US firms often fail to understand Germany
Published: 24 Feb 2013 08:09 GMT+01:00
Updated: 24 Feb 2013 08:09 GMT+01:00
Amazon’s current woes in Germany, following allegations that a security firm it hired intimidated foreign, seasonal workers, are just another example of how American companies misunderstand the German market, daily Die Welt reported on Sunday.
- Watchdog probes Amazon's pricing policy (20 Feb 13)
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- Germany wants Amazon working conditions probe (17 Feb 13)
The paper said the US company provided a delayed and poorly detailed answer in badly written German to immediate questions about its German operations, but in this regard it is not alone.
American companies often fail to understand the German market and when things go wrong, their managers and public relations people often feel they are maliciously misunderstood.
This is because cultural differences are often underestimated.
Google’s Chief Eric Schmidt provoked Europeans last year when he proudly said that Google hardly paid any taxes in Europe. “That’s called capitalism,” Schmidt bragged.
The comment pushed Michael Sell, the director of the tax department in the Federal Finance Ministry and his boss, Wolfgang Schäuble to put an end to that. The days in which Google earns 54 percent of its sales abroad but pays only three percent of its taxes there are numbered.
The problem, according to Frank Roselieb, head of the Kiel Institute for Crisis Research, is that race discrimination and sexism is severely penalized in the American media and among the public, but workers’ exploitation and inhuman working conditions are not.
Facebook had to learn about Germany’s cultural differences the hard way. It proudly presented its facial recognition technology in Germany in 2011 – only to learn that data protection advocates and politicians clearly did not “Like” the move.
Many felt they were being taken over by a George Orwell-type-1984 Big Brother technology, in which unauthorized people would have easy access to citizens’ private information.
Time delays between Germany and the United States does not help communication, the story said. Seattle-based Amazon is nine hours behind Germany and by the time the company got an adequate answer – translated into German – back to reporters here, papers had already gone to press.
Most companies learn how to deal with their foreign operations via bad experiences, the paper wrote. Microsoft, for example, had an image problem following European Union competition authorities efforts to go after the software giant.
The company responded by expanding its public relations presence. Germany is a key priority for the company, which is also based in Redmond, Washington. Chief Steve Ballmer is often in Germany and German managers are sent to Redmond.