Being punctual is paramount in Germany

Although I haven't studied German since the sixth grade, I always try to use the language as best I can when visiting this dynamic Central European nation. Sadly, most of the conversation beyond "Guten morgen" ("Good morning") and "Wie geht es ihnen?" ("How are you?") finds me saying "Ich verstehe nicht" ("I don't understand").

At least I try.

I also try to stay culturally correct whenever I am there, which often means brushing up on Germany's specific etiquette policies. Following are some to remember if you are bound for the land of Nuremberg gingerbread, Meissen porcelain, VW Bugs and Adidas running shoes:

• While kissing on both cheeks might be chic in some German circles and on certain occasions, this is never the way to greet another person in a business setting. Instead, offer a firm but brief handshake when you first encounter someone and then again when you take your leave. If you are meeting a group of people for the first time, make sure to employ this kind of proper protocol with everybody present.

• Conversation can often seem stilted when you first meet a German colleague. So, with that in mind, don't be put off if the person with whom you are speaking takes a blunt approach or even if he or she seems devoid of emotion. Ease will come along with each consecutive sentence you utter.

• In Germany, being punctual is paramount. That said, if you do have a legitimate excuse for being late, simply let your German counterpart know in advance or, if you must, apologize when you finally do arrive. If you follow this routine rule, you can count on being forgiven.

• Before entering someone's office, knock on the door but don't pause before entering. Instead, go right in without missing a beat.

• Like you would for any productive working trip to Japan or China, take along a big bunch of business cards when you travel to Germany. You will have ample opportunity to hand them out and you will be embarrassed and possibly even considered inept if you do not have enough to go around.

• When invited to a German colleague's home for dinner, be sure to bring along a token of your appreciation, such as a box of fine chocolates or a bouquet of flowers. Yellow roses are a good choice but red roses are not as they represent romance. Likewise, forget about carnations, lilies or chrysanthemums (all are used for mourning or funerals).

• Like here in the U.S., elbows on the table in Germany are verboten. That said, keep your hands on the table instead. Other German dining practices: Never sit until you are asked, take the seat your host indicates is reserved for you and don't start eating until your host proclaims "Guten appetit."

• Toasting the person who invited you is a great way to show your appreciation, but don't be the first at the table to do so. Rather, let the host or hostess do that and then later in the evening return the favor. When rising a glass of wine, the most common toast to say is "Zum wohl!" while the most common toast with beer in your raised glass is "Prost!" Both toasts mean "good health," a sentiment that fits every occasion.

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