Going on a business trip to Austria does not have to create any major challenges. Nevertheless, here are a few tips about cultural factors that are nice to know.
The Austrians regard themselves as modern and liberal Europeans. However, this does not overshadow their appreciation for traditions and formalities. The cultural differences between people from non-German speaking countries and Austria are present, but with a little deeper knowledge of how Austria works, you will be able to avoid costly pitfalls. The Austrians are generally conservative and tend to emphasize hospitality, courtesy, and traditions. Nonetheless, although the Austrians are very friendly and open, one should certainly get acquainted with some cultural peculiarities to avoid insults. Especially if you want to succeed in business. Let’s start with the most elementary.
Always shake hands
It’s important to always shake hands. You will see even friends and relatives that meet often shake hands when they meet. Furthermore, some Austrians also have the habit of “kissing” each other once on each cheek (ladies with ladies, and men with ladies). Also, remember that you don’t lean over a table to shake hands. Instead, walk around it and shake each person’s hand by standing in front of them.
Tip: Shake hands with everyone in the room, or setting, also children.
Titles are important
In Austria formality is the rule. Rank and academic titles are always used in addition to Mr / Madam when addressing people. Not until you have gained a close relationship or it has explicitly been expressed, you may drop a rank/title and use the first name in Austria.
Tip: If you visit Austria often for business purposes, you should print business cards with German text and put your title(s) in connection with your name. In this way, you show that you respect and understand their culture.
Greeting in public
You are expected to greet unknown persons you encounter in the street, whenever you are going somewhere, except in the big cities. You will notice very soon what is going on and just follow the local customs. Moreover, you will not insult anyone by greeting them. In smaller towns and the countryside, you often get much faster to the informal “per Du” than in larger cities.
Tip: Always greet people! Minimum with a nod and eye contact, and even better with a “Grüss Gott” or “Servus”.
The main holiday time in Austria is during August and the schools are closed from July to September. Christmas and Easter are also important holidays and are often devoted to the family. During these times it can be difficult to set up meetings, as long as it’s not important. Austria also has several public holidays (especially related to the Catholic Church), that are not practised in non-Catholic countries. Hence, check an Austrian calendar that shows the public holidays before booking meetings.
Arriving at the agreed time is a virtue highly appreciated in Austria. If you think you might be late for a meeting, due to traffic delays or caused by other events, call your business partners or hosts and let them know you are running late.
No matter what kind of relationship you have with your Austrian business partners etiquette is always important. The majority of businesses in Austria are small or medium-sized, and many are family-owned and operated. Companies with predominantly younger management and employees are often more informal than firms with employees the age of 40-50 years and above. Nonetheless, here are some general tips when conducting business meetings in Austria:
– Presentations should be accurate and precise.
– Show up with well-prepared materials and be prepared to defend everything: Austrians are meticulous with details.
– Meetings comply with strict agendas, including start and end times. If an agenda is set, it will be followed.
– Austrians are usually more concerned with long-term conditions than doing a quick sale.
– Austrians are very detail-oriented and want to understand every nitty-gritty before reaching an agreement.
– Avoid confrontational behaviour and loud voices or dominance tactics. It can be used against you.
Not only in formal contexts, but also on normal working days, you should dress elegantly in Austria. This does not necessarily mean a conservative suit and tie, but rather something other than well-worn jeans and T-shirts. Especially if you represent your company outside the office, it is important to look well-groomed.
There are many different holidays in Austria. Both religious and cultural. Some of these are local to the region or state. You will often see that the Austrians dress up in traditional suits/dresses (dirndl). In the same way, as the traditional dresses around the world, different colours and styles belong to different regions in Austria. Lederhosen are also part of the men’s traditional costumes and are used not only at the Octoberfest but also on many other occasions. Foreigners are not expected to buy an Austrian outfit, but to wear stylish clothing suitable for the occasion.
The Austrians are very proud of their country and greatly appreciate it if you make positive comments about it. For example, how wonderful nature is or how clean and well-maintained Austria is.
Differentiate between job and private
In Austria, job and private life are largely kept separate. Being invited home to someone is usually reserved for friends and family. Business relationships are mostly nurtured at restaurants, bars or other public places.
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At a restaurant or bar
Alcohol is a natural part of the culture in Austria but being openly intoxicated informal contexts shows poor judgment. Moreover, the Austrians take toasts very seriously. When you make a toast with Austrians, look them in the eyes and clink the glasses together. The host usually tends to present the first toast.
Be reticent. Even if you are attending a business dinner, it does not mean that you should pursue business discussions immediately. If the host has not addressed the topic, wait for the business talk. Use the initial time for small talk.
The knowledge of English in Austria is not at the same level for example in Scandinavia or the Netherlands. In Austria, all movies are usually dubbed both on TV and cinema. This means that the Austrians are far less exposed to English, than in countries where movies are shown in original languages.
The Austrians are proud of their German dialect (which is not be compared to the German used in Germany, except perhaps in Bavaria). If you speak German, you will quickly hear that the dialects spoken in Austria differ greatly from what is spoken in Germany or Switzerland. Notwithstanding, the Austrians often use so-called “Hochdeutsch”, a kind of neutral dialect, on formal occasions and when talking to people who are not native German speakers.
German is a precise language and requires some training to use it efficiently. Nonetheless, if you speak whatever German you know, it will impress the Austrians. Moreover, with its location in the middle of Europe, it’s natural that some Austrians have chosen other secondary languages than English. For example, some Austrians speak better French or Italian than English.
Although there are not many taboos in Austria, there are still some topics to avoid in conversations or other forms of communication.
– Don’t discuss the Second World War
– Don’t compare Austria with Germany
Have an enjoyable and profitable trip to Austria!
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