European countries differ from one another both in terms of culture and business practice. Commercial activities are influenced by a country's geographical position (i.e. north or south of the Alps) and its orientation towards capitalism or socialism. In terms of culture, however, although each country has unique characteristics, certain generalisations can be made.
Europeans regard trust as an important aspect of business transactions. If they have reason for distrust, even attractive opportunities will not persuade them to pursue a business relationship. Class consciousness is an integral part of the European way of life - professionals are members of either the upper or middle classes, have attended a university and have subsequently distinguished themselves at corporate or government level. Europeans are very conscious of what constitutes 'civilised behaviour', and a foreign visitor's deviation from accepted social norms can jeopardise a prospective business arrangement.
Europeans are, in general. conservative, formal and traditional. For example, they:
- unwilling to take risks,
- are not particularly competitive or aggressive,
- do not change jobs often
- do not normally have the benefit of large expense accounts
- dress tastefully, but formally
In addition, business life is not characterised by rapid promotion. Advanced tertiary education is greatly admired, especially in northern Europe - it carries social as well as professional prestige. An MBA or PhD, relating to a particular field of business, printed on, say, an exporter's business card will enhance that person's credibility. The Germans, Dutch and Swiss also admire organisations which have been in existence for many years, and business cards relating to such organisations should bear the date the organisation was established.
In Germany, the importance of individual businessmen can be gauged by the initials preceding their names on their business cards and in correspondence from them, e.g. a 'p.p.a.' or 'Prokurist' is a key decision-maker with broad powers to negotiate on behalf of management, an iv.' or 'Vollmacht' has limited decision-making authority although he is also a negotiator, an 'ia.' or Im Auftrag' (i.e. signing for another') is not a decision-maker although he may represent his firm in initial meetings.
Most Europeans shake hands with their guests both when their visitors arrive and when they leave. In southern Europe, handshakes go on for some time and if the visitor pulls his hand away too soon, it is a sign of rejection. When meeting a group of businessmen, you should first shake hands with the oldest person or the one of most senior rank, and then with everyone else in order of importance. When two people greet each other, it is custom for the individual of most senior rank to extend his hand first - the 'lesser' person does the receiving. When women are included in a business gathering, however, custom dictates that the woman take the initiative with regard to shaking hands with a man, even if he outranks her in age and seniority. Neglecting to shake a person's hand, even in a crowded room, is regarded as uncivilised rejection. Most European hosts are willing to guide a visitor through handshaking protocol!
A European should never be called by his first name unless an invitation to do so has been extended. You should also be aware of a person's title (s) before addressing him. If a European has a professional title printed on his business card, it should be used in front of his surname when he is being addressed, e.g. if his business card states: 'Hans Lilie, Economist' you should address him as 'Economist Lilie' until you have established a closer relationship with him. Later, as a business partner, you may be able to call him 'Lilie' but never 'Hans'.
It is common practice for Europeans to have two titles on their business cards, e.g. Lilies card may state thats both a company director and an economist. Titles are earned and denote academic distinction are more prestigious than conferred titles that indicate porate status. You could then either address Lilie by is professional title only, or by both titles, in which e the professional one is placed first, i.e. Ecnomist Director Lilie'.
If it is unknown whether a woman is Mademoiselle' 'Madame', 'Fraulein' or 'Frau', 'Senorita' or Senora', it should be assumed that she is married and the second title used in each case. To address a single European woman as if she were married is a compliment, the reverse a mild insult. Europeans do not normally conduct business over the phone with people they have not met personally - phone calls are made to arrange future meetings and not to discuss business at length. It is a mistake for a foreign visitor to arrive in Europe without having made business appointments in advance. Meetings should be arranged at appropriate times as elI around I OhOD or II hOG in northern Europe ?d around I 6h00 in southern Europe (after the afternoon siesta). The northern Europeans start work earlier than those in the south. For example, the Swiss are usually at their desks by 07h30 or O8hO0 whereas the Spanish report for work about 10hO0 but work till late. A European does not appreciate receiving business calls after normal working hours or over a weekend.
Being punctual for appointments is a golden rule in Europe. In northern Europe, even being five minutes late is frowned upon. In southern Europe, you may be kept waiting for up to an hour However, you are expected to be punctual. While waiting for an appointment, you should not leave the building and return later, nor take papers out of your briefcase to a some work. You must sit patiently. This indicates your host that you appreciate the opportunity of meeting him so much that you do not mind the delay. In the Latin countries in the south, a European businessman will, in return for your having waited, put aside as much time as is necessary for the completion of the business at hand.
In Europe, some form of social small talk nearly ways precedes business, and the decision to do business or not is often made over coffee. In southern Europe, it is essential to exchange views on current affairs and other matters of civilised nature (e.g. arts, literature) in order to build trust. In northern Europe, you should be direct, factual, detailed and thorough in your sales approach. A proposal should sell on its merits without the need for aggressive promotion, and the benefits of a proposal should be clearly stated. Europeans respond to logic and prefer to operate in situations where emotions are kept under control. Promotional literature intended for businessmen in central and northern Europe should be crisp, clean, clear and classy - but conservative. Black and white literature is fine for the Germans, Dutch, Swiss Austrians and Scandinavians.
You should concentrate on good copy, design, translation, printing and papen In northern Europe, well-organised business proposals, statistical reports and specification sheets carry more weight than glossy brochures. The best illustrations to use are charts, graphs and diagrams that show a product as component parts, each part clearly labelled to illustrate how it fits into the assembled work. Southern Europeans like more coloun However, they also expect elegance and good taste (particularly in cities like Rome, Milan and Geneva).
Literature that is translated in South Africa for the European market should not be printed in great quantities as more often that not, it will not be suitable for mass distribution because of errors in translation. The foreign businessman, however, will be relatively unconcerned about these errors in the initial interview.
To find out more about individual countries in Europe, please try CountryHelp: