Negotiation Practices and Etiquette in Austria
The totally landlocked country of Austria in central Europe has a number of rules or standards when it comes to its etiquette and social customs. It is always to be aware of these often unwritten quirks when visiting the country as being aware of any countries local customs and business negotiation practices can avoid any unnecessary embarrassing situations.
The family unit forms the basis for most Austrians and their social structure, families tend to be small and with little migration most families are tightly knit and usually all family members will live within a single town or village. Generally weekends are a time for family activities, many of these activities will be conducted outdoors. Eating a family meal together in the early evening is an almost daily occurrence within Austrian culture. Visiting grandparents is usually conducted on Sundays and this will often include a family meal, another favoured activity on Sundays is for the family to go hiking together.
Austrians like to keep their homes neat and tidy and take great pride in how their home looks. The home tends to be a place where most of the people will be more relaxed and open during conversations. Close friends and relatives are usually the only people invited into an Austrians home. Etiquette amongst neighbours have many rules that are to be observed. Common areas such as sidewalks or pavements, corridors within apartments and steps are to be kept clean at all times with no dropping of litter.
The people of Austria are in general conservative and somewhat prudent in their behaviour. They like to be well organized in their lives and could be described as being regimented and compartmentalized. Social invitations are announced well in advance of the occasion so that the maximum number of those invited can attend without the possibility of their having a prior engagement.
Being well dressed is important to Austrians, they take pride in being well presented. Even their informal dress is generally neat and conservative. There are sometimes strict rules in place for attending the theatre, concerts or even some restaurants as to what you are wearing. Many locations have a strict dress code and you will be denied entry if your clothing is deemed not to be of the required standard. Many Austrian women will dress up even to go shopping, the idea of looking elegant when out in public is important to the majority of the women in that country.
Business meetings conducted in Austria are usually very formal and will begin with a quick but firm handshake. You should maintain eye contact while greeting someone. Austrian men, particularly those of an older generation will kiss the hand of females when meeting. Overseas visitors are generally not expected to kiss the hand of women. When women are introduced to men they may also kiss. In Austria when two men are introduced they should never kiss as is customary within some European nations. Until you are invited to address a person by their first name you should continue using their title. When you enter a room you should shake hands with every one present. In social gatherings this will include shaking the hands of any children present.
If you are invited to an Austrians home you should bring with you a gift of chocolates or flowers. If giving flowers always give an odd number as even numbers except 12 are considered to be unlucky. Do not give red carnations, chrysanthemums or lilies as these are considered as being for funerals. Gifts not of flowers should be wrapped, gifts will usually be opened upon your host receiving them.
You should arrive on time as punctuality is a sign of respect in Austria, you should be dressed conservatively and elegantly, in some houses you may be asked to remove your shoes. Table manners are taken seriously in Austrian society and you should wait until being invited to sit down, you may be shown to a specific seat. When dining the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right. You should not begin eating until your host indicates it is ok to do so. This may be with the words ‘Guten Appetit.’ You should finish everything on your plate and then lay your knife and fork together with the handles facing to the right to show your host you have finished. The host will usually give the first toast, everyone will touch glasses, you should also look your host in the eye and say ‘Prost.’ If you are the honoured guest it will be your duty to offer a toast of thanks at the completion of the meal.
Business meetings may begin with a little small talk, you may be asked what university you attended and what degrees you have. Other questions may be how long your company has been in business. Even during this period of introductory questions there will be little joking as business meetings in Austria tend to be conducted in a serious manner with the emphasis on achieving the objectives or goals set out for the meeting. Communication during the meeting is always very formal and follows a strict protocol. First names are not usually used, you should always address people by their title and surname (family name).
Business meetings held in Austria tend to be conducted in a blunt manner, it is not their being rude. It shows that they wish to move the discussion along and not to be stalling over minor points. After the meeting expect to receive lots of written confirmation of the meetings content, this is considered necessary to back up decisions as well as being an accurate record of the meeting and the eventual outcome of those decisions.
Before a business meeting can be arranged you should make an appointment with at least 3 or 4 weeks of advance notice with the company you wish to discuss matters with. The month of August is usually left free of any meetings for Austrian companies as is two weeks around Christmas and New Year or one week prior to the Easter weekend. Businesses in Austria take punctuality very seriously and should you be delayed on your way to a meeting the correct protocol is to telephone immediately and explain why you will be late for your scheduled meeting. Any meetings cancelled at the last minute could do serious harm to any business relationship.
The formal nature of business meetings in Austria require that presentations be accurate and precise. Austrians will not accept false promises and these could be damaging to any future business dealings. Have material available to back up every point you claim to make. Austrians will quiz you on every detail, they can be very meticulous.
The correct or expected dress code for meetings is a dark coloured suit and tie, with a white shirt. You should exchange business cards. It is not expected but a good detail is to have one side of the business card printed in German. It shows a professional approach and attention to detail.
Tipping in restaurants and hotels is usually done by rounding up to the next full Euro. Service charges are usually included in the bill so no actual tip is required.