m:07930 923435

Formal or informal ‘YOU’, what’s that?

Why knowing correct Etiquette is so important!

As you may already know in companies in Japan or China, etiquette is very different from Europe. It’s always wise to get briefed by someone ‘in the know’ beforehand since concluding a successful business deal may depend on these trivial issues.

Trivial!? Definitely not! First impressions make all the difference:

In China greetings are formal and the oldest person is always greeted first. Handshakes are the most common form of greeting with foreigners.

In India men may shake hands with other men and women may shake hands with other women; however handshakes between men and women are not at all common because of religious beliefs.

But what about in Germany for example? Not that much different from England? Are you sure? Well, you may already know that Germans don’t tend to elaborate on the weather to get a phone conversation going and shaking hands on greeting is customary. But how do you address your business contact in German? “Hallo Hans, wie geht es dir?” (Hello Hans how are ‘you’ <informal>)


Oh no!!! You have just offended your potential contact. Why? Because you’ve just come back from a business trip to America where you met the CEO of an international conglomerate “Hi Bill, nice meeting you” and you hit it off straight away. Then over in Germany you met up with a CEO in the automotive industry “Hallo Rupert, schön dich zu treffen” (Hello Rupert, who nice to meet ‘you’<informal>). But he wasn’t quite as cordial as expected; instead he looked at you with consternation. Why?

Not only did you use an inappropriate form of ‘you’ (‘dir’ <informal>), you ignored his title and called him by his first name! That’s caused the affront. Titles are very important in German speaking countries and indicate respect. And what’s more you do not use a person’s first name until you are specifically invited to do so.

Herr (Mr) and Frau (Mrs)

Therefore always say ‘Herr’ (Mr) or ‘Frau’ (Mrs) and the person’s title together with their surname “Guten Tag, Herr Doktor Professor Schreck, ich freue mich Sie kennenzulernen” (Good morning, Mister Doktor Professor Schreck, pleased to meet you) when dealing with German speaking countries.

*Caveat: Although recently the trend to use first names in business has started in Germany, don’t presume! If in doubt, stick with the ‘Sie’ (you <formal>)and ‘Herr’ or ‘Frau’, unless you are told otherwise.

*Note: ‘Fräulein’ (Miss) is no longer used for women after the age of 18, it’s always ‘Frau’, married or not. That’s cool.



So when should you use the formal ‘You’ (Sie)?

With people you do not know closely, for example colleagues, your boss, officials, fellow travellers, people in the street, shop personnel, bank employees, neighbours, car mechanics, waiters, Dog Trainers and Pet Detectives, Snake Charmers and Cow Hoof Trimmers, Water Treatment Workers and Odor Testers and of course, your local Police,… can you think of anymore? Formality in German speaking countries is still very much practised.

And when can you use the informal ‘You’ (Du)?

With your nearest and dearest, you family and friends, small children and grandparents, boyfriend and girlfriend, your pet and anyone who explicitly invites you to say “du kannst ‘du’ zu mir sagen’”(you can say ‘you’ to me). Knowing when to use the informal ‘du’ and the formal you ‘Sie’ is really important and makes all the difference. Therefore if in doubt, stick to “Sie”, especially in the world of business.

When in Rome, do as the Romans, and the ‘Deal’ will be yours!

Leave a Reply