Luxembourg’s business life is very strongly influenced by the numerous foreign residents, cross-border commuters and guests so that one can hardly talk about “a Luxembourg business culture” in the crosscultural preparation for a professional stay.
As an expat from the USA, it is especially important to understand that you should not only adapt your US-American behaviour towards Europeans crossculturally, but also deal with the different European nationalities differently in each case. Just expect things to happen differently in Luxembourg, depending on the different cultures that make up a team or a group of businesspeople. Be open and flexible, approach your counterpart carefully and individually. Luxembourg is a melting pot of different cultures – that is both beautiful and at the same time somewhat difficult.
It is certainly advantageous in Luxembourg if you can refer to already existing network contacts or a concrete recommendation when initiating business. However, this is not a prerequisite. You can also simply call a company you are interested in and ask for a suitable contact person. Visiting trade fairs and delegations are also a good way to make new contacts in Luxembourg.
Depending on the size of the company based in Luxembourg, you will most likely be successful if you contact the relevant line manager with a concern or business project. The hierarchical level of a potential contact person is not particularly important. If necessary, he or she will turn to the next higher hierarchical level and take your interest up the line. In principle, Luxembourgers communicate freely and openly across different hierarchical levels.
Outsiders are therefore not encouraged to ignore line managers in the company and insist that they only speak to the boss personally. In smaller companies, however, it is often a matter, of course, to turn directly to the managing director for the initiation of business if they are responsible for sales or collaboration themselves.
However, when making an initial enquiry, always make sure to follow Luxembourgian courtesy and don’t jump the gun. Only when your relationship is well established should you make your case more concretely and, if necessary with the support of your new contact, move on to the contact person with the appropriate decision-making authority.
Another recommendation is to inform yourself as exactly as possible about what kind of company you are dealing with in the run-up to your first business appointment. Is it a purely Luxembourgish company or a German, French or Dutch subsidiary? The location of the company headquarters, as well as the country or countries of origin of the respective interlocutors, should be of interest. In Luxembourg, you will almost always have to deal with contacts from many different countries. Accordingly, you should be flexible and able to change the way you handle matters spontaneously, should the situation make this necessary.
This also applies to the dress code, which complies with the international business standard in Luxembourg. However, in many places, the influence of people from the relatively nearby fashion metropolises, such as Paris or Milan, can also be felt. Expensive fabrics, watches and designer labels simply are part of the dress code.
In Luxembourg, too, business telephone calls or meetings should be started with a little small talk. However, when getting to know each other for the first time, stick to rather harmless topics and only enquire about the family or how things are going at the moment.
The extent to which your Luxembourgish business partners or colleagues indulge in small talk strongly depends on which country they come from. A Portuguese or Italian will like to address much more personal issues from the outset and extend the lively small talk time to establish a certain basis of trust before devoting oneself to business. Luxembourgers, Germans and Dutch, on the other hand, are more used to strictly separating their professional and private lives. They tend to be reserved initially; small talk is kept to the minimum and does not play a significant role in the atmosphere of the subsequent more factual business discussions. As soon as you get to know each other a little better, however, these new business partners or colleagues will also “thaw out” and be much friendlier and more open.
Therefore, the motto for the first business meetings in Luxembourg is: first wait and see which topics the new business partners or colleagues will address and what the mood is during the meeting. Don’t “take the lead” right away, but find out who you’re dealing with. Due to the multicultural composition of many Luxembourg companies and the resulting differences in establishing new business contacts, you might, as an outsider, put your foot in it with either too much personal small talk or by being too buttoned-up.
Be open and friendly, but, if possible, act in the same way as your counterparts. Get to know each other personally as a basis for potential business contacts (Southern Europeans, South Americans, Asians) and take a purely factual approach (Germans, Dutch, Luxembourgers). This way you will always be on the safe side.
Greeting and address
You should be similarly flexible when it comes to the question of whether you should first introduce yourself with your surname or whether you should use first names right from the start. On the one hand, this depends on the language in which you communicate. In both German and French, a distinction is made between the (for professional contacts appropriate) formal you (Sie/vous) and the informal you (du/tu) for private contacts. English, however, has no linguistic differentiation between a formal or informal you and you usually switch to first names quite quickly. Accordingly, business people in Luxembourg are conditioned according to their native language and culture; this will influence the level of formality in their company: Germans who speak English may still cling to a formal Mr. or Ms., while Dutch people who speak German will quickly switch to first names. Corporate culture is influenced strongly by this.
So if someone introduces you as “Mr Schmidt”, you should stick to this form of address and not simply change to first names, because this might be too informal for your interlocutor. Here, too, it is important for outsiders to be able to engage flexibly in the respective conversational situation. Just wait and see how you are addressed and act accordingly.
If you later notice that the atmosphere is very relaxed and familiar, you can of course take the initiative and suggest omitting the formal Mr./Ms. Due to the daily language mix and the multicultural environment, everyone working in Luxembourg has learned to be flexible!
Style of communication
You should be adaptable in all business communication in Luxembourg because you will encounter many different styles of communication in such a crosscultural environment. Keep a close eye on how your business partners communicate and interact with each other. When making initial contact, express yourself as diplomatically and carefully as possible in order to avoid putting your foot in your mouth – as long as you are not sure whether your counterpart is used to direct and open communication or not.
The communication style of native Luxembourgers tends to be more reserved and formal. Few emotions are shown in professional life and communication is generally purely objective. However, you should be prepared for straightforward communication in professional situations. Both the Luxembourgers and the Germans, Dutch and, to a certain extent, the French represented there will freely say what they think, even if it is negative. Honesty, sincerity and frankness are highly valued values here. Ruthless openness, even when it overshadows the relationship with the other, is driven by an inner sense of duty.
The often harsh criticism following is usually meant objectively, i.e. a strict separation between the matter concerned and the person involved. It is possible to critically break down a colleague’s work in a meeting and then leave the conference room as “best friends”. Similarly, it is possible for lower-level employees to openly question their supervisor’s approach or complain about something because it does not damage the relationship.
Ratings are meant exactly as they are said: What is good is called “good”, and what is bad is called “bad” – without looking for mitigating formulations, such as “That’s not bad at all”, if the person doesn’t really mean it that way. The only important thing is to keep the words factual and not to attack anyone personally. The latter would jeopardize a good relationship.
In many other cultures that you may encounter in Luxembourg, however, criticism is never openly voiced, as it is per se detrimental to good interpersonal relations. In these cases, there is barely any distinction between the matter and the person. The hierarchical gradient therefore also leads to supervisors criticizing their employees, albeit more in private, but never employees questioning the words of their supervisor or discussing them critically.
If you feel more criticized by Luxembourg interlocutors than you are accustomed to from your home country, you should bear in mind that they do not want to attack you as a person but feel that the criticism they have levelled at the matter is constructive. Critically examining and questioning the topic in question from all sides is considered to be an active contribution from a Luxembourgish, German or Dutch point of view; it is simply intended to make everything better. The matter itself is therefore always more in the foreground than the persons connected with it. Therefore, try not to take criticism of your work personally. Do not react in an offended manner but accept the suggestions. Be ready to talk.
As you might suspect, body language also depends strongly on from which country your interlocutor in Luxembourg is originally from. You can assume that native Luxembourgers or Germans gesticulate much more reservedly and reservedly than French or Italians, for example, who often speak with their hands.
Keep an arm’s length away from the other person during the conversation but try not to move too far back if someone approaches you or touches you during the conversation.
These non-verbal differences in interaction are culturally shaped and occur unconsciously.