Germans Appreciate Straightforwardness and Clarity. Hard Data and Numbers Are Decisive For Them in Business Negotiations.

29 01 2018

The world’s third largest economy has long relationships with many other countries, and yet there are aspects of German business etiquette that are often overlooked. Germans’ heightened attention to detail, for instance, must be always kept in mind or you may weaken your chances in Germany’s highly competitive market.

German business negotiation Skrivanek

From expectations of professional behavior to product quality, Germans are very demanding. In addition to adhering to universally acknowledged standards, it is also beneficial to offer innovation, exceptional design and other features that add value. Germans pay attention to the smallest details, and they always have everything carefully planned, which is immediately apparent when contracts are signed.

Complex legislation and internal company rules also play roles in negotiations, so research into these areas will pay off. Germans are business-savvy and expect thorough information; if anything is unclear to them, then they will insist on an explanation and additional details. Quality websites and promotional materials are necessities that affect the perception of your market position – you can be sure that these will be reviewed by your German partners.

That indelible first impression

You will not get a chance to erase the first impression you make, especially with cautious Germans. Arrive at meetings on time, since Germans are very punctual and dislike changes made at the last minute. It is better to arrive at a meeting 5-10 minutes ahead of time to exhibit your respect for your potential business partners’ time, as well as your own ability to keep a strict schedule.

Introductions and parting should always be preceded by a firm handshake. Germans do not use many gestures or express emotions outwardly, and they are reserved with regard to humor – unlike outgoing Americans, for instance – so expect that business negotiations will be conducted in a rather serious manner.

The country’s business attire culture dictates formal and conservative clothing, and it is considered rude to set your suit or tie aside before your German colleague does so. The “Casual Friday” tradition is not regularly practiced in Germany, and even when situations arise that call for informal dress, German businesspeople most often continue to conduct themselves conservatively and with restraint.

Professionalism and discipline

Business is taken seriously, and during negotiations you will sense a highly professional and disciplined attitude among your German counterparts. To begin with, expect to set meeting times far in advance, and in that time be sure to prepare. Germans are pragmatic, especially when making decisions, so it is important to focus discussions on hard data and numbers. Negotiation topics are often discussed and resolved away from the “negotiation table” during less formal conversations, with official meetings serving the purpose of confirming what has already been agreed upon. That said, Germans strictly separate their professional and personal lives, and so it will usually take a long time before you are allowed to use informal forms of address.

A major emphasis is placed on education, but this is not restricted to university titles — Germans also regard internal training sessions and various certificates as important. During business negotiations, it is often customary to address others using their titles, but in regular conversations this is only done with doctors, lawyers, and others with roles indicated by their title. The presence of women in management positions is common in Germany, where gender equality is considered such a self-evident value that it is enshrined in the country’s constitution.

Despite their high levels of education, it is beneficial to communicate with German partners in their native language, especially in small companies and in situations where you need to deepen trust. Germans do not like uncertainty, and so important business decisions can take a relatively long time to be made under normal circumstances. For instance, more than other nationalities, Germans still rely on formal, written communication.

Some advice in conclusion

Germans appreciate luxury and brand-name products, but it is not normally customary to give gifts to business partners. By law, gifts with a value exceeding EUR 30 should not normally be accepted. A good idea instead is to give an invitation to an upscale restaurant. But in the looser atmosphere of socializing, be careful: any unethical behavior may have a highly negative effect on future negotiations. Under all circumstances, you should try to be concise, clear and always aware of the fact that Germans are proud of their culture.

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The Politics, Psychology and Art of Scripts

5 01 2018

The history of how scripts and alphabets emerge, evolve and disappear through history, is built on the changing tides of commerce, cultural dominance and religion. Two generations of a people who do not write their language in its original script will render that script endangered, and very nearly dead.


Inspired by (an online encyclopedia of languages and alphabets), Tim Brookes founded the Endangered Alphabets Project in order to support “endangered, minority and indigenous cultures by using their writing systems to create art.” He speaks of writing systems as having three parts, reflecting different aspects of the human mind:

1. the phonetic element of sound

2. the semantic aspect which gives it meaning within a language

3. the graphic ingredient of its curves and lines.

Histories and cultural aesthetics are contained in scripts, and likewise lost when they are. Wars that lead to the conquering of one people by another have led to banishment of entire cultures, including their languages and scripts. Governments impose one language over another for such reasons as control, unity, and the puncturing of a minority’s vitality. Phoenician leadership in global trade 1000 years BC spread their writing system all over the region, extinguishing others over time as they were not used. The dying off of small populations with their own scripts and languages has led Tim Brookes on quests to far corners of the Earth to find the remaining individuals who still carry the irreplaceable knowledge.

In the case of American Latin alphabet cursive, the extinction of knowledge currently taking place is led by public schools that have ceased to teach the subject. The decision seems to be occurring without thought or planning, a default option ‘chosen’ because the subject is declared irrelevant and a waste of education funds in an era when keyboard communication dominates most activities.

But close-up, firsthand, here in the 21st century, we can see that the real losses incurred when knowledge of a script dies (and thus eventually the script itself), are numerous, and varied in nature. Here’s a big one: there are countless American documents written in script that look as foreign as hieroglyphics to contemporary sixth graders who have not learned that native script. As adults, these young Americans will not be able to decipher even the personal missives of their grandparents – they are being cut off from connection as they are cut off from the knowledge of their civilization’s script. Is this really healthy for a free and literate society?

Beyond that incomprehensibility of existing documents, there are other losses when the learning and use of a script is withdrawn from its people. According to Psychology Today, training children to write their alphabet with their hands is a commitment to developing their capacity for acquiring knowledge. A “reading circuit” of linked sections of the brain activated by reading is not activated by keyboarding. After receiving letter instruction, a group of pre-literate 5-year-olds in an Indiana University study received brain scans that showed enhanced neural activity that was more “adult-like” than those of children who merely looked at letters. Cursive writing teaches the brain to integrate visual and tactile information, paving the neural pathways that facilitate fine motor dexterity.

The passion for languages runs deep at Skrivanek, for so many reasons. You’ll find our language service team members to be interested in every aspect of your translation needs.

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Your Message in Pictures

8 12 2017

We are all aware that the attention span of the average 21st century human being using 21st century media has observably diminished. By choice and culture we have learned to navigate abundant, often chaotic content, including mere flashes of imagery that our visually-oriented brains handle quickly.


We have been honing our media-consumption skills for decades now, and we’re good at it. A compelling statistic from Springer research says that people who follow driving instructions with text and images do 323% better than those who receive only text as guidance.*  Clearly non-verbal imagery streamlines certain types of thinking.

So how to take advantage of this hard wiring now that visual image options are numerous and easy to share? Where to begin? Four times as many consumers would prefer to watch a video about a product than to read about it, according to Animoto* – you probably don’t want to ignore that opportunity.

The goal of marketing is to quickly capture the attention – and heart – of your potential customer, so clearly you must carefully consider both those elements that attract and those that are off-putting. You would do well to research everything from the effect of colors in various cultures, to the most popular social media outlets in your target countries**, to whether your audience prefers dubbing to subtitles, and what kind of imagery is most likely to resonate with them.

Partnering with transcreation and media experts can elevate your creative ideas into forms you may not have even thought of before. Live video has grown more popular than traditional video, for instance – is there a place for this in your messaging? Almost 30% more people viewed a 360-degree video than the same content in a conventional format, research by Magnifyre* revealed, and there might be an aspect of your business that is suited to this medium. Have you explored adding visual content such as graphs, memes, and photos to your text every 75-100 words or so? This is the ratio of articles that receive the highest social media shares, according to BuzzSumo’s* analysis of over 1 million articles.

Decades ago translation of your marketing materials required little more than native knowledge of the target language. But today the depth of communication and range of marketing possibilities is expanded by knowledge like this observation from Hubspot, referring to a Norman Nielsen Group study: “Eye-tracking studies show internet readers pay close attention to information-carrying images. In fact, when the images are relevant, readers spend more time looking at the images than they do reading text on the page.”

As a global leader in the language service industry, Skrivanek has kept up with every aspect of international communication, at every level. For your projects, both new and those you wish to re-invent, we will assemble the experts who can optimize the visual content of your marketing materials for every culture you wish to reach.

* As referenced by Hubspot, “42 Stats You Should Know About Visual Content Marketing in 2017”

** See Moravia, Nov 13, 2017, “Four Tips for Choosing and Optimizing Visuals in Your Global Content,” by Lee Densmer for more information

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Culturalization: the Heart of Communication

13 11 2017

There are experts employed by global companies like Microsoft, whose job descriptions might read something like: examination of everything going on at every level in every country where we sell products.


Beyond adaption to such elements as foreign currencies, time zones, and programming requirements, and beyond translation of languages, culturalization is the process of deep-level product adaptation to the huge variety of people globally who will use it. Sensitive and subtle issues unique to a country’s current political and social climate can figure prominently in the reception of marketing in a country. Historical circumstances that still prompt emotional responses and geopolitical boundary disagreements that were never satisfactorily resolved – such issues can lurk potently just below the surface of a people’s consciousness.

Imagine a start-up in Eastern Europe deciding to play on the vast geography of the US by using both Union and Confederate flags in marketing graphics. Not every entrepreneur in every country knows American Civil war history and how its symbols can still sizzle and divide neighbors. And, likewise, American knowledge of almost all foreign cultural, political and historical issues is most often limited to a handful of fairly superficial ideas. Experts are required to safely and successfully navigate touchy details at the heart of a culture or country. And such details can be brought to mind for a country’s natives by background music, color schemes, hand gestures… the list of potentially volatile elements is long.

Current developments within a specific people’s behavior are also important to study. As an example, for the Chinese version of Draw a Stickman, the game developers observed and incorporated the fact that Chinese players generally prefer more detailed and explicit instructions. This company also modified the game’s online social integration tools to link to the preferred social media platforms in China. There is no globally uniform strategy for any aspect of communication.

The world of ideas that your product presents may be a fiction conjured from what appears to you to be ‘nothing’. But if it hints at the sovereignty of one people over another, it will be deemed unacceptable in the offended nation. Games that do not show Taiwan as part of China, for instance, are banned there. What is known as the Sea of Japan in Japan is called the East Sea in Korea – clearly that’s a detail one would want to get right or avoid altogether.

Digging into cultural knowledge from the start is the best policy your company can adopt. The geo-cultural experts say they are most often called in when a problem has already arisen. But if you build content from the start with awareness of, and advice about, every market you hope to reach, your core communication can be clean of misguided mistakes. Skrivanek’s approach to serving our global clients has prioritized this practice from the start. We employ the expertise of our native linguists and subject experts in the countries where you need culturalization assistance, and welcome the opportunity to optimize your connections there.

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Greeting Chinese Travelers in Their Own Language

9 08 2017

The number of Chinese travelers visiting destinations around the world is rapidly increasing. And according to a recent survey*, when they travel, they are willing to pay for quality. Chinese visitors to the US, for instance, spend an average of $7200 USD per person.


Quality is not the only thing Chinese tourists want: they prefer that language services be available on-site at their places of lodging, and the majority of hotels don’t have them, especially in the US. The survey showed that only 18% of hotels surveyed globally offer travel and tourism guides in Chinese and only 21% plan to offer it in the next 12 months. Meanwhile, only 17% of hotels polled also offer in-house Mandarin-speaking staff with about that same amount planning to offer the service in the coming year.

This is the current state of things in the hospitality industry, in spite of the fact that for 9% of Chinese tourists having travel and tourism guides available in Chinese is the single most important service they expect from their hotels, while 7% mentioned a Chinese language hotel website as an essential service. In-house Mandarin-speaking staff and Chinese language travel and tourism guides are also top desires.

Accommodation of Chinese tourists varies globally of course. Mandarin-speaking staff is offered by 23% of APAC hoteliers, compared to 5% in Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), 1% in the US, and 11% in Latin America. In 2015 and 2016, Japan hosted more travelers from China than from anywhere else.

With growth of Chinese visitors to the US expected to nearly double in the next few years – from 2.59 million visitors in 2015 to 5.72 million by 2021** — enormous opportunity awaits the hotelier committed to providing Chinese language materials and services. Chinese affluence and the easing of visa restrictions in many countries has opened up the world to Chinese tourists, and the flow of travelers from that part of the world seems bound to continue to grow.

Hoteliers and other hospitality industry businesses might do well to follow the example of enterprises such as the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown (Washington DC area) that offers Chinese language television and newspapers, with plans to introduce more traditional Chinese dishes on its menus. As part of its China 2020 Strategic Plan, Australia is instituting numerous initiatives, from giant video ads in Beijing subway stations, to the facilitation of easier payment methods for Chinese tourists.

Numbers indicate that now is the time to incorporate a response to this trend into your business plan. And whatever ideas you generate for connecting with Chinese visitors, Skrivanek will be able to create exactly the texts you need to ensure that they work well.


*Chinese International Travel Monitor 2017 by, IPSOS research marketing firm


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Consider taking an interpreter when meeting with French business partners

25 07 2017

Europe’s second largest economy offers a number of opportunities. The key to a good relationship with French partners involves having a clear understanding of French culture and etiquette, which are distinctly different from those in the U.S. The French believe that the business relationships you develop are more important than the contracts, so think in the long-term about building partnerships.  


To start with, remember: you’ll get furthest with some knowledge of French.

The traditional belief that the French often do not bother with English and other foreign languages is not far from the truth. In large and multinational companies, the situation is better, but it is still recommended to learn at least a few basic phrases in French. ‘Bonjour’ and ‘Enchanté’ (it’s nice to meet you) are almost essential. To a certain extent the emphasis on using their own language is due to national pride. The French have a deep patriotism. Although it is a very diverse country in which many different cultures live, they tend to have a reserved approach toward foreigners. If you are in doubt about a situation, it might be best to use interpreters’ services.

Stylish intellectuals

French society is very hierarchic, and this also has an effect on business relationships. Therefore, always be careful to ensure that your French business partner communicates with someone in a correlating position in your company. Respect toward a company’s management is also shown through gestures such as standing up when superiors enter the room, or through acknowledging their arrival, at the least.

There is a general emphasis on education and good morals. In discussions with you, French business partners may debate about the most wide-ranging topics and in the process assess your intellectual abilities. French men are gentlemen based on principle, treat women with courtesy, and adhere to ethical standards. Of course, there is also an emphasis on elegant fashion and aesthetics in general. For instance, the French consider the quality of their environment, wherever they are, to be very important. So, when choosing a location for lunch or dinner, consider not only the quality of the food and a good address, but also the restaurant’s interior design and ambiance.

First – and lasting — impressions

The French prefer personal interaction, so initial contact should be made by telephone, rather than e-mail. Arrive at meetings on time (although the French are comfortable with slight delays), shake your business partner’s hand, and start the meeting with casual conversation. The French do not get right down to the heart of the matter, and this is in part because they are seeking to understand you as an individual. If you seem disinterested in debating the issues involved with your potential deal, they can consider that a sign of arrogance.

The French pay close attention to detail, so you can expect a lot of added questions. It will be a major advantage to have a visual presentation prepared, such as a PowerPoint presentation, and descriptions in French will aid your cause. The French are generally conservative when it comes to body language.

When defending their own interests, the French know how to be tough, and when negotiating, they are suspicious of supposed “win-win” deals. They are not generally fond of risk, and prefer arrangements that leave room for adjustment and adaptation over time.

During negotiations, it is acceptable and appropriate to take detailed notes so that you will be able to ensure that everything makes sense. French meetings tend to be more creative than the average American business meeting. It can seem as if they are rudely interrupting you in conversation, but this is a customary French mode of expressing interest in the topic. It’s probably a good idea to pay close attention to their suggestions, without allowing them to throw off your focus. For important negotiations, it is a good idea to sign a written document, such as a memorandum. In fact, with the French oral agreements don’t mean much, so if you’re serious, get it in writing.

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A Special Challenge for Political Interpreters: America’s 45th President

6 03 2017

Professional language interpreters of political leaders face numerous obstacles to accuracy. Among those: the speaker’s voice or accent, his or her attitude, missed words, misheard words, misconstrued logic of the speaker’s thoughts. When every sentence must be quickly or even simultaneously translated, the interpreter must – like lightning – 1) understand what is being said, 2) convert it, and 3) deliver it.

A prestigious job, certainly, but an extreme challenge under any circumstances.


Add to this picture a leader like the new American President, whose speech contains multiple idiosyncrasies, and the problems are not merely technical, but can become ethical. As French translator Berengere Viennot wrote in the French edition of Slate, if she translates what he is actually saying, French listeners may not understand him; however, if she edits and smoothes his language then she misrepresents him as “an ordinary politician who speaks properly.”

An interpreter’s job requires acting; the interpreter must “become” that person whose words they are translating. Vile ideas, ugly words, offensive arguments … these are not the interpreter’s to soften or exclude. It is incumbent upon interpreters to expressively communicate all of the ideas their subject speaks, as well as every emotion, nuance, and tonal element that can possibly be conveyed.

So translating low-minded comments and vulgar words is all part of the job, although slang, sarcasm, and innuendo are notoriously difficult to find equivalents for. What’s troubling in the 45th American President’s talk is more fundamental. Good interpreters attempt to get into the minds of the politicians they are translating, because if they can understand their subjects’ ways of thinking, the interpreters can more fluently anticipate and comprehend the speakers’ ideas. But finding integrated ideas at the core of the 45th President’s mind has proven difficult so far.

From the point of view of many professionals, Donald Trump’s ramblings often just don’t contain clear meanings. Agness Kaku, based in Tokyo, told the Washington Post that within Trump’s remarks the subject is very easy to keep track of: “it’s about him, it’s about the enemy.” But the actual point of his sentences is hard to track. “It just drifts,” she said. “You end up having to guess as a translator, which isn’t very good.”

And who takes the blame for incoherent translations that might have relied on some guessing?

“Trump gives me outbreaks of sweat,” his German translator said, according to a Tweet by journalist Laura Schneider. “He is so contradictory that people think the translator talks rubbish.”

There have been many tense moments and high stakes in the history of political interpreting, and it seems there may be an increased number in the near future. But on the other hand, in your world, for your interpreting needs, Skrivanek offers some of the best professionals in the industry, and we are ready for any challenge.

J. McShulskis

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