Austrian Etiquette & Customs
Expats doing business in Austria will find that the workplace is formal, structured and significantly more conservative than other EU member states.
Faxes and emails, and any other form of correspondence should be done in a formal manner. Work attire should also be formal and elegant as Austrians place significant value on appearances. Businessmen and women are sure to make a good first impression if dressed in a tasteful, well-fitted suit. Titles and surnames are important in Austria and should always be used when addressing business contacts, such as Herr (Mr.) or Frau (Mrs.), professional and academic titles should also be added when necessary (e.g. Herr Professor Kaufmann).
Business meetings tend to be concise and to the point, with a small amount of preliminary small talk. Being punctual for meetings and showing thorough preparation is vital. German is the language of business in Austria: however it is advisable to print copies of agreements and other literature in both English and German. Work hours are from 8am to 5pm from Monday to Friday.
Business Meeting Etiquette
- Appointments are necessary and should be made when meeting with private companies.
- Do not try to schedule meetings in August, the two weeks surrounding Christmas, or the week before Easter.
- Punctuality is taken seriously. If you expect to be delayed, telephone immediately and offer an explanation.
- It is extremely rude to cancel a meeting at the last minute and it could ruin your business relationship.
- Meetings are formal.
- Presentations should be accurate and precise.
- Have back-up material and be prepared to defend everything: Austrians are meticulous about details.
- Meetings adhere to strict agendas, including starting and ending times. If you have an agenda, it will be followed.
- Follow-up with a letter outlining what was agreed, what the next steps are, and who is the responsible party.
- Do not sit until invited and told where to sit. There is a rigid protocol to be followed.
- Meetings adhere to strict agendas, including starting and ending times.
- A small amount of getting-to-know-you conversation may take place before the business conversation begins.
- Austrians are more concerned with long-term relationships than making a quick sale.
- Rank and position are important. Since most companies are relatively small, it is often quite easy to meet with the decision-maker.
- Business is conducted slowly. You will have to be patient and not appear ruffled by the strict adherence to protocol.
- Austrians are very detail-oriented and want to understand every innuendo before coming to agreement.
- Avoid confrontational behavior or high-pressure tactics. It can work against you.
What to Wear?
- Business dress is conservative and follows most European conventions.
- Men should wear dark colored, conservative business suits with white shirts.
- Women should wear either business suits or conservative dresses.
- Business cards are exchanged without formal ritual.
- Have one side of your card translated into German. Although not a business necessity, it demonstrates an attention to detail.
- Include any advanced academic degrees or honors on your business card.
- If your company has been in business for a long time, include the founding date on your card as it demonstrates stability.
- Greetings are formal.
- A quick, firm handshake is the traditional greeting.
- Maintain eye contact during the greeting.
- Women may also kiss men on the cheeks, but men never kiss other men.
- Titles are very important and denote respect. Use a person’s title and their surname until invited to use their first name.
- When entering a room, shake hands with everyone individually, including children.
Gift Giving Etiquette
- If invited to dinner at an Austrian’s house, bring a small gift of consumables such as chocolates.
- Gifts should be nicely wrapped.
- Gifts are usually opened when received.
Dining Etiquette & Table Manners
If you are invited to an Austrian’s house:
- Arrive on time. Punctuality is a sign of respect.
- Dress conservatively and elegantly.
- In some houses you may be asked to remove your shoes, although the custom is not as prevalent as it once was.
- Remain standing until invited to sit down. You may be shown to a particular seat.
- Table manners are Continental — the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
- Put your napkin on your lap as soon as you sit down.
- Do not begin eating until the hostess says ‘Mahlzeit’ or ‘Guten Appetit’.
- Finish everything on your plate.
- Indicate you have finished eating by laying your knife and fork parallel on your plate with the handles facing to the right.
- The host gives the first toast. Everyone lifts and clinks glasses, looks the person making the toast in the eye and says, ‘Prost!’
- An honored guest offers a toast of thanks to the host at the end of the meal.
Relationships & Communication
- First impressions are important and you will be judged on your clothing and demeanour.
- Although Austrians prefer third-party introductions, a personal relationship is not a prerequisite for doing business.
- They will be interested in any advanced university degrees you might have as well as the amount of time your company has been in business.
- Austrians show deference to people in authority, so it is imperative that they understand your level relative to their own.
- It is imperative that you exercise good manners in all your business interactions.
- There is little joking or small talk in the office as they are serious and focused on accomplishing business objectives/goals.
- Communication is formal and follows strict rules of protocol.
- Always use the formal word for you (“Sie”) unless invited to use the informal “du”. Address people by their academic title and surname.
- You may be referred to simply by your surname. This is not a culture that uses first names except with family and close friends.
- Austrians are suspicious of hyperbole, promises that sound too good to be true, or displays of emotion.
- In many situations, Austrians will be direct to the point of bluntness. This is not an attempt to be rude, it is simply indicative of their desire to move the discussion along.
- Expect a great deal of written communication, both to back up decisions and to maintain a record of discussions and outcomes.