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Understanding German Language & Business Culture
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German is spoken by about 95 million people and is one of the major languages of the world. It is the most widely spoken native tongue in the European Union. This includes Germany, Austria and Switzerland, parts of Belgium, Liechtenstein and Tyrol in North Italy.
More than Hitler
Germany is infamous for Hitler and his Nazi regime, but this Vaterland (fatherland) to 80.62 million people is much more than that: this is the soil that gave birth to Einstein, Goethe, and Mozart. The very fact that Germany could spring back to its economic feet after the decimation it faced during World War II, proves the hardiness of the German people and their capacity to rise from the ashes. Under the captaincy of the great economist Walter Eucken and his “social free market” policies Germany was literally rebuilt brick by brick. Today, Germany is the largest national economy in Europe.
Eucken’s Free Market policies are firmly capitalistic but they recommend the role of the government to ensure social justice so that the benefits of capitalism are widespread and do not end up as the monopoly of a few.
The bringing down of the Berlin Wall which divided East and West Germany catapulted this nation to the 4th place in the world’s economy.
German as a language
High German is partly based on spoken German and emerged as the language of literature in the 16th century. Martin Luther completed his german translation of the Bible in 1534 and this marked the advent of High German as the model of the written word.
The more casual Swiss German is the variation spoken by the 4 million populace of Switzerland and is the language of newspapers, diaries, letters, and journals.
The English cousin
Both, German and English, belong to the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language tree and are closely related. The two languages have grown, mingled, interchanged, drifted apart and walked together through many migrations and invasions of their respective peoples. Their scripts are almost the same. German has a few additions but it’s safe to say that knowledge of English makes the learning of German easier and vice versa.
Masters of planning and precision
The German thought process is very thorough and most aspects of German life are well planned and structured. This is all the more evident in the business world of Germany which is a great stickler for rules and regulations: Keine Überraschungen bitter, or “no surprises, please”. There is very little space for sudden changes in attitudes and values. Planning is more welcome than spontaneity. Punctuality is a virtue which cannot be compromised.
Compartments and comportment
Work and personal lives are quite rigidly divided in the world of the Germans. Do not expect compliments or overly appreciated for doing the job. Germans subscribe to the idea that there are a time and place for everything. Gifting ideas to German associates must be very modest and “suitable”: office equipment, pens and maybe an associate’s logo on a diary or stationery. Choose good quality but not something that is expensive enough to cause discomfort.
And do not gift red roses to a business associate: in the German World, this shows romantic intentions.
Sounds like someone’s scrunched something? That’s what globalization has done- shrunk the world and loosened trade norms Those bold, dark lines which marked the boundaries of countries on the world map somehow seem lighter today, when the spirit of cooperation and trade for mutual benefit are the flavor of business.
Galloping progress, long haul stamina
In 2014, Germany recorded the biggest trade surplus in the world worth USD 285 billion! German is the language of Science and the fatherland has produced over a 100 Nobel Prize winners. Germany is home to global players like Lufthansa, Adidas, Volkswagen, and Siemens, to name a few popular brands. German is the 3rd most widely used language on websites, and one-tenth of all books, including e-books, are in this language. About two-thirds of global trade fairs take place in Germany. This is why communicating in German and understanding the finer points of doing business with this country is so important.
The ABC of communicating
Business needs communication. When you need to speak the language of business in a comprehensible manner, it is as important to understand Germanic attitudes as much as it is to master their language. Translation and translators, in the course of business with the Germans, require mastery, especially because the Germans are a very demanding and precise people with HIGH standards. Translations of documents, agreements, and terms of understanding must be watertight- intelligible as well as intelligent.
Every language is seasoned with local flavors. German is no different. It is a Pluricentric language: there are variants and dialects. Standard German is the standardized version of the language and can be broadly categorized as Austrian, German and Swiss. It is used for formal communication and bridges the gaps between the different dialects. The differences in these variants are more evident when speaking than when writing. When the people that are being dealt with or communicated to are so particular about everything, it is advisable to use the correct syntax. This is why language localization is so important. An expert translator will know the exact phrase to turn and navigate the sea of localization without hitting any rocks and causing misunderstanding or offense which may result in sinking the ship before it has caught the wind.
In a world where political barriers have largely been removed, do not let language become a hurdle in your striding across different continents and cultures. When the World Wide Web has negated the concept of physical space, let a language expert give wings to your business needs.
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