How should you address business associates in Germany?
As a newcomer to German, one of the first topics you’re likely to cover is the personal pronouns: ich, du, er, sie, es, meaning I, you, he, she, it and so on. Suppose you’ve already started learning the language. In that case, you’ll know that there are two different forms of the pronoun “you”: the singular, informal du to address one person you know well, and the plural or formal Sie when speaking to two or more people or someone you’ve just met.
What if you’re going on a business trip to Germany and making your first attempt at communicating in the native language? You may be meeting associates you’ve had previous dealings with on the telephone in English. You feel like you already know them quite well, so does that mean it’s OK to use the familiar du when you meet them?
There is a clear distinction between formal and informal acquaintances in German, particularly in business. These social niceties are sometimes challenging to grasp for English speakers who aren’t accustomed to an equivalent form in their language. It is not generally considered polite to address someone using du unless they’ve invited you to do so. Many Germans don’t address each other by their first names until they’ve spent a very long time getting to know one another.
The correct way to address someone you’re meeting on a business footing is as Herr (Mr) or Frau (Ms) followed by their surname, and when you want to say “you”, use Sie. This will help you to avoid any offence or embarrassment in your business dealings.
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