, women)… continue

Intercultural Communication in the Information and Digital Age

Information and technology overload is making us less informed. Virtually any question we have is a few mouse clicks and a Google search away from an answer. Our social media newsfeeds hand-pick and deliver us headlines and analyses of events from around the world and even beyond it (Dear Parker Solar Probe: don’t forget to bring your strongest sunscreen…and take a selfie when you’re there!) In the working world, technology from e-mail to digital messengers to WebEx to video conferencing connects us to our bosses, colleagues and customers on every continent. No passport or generous travel budget necessary, just a speedy internet connection. And yet, those answers we Google-search are… continue

Hierarchy or structure: American (Mis?)perceptions of German Corporate Culture

How steep is your corporate hierarchy? Does national culture play a role? When reading web-based literature about the German corporate culture as experienced by Americans, one learns that US-colleagues are often struck by the ordered structure with respect to job duties and communication channels in German companies. This more defined structure, coupled with language barrier difficulties, seems to lead many Americans to believe that the German workplace has a steeper and stricter hierarchy than it actually does. I should mention first that even the perception of corporate hierarchy varies amongst cultures. The American perception shows evidence of being colored by communication style within a company. For Statesiders, simply the German… continue

Fostering U.S. – German understanding, post by post!