Germany: First Name or Title? - Part 2
Addressing others with respect
In accordance with German business protocol, in very formal business meetings, the highest ranking person enters the room first, regardless of gender or age. However, the more informal the meeting, the more likely it will be that Germans will enter a room in no particular order of rank. Professional rank and status in Germany are largely determined by the individual's achievements. Therefore, if you come from a highly hierarchical culture [African, Far Eastern, South American, Middle Eastern], be prepared for a woman or younger person to have the highest rank in the German group you will be dealing with. Though few women hold very high-ranking positions in the German corporate hierarchy, they are present at middle management level and in the academic sector. Therefore, they will be involved in project meetings, organization and project co-ordination, and negotiations. Women with rank in a company may well feel frustrated and annoyed if foreign business guests/partners talk “over their heads” to male colleagues who may even be their subordinates. This could be interpreted as being extremely disrespectful and aggressive behavior towards them.
“Dr.” can be a medical or academic title, and is often used, especially among Germans, as part of their names [e.g. in passports, in phone books, on official documents, all forms of official addresses, etc.]. Accordingly, Dr. Martin Meyer should be addressed as “Herr Doktor Meyer”. If you are going to meet a professor, address him/her as Herr [or Frau] Professor [Surname]. Accordingly, Prof. Dr. Karin Schmidt should be addressed as “Frau Professor Schmidt”.
“Fräulein” is very much out of fashion today. Once a girl comes of age, she is normally addressed as “Frau” in public.
When shopping or approaching a customer service provider, it's common courtesy here to say “Guten Tag” [“hello”] upon entering an establishment, and later “Vielen Dank, auf Wiedersehen” [“thank you, goodbye”] to the presiding store clerk when leaving. Greeting strangers on the street, however, with a “hello” or “Guten Tag” is not expected [see “Public Behaviour” above] and you may well get no reaction despite there having been direct eye contact.
Telephone etiquette expects the person who answers the phone to identify himself to the caller with his last name, in the home as well as in the office. A simple “Hello” can throw the caller off in slight confusion, leading him or her to ask point blank “Who I am speaking to?” Note that “hallo” is also often used to get someone's attention, much like “Excuse me” in English.
Any effort, small or large, to learn and use some basic expression of courtesy will be appreciated. These might include:
Danke “Thank you” Vielen Dank “Thank you very much” Bitte schön “You're welcome”
Guten Tag“ Hello”
Guten Morgen “Good morning”
Guten Abend “Good evening”
Können Sie mir helfen? “Can you help me?”
Sprechen Sie Englisch? “Do you speak English?”
Note that if you are planning a long-term stay in Germany, you would be well-advised to attend German language courses and acquire functional skills as soon as possible. German bureaucracy alone, for instance, requires even native speakers of German to be on top of their language. As a long-term or permanent foreign resident without the language you will be severely handicapped, especially if you reside anywhere except in the largest cities.
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