U.S. Companies struggle with German Cultural Differences

Doing business internationally can be exciting and fulfilling. It can also present opportunities to learn new approaches to the workplace. 

However, it's not always a bed of roses as American companies starting up in Germany seem to be finding out.

Lately, Amazon has been facing problems in Germany; allegedly, the security firm that was hired by the US company intimidated foreign seasonal workers.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time American companies are being accused of not understanding the German market.

According to the German newspaper Die Welt,  Amazon failed to come up with a fast and well-written response to the accusations in German. Instead, then allowed a delay and, when they finally responded, the German used in the response was littered wtih errors. Their poorly considered response reinforced the perception that Americans have the skills or understanding work operate effectively in Germany. 

US firms often fail to grasp the German market; as a result, they feel misunderstood when things take a turn for the worse. The reason for many of these misunderstandings? An underestimation of cultural differences.

Take for example Google Chief Eric Schmidt [below]. Last year, he insulted many Europeans when he bragged that Google hardly paid any taxes on the continent. “That’s called capitalism,” Schmidt said. His comment did not go unnoticed: after his statement, the malpractice was quickly put to a halt by the Federal Finance Ministry. Now, Google no longer pays three percent of its foreign taxes while earning 54 per cent of its sales abroad.

Eric Schmidt CEO Google

Frank Roselieb, head of the Kiel Institute for Crisis Research, believes the problem lies in the fact that unlike race discrimination and sexism, exploitation of workers and inhuman working conditions are not condemned by the American media and the public.

Another company that faced difficulties when entering the German market is Facebook. In 2011, the company introduced its facial recognition technology in Germany. The country’s data protection advocates and politicians were not impressed, however:  Big Brother references were heard all over, with people fearing unauthorized people would be able to access private information.

In the case of Amazon, the time difference between America and Germany also played a significant role in the distorted communication. Amazon is based in Seattle, which has a nine-hour time difference with Germany. Before an answer is drawn up in the United States and has been through the translation process, the news has already hit online Germany news sources. 

According to Die Welt, most American companies only become successful when they learn from their mistakes. The example of Microsoft is given. This company had a bad image when it was chased by European Union competition authorities.  As its regular strategy clearly wasn’t working, the company decided to expand its public relations presence in Germany. Consequently, Microsoft’s image has improved greatly.

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