German for Business Travelers

You are planning a business trip to Germany, which is called Deutschland (doytsh-lahnt) by its natives. You think that the culture in this old country is very similar to your own, which is true, but there are a few things that you should know in order to have a successful business trip. Here is your first-day survival guide.

By Renate Heider

Arriving in Deutschland     to top

Five Survival Rules

1. Do not panic!

At a German airport (Flughafen), most of the signs are in German (Deutsch) and in English (Englisch). You will not have a problem finding your way around. After deplaning, first follow signs for passport control (Passkontrolle), and then go to the baggage claim area (Gepäckausgabe) and walk with your luggage (Gepäck) through the customs (Zoll). That's it. Because airports are international environments, most people working there will also speak English. Do not hesitate to ask for help if you need any.

  • Say: Ich brauche Hilfe bitte.
    (Eekh brow-khuh Hel-fuh bett-uh)
  • I need help please.
  • How Do I Say That?!?
    The "ch" sound in German is different from the "ch" sound in English—it is not quite the "ch" in "church," and it is not a hard "k." The German "ch" is like an "h" sound made right behind your teeth—but it can take a long time to train your mouth to say it! Do not let this stop you from speaking German to native Germans. Try a softer "kh" sound. Germans will be able to understand you, no matter how you pronounce it. They will be happy that your are making an effort and learning their language!

2. Exchanging money

In Germany, credit cards (Kreditkarten) are not as widely accepted as in the United States. Always carry some cash (Bargeld) with you. The German currency is DM (Deutsche Mark). There are several money exchange places (Wechselstuben) at German airports. These will exchange dollars for DM, and also give you the daily exchange rate.

  • Ask: Wo ist eine Wechselstube? Ich möchte Geld wechseln. (Voh est eye-nuh Vahk-sal-shtoo-buh? Eekh mukh-tuh Galt vahk-saln)
  • Where is a money exchange? I would like to exchange money.
  • How Do I Say That?!?
    Some German words may contain letters or accent marks that are new to you. Following is a short list of the most common ones, and a clue as to their pronunciation.
  • ä = "ay," as in "Gepäck" (Gah-payk)
  • ö = "u," as in "möchte" (mukh-tuh)
  • ü = "yoo," as in "Büro" (Byoo-roh)
  • ß = "ss," as in "Straßen" (Shtra-ssen)

Count your Deutsche Mark

  • Say: Danke
  • Thank you

3. Going to the restroom

If your are desperately looking for a restroom—perhaps you don't like to use the small facilities in the airplane (Flugzeug) and it was a transatlantic flight—you'll want to know how to ask for directions.

  • Ask: Wo ist eine Toilette?
    (Voh est eye-nuh Toy-let-tuh)
  • Where are the restrooms?

Say you find the restrooms (Toiletten), but there are no pictures indicating gender on the doors. Note that Damen does not split up into Da–men—this is not the men's restroom. The men's restrooms are labeled Herren, and the women's say Damen.

4. Going to the cab stand or rental car office

  • Going to the cab stand
    • Ask: Wo ist der Taxistand?
      (Voh est dair Tahk-see-shtahnt)
    • Where is the cab stand?
  • Take the first cab in line—they can get very nasty if you don't—and give the cab driver the address (Adresse) of your destination:
    • Say: Hier ist die Adresse.
      (Hehr est dee Ah-dres-suh)
    • Here is the address.

Off you go.

  • Going to the rental car office
    • Ask: Wo ist das Leihwagenbüro?
      (Voh est dahs Lye-vah-gen-bew-roh)
    • Where is the rental car office?
  • Note that most cars (Autos) in Germany have a manual transmission (Gangschaltung). If you are not used to driving these, do not try. It's not a skill you want to learn in a foreign country, especially if you're not accustomed to the higher speed and more aggressive driving in Germany. Instead, request a car with automatic transmission (Automatikauto).
    • Ask: Ich möchte ein Automatikauto.
      (Eekh mukh-tuh eye-n Ow-toh-mah-tek-ow-toh)
    • I would like a car with automatic transmission.
  • Ask for a map (Karte).
    • Say: Ich möchte eine Karte.
      (Eekh mukh-tuh eye-nuh Kahr-tuh)
    • I would like a map.

Again, off you go.

5. Driving in Germany

Note these facts about the speed limit (Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung) in Germany:

  • In cities: 50 kilometers per hour
  • Outside of cities: 120 kilometers per hour
  • On the highways (Autobahnen): no speed limit.

This is the moment you have been waiting for all your life—driving on a German Autobahn with no speed limits. Enjoy!

The exits (Ausfahrten) are clearly marked. Note that the exits do not have numbers, but rather the names of the cities written on the signs. Look for the name of the city to which you want to go and take that Ausfahrt. The same system applies for streets (Straßen) in Germany. They are not numbered, but rather have names. Initially, this might be confusing. So, look at the index (Straßenverzeichnis) of your map (Karte), where the streets (Straßen) are listed in alphabetical order.

Here's one last word of caution: Don't assume that it is your lucky day because you have been driving 80 kilometers per hour in a 50 kilometers per hour zone with no police (Polizei) in sight. In Germany, police cars do not have to stop you when you are speeding. There are cameras installed everywhere, in and outside of towns, that measure the speed of the cars automatically and take pictures of drivers and license plates. You will receive a letter in the mail, charging you with speeding and demanding that you pay a fine. So be careful—the law is there, even if you do not see it.

    German Crash Course
    Remember that in German, all nouns are capitalized: Straße, Polizei, Flughafen, Karte, and so on.

First Business Meeting     to top

German Punctuality

Say your meeting is scheduled for 3 P.M. Note that Germany uses the 24 hour system; therefore, 3 P.M. is 15 hours (15 Uhr) in Deutschland—think in military time.

For Germans, punctuality (Pünklichkeit) is a big part of their lives. So be there on time! On time, for a German, means 10 minutes before the scheduled meeting time. You do not want to create the impression that you are lazy, unable to tell time, or in your heart not a true German, so get going. But remember—not too fast.

Greetings and Introductions

You've managed to arrive on time—good job. Now, you walk into the conference room and find a couple of stern-looking Germans staring at you. What do you do? A friendly smile and a proper greeting in the native language will break the German ice.

  • Say: Guten Tag. Mein Name ist Herr [your surname].
    • (Gooh-tun Tahk. Mye-n Nah-muh est Hair [surname])
  • Good Day. My name is Mr. [your surname].
  • or
  • Guten Tag. Mein Name ist Frau [your surname].
    • (Gooh-tun Tahk. Mye-n Nah-muh est Frow [surname])
  • My name is Mrs. [your surname].

You should be aware that Germans are very formal. Don't call anyone by his/her first name before being invited to do so; always address a person with Mr. (Herr) or Mrs. (Frau). Ms. (Fräulein) is not used anymore—call every woman Mrs. (Frau), regardless of her marital status.

Now it is time for further introductions. If you have a business partner accompanying you ...

  • Darf ich vorstellen Herr/Frau Idiot?
    • (Dahrf eekh vohr-shtel-lun Hair/Frow Ee-dee-oht)
  • May I introduce Mr./Mrs. Idiot?

(By the way, idiot is the same word in English and in German—be careful when you use it.)

The other conference attendants (Konferenzteilnehmer) will approach you, say "Guten Tag"—which you should recognize by now because it's the standard German greeting—and shake hands with you. Germans do a lot more handshaking (Händeschütteln) than Americans. For Germans, a handshake is an automatic accompanying gesture when they are being introduced or meeting someone again.

  • Say: Nett Sie kennen zu lernen. Wie geht es Ihnen? Mir geht es gut. Danke.
    • (Net Zee ken-nun tsoo lair-nun. Vee gate es Eeh-nun? Meer gate es goot. Dahn-kuh)
  • Nice to meet you. How are you? I am fine. Thanks.

Finally, the awkward part is over, and everyone sits down for the meeting. It is now 3 P.M. sharp. So far, you have done an excellent job—congratulations. But if this is all the German you have mastered, it is time for you to learn one last, very important sentence:

  • Say: Sprechen Sie Englisch?
    • (Shpreh-khun Zee Ang-lesh)
  • Do you speak English?

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