Dienst ist Dienst und Schnapps ist Schnapps

April 6th, 2016

Jarno van Kessel

From Nijmegen, it’s only a few kilometers to Germany, but the difference in business cultures could still destroy a lot of business opportunities.
It is no denying that Germany is an important country for the Dutch people. Not only do we share a border and are our languages alike, but also is the total worth of export to the country close to 100 billion euro. Indeed, there is much business going on between the two countries. Therefore, many people work abroad and have to cope with the various difficulties that arise. One of the most important issues is the difference in business culture. Nobody will be surprised to hear that this problem is present while doing business in China, but it is indeed also very relevant at our eastern neighbors. 
The Dutch are milk-drinkers
The most obvious discrepancy is the German seriousness. Having a business meeting, we Dutch would try to break the ice by making a joke. I do not recommend doing this in Germany, as this is a sign of weakness. Another note at the moment of shaking his hand: do not, under any circumstance, address the person you are meeting with ‘du’, as this is considered to be very rude. Moreover, dress formally, and try to not further confirm the stereotype some Germans have about the Dutch. There seems to be a running gag among German business men about the Dutch. Apparently, we wear a green suit with unpolished shoes and to make matters worse, in the winter we dress in a skiing jack instead of a coat. Our drinking diet consists purely of milk.
A masculine working space
You get it by now, our eastern neighbors are anything but casual. They appreciate rules, efficiency and punctuality. Another important issue is hierarchy. When you take a look at the Netherlands, you can clearly see that we have a more ‘feminine’ working place. At the time of a decision, the leader discusses the plan with his/her subordinates. If necessary, a compromise between conflicting opinions can be made, as this is considered a situation profitable for both parties. On the contrary, compromising means losing for Germans. Moreover, a leader discussing a plan with his employees during a meeting is another sign of weakness. In a typical German company, the leader makes the decisions and his subordinates have to obey. This type of working is way more ‘masculine’: work hard, prepare for you meetings, and perform. Respect is important. Connected to this a final tip: if you can afford it, driving a nice car to a meeting goes a long way. A German one obviously.
Do not understand this the wrong way: the Germans are not only boring and serious. While working, it is important for them that they’re business-like and stern. However, in the evening they may be the most jolly, outgoing person you’ll ever meet. A German proverb describes it perfectly: ‘Dienst ist dienst und schnapps ist schnapps’.