“Let’s Talk Business, Shall Vee?” – Small Talk vs. The Germans

With my main clients in the UK and Germany, I am on the phone a lot. As you have probably figured by now, I prefer the phone over long and convoluted e-mail ping-pong – not only to get a feeling for the person on the other end, but also to establish an emotional link from a sales perspective and to avoid miscommunication. 

It fascinates me how different Germans and Brits are when it comes to talking over the phone! 

What a Brit would say…

What a German would think…

“Hello, this is [first name] calling. Am I speaking to [first name]?”

“Have a little respect here. Does he know who I am? Last time I checked, I was Herr Dr. [Surname]…”

“Hello! How are you doing?”

“What are we now, buddies? It’s my private business how I am.”

“What’s the weather like where you are? It’s a bit chilly at the moment, but it’s supposed to clear up…”

“Who cares what the weather is like where you are! We haven’t even met! Why would I care about your weather?”

“I’m no expert when it comes to XYZ, but…”

“Why would he make himself look stupid in front of a stranger?”

“It’s finally Friday! Any plans for the weekend?”

“He must clearly hate his job if he’s so desperate for a weekend. Plans? Again, private business!”


Dear Reader: Ironically, small-talk is written with a capital “S” in German, as are all nouns. Der Smalltalk has been adopted by the German language and roughly translates into gossipy, unnerving, unnecessary and time-consuming chit-chat.

I have found that German customers tend to get rather nervous when I approach them with a British angle – i.e. using first names instead of surnames (awkward!) , asking how they are ( very awkward, the usual response is a confused “errr.. gut” if they don’t brush over the question and get back in their comfy zone – business talk), volunteering some personal information to lighten up the conversation (non-existent for Germans!), moaning about the weather (Why are we not talking business here?)… It’s great fun to push the boundaries a bit, you should try it out some time!

The cultural confusion works the other way around as well. Brits find Germans very direct, often inaccessible and people who rather over-state than under-state. The fear of losing face is far greater than anything else, which means that Germans never talk about their weaknesses in public, hardly ever apologise for their mistakes in front of strangers and never want to be thought of as taking their jobs lightly. While Brits will quite overtly talk about their lack of motivation or fantastic weekend plans over the phone, a German would never (I say “never” generously of course, but as with all generalisations, I acknowledge that there are exceptions to the rule.) admit his low commitment to his job, no matter how dull it may be. Based on the to-and-fro between German and British clients, sometimes even as their intermediary, the general concern among Germans is that the British seem so wishy-washy and almost reluctant to talk business and numbers without the little dance with catch phrases and ice-breakers, chit-chat and anecdotes…




One thought on ““Let’s Talk Business, Shall Vee?” – Small Talk vs. The Germans

  1. Pingback: “Let’s Talk Business, Shall Vee?” – Small Talk vs. The Germans | Kathrin Caiger

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