Green hills, rain, Guinness – and the recession! Doing business with the Irish

Haben Sie auch diese Irland-Klischees: Grüne Hügel, verregnete Sommer und trinkfreudige Einwohner? In irischen Pubs wird zwar noch immer viel getrunken, aufgrund der anhaltenden Wirtschaftskrise jedoch mehr mit Frust als mit Freude.

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Well, the rolling green hills are still there, and you’ll still find fine music in the pubs, but they are no longer smoke-filled. In 2004, the Republic of Ireland became the first country in the world to ban smoking in all workplaces so, like in most of Europe, the bars are now smokefree. The smoking ban is not the only change Ireland has undergone in the past two decades. Between 1990 and 2007, the economy grew by an average of 6.5% per year. The economic boom known as the "Celtic Tiger" catapulted the country to the position of second wealthiestOECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) country in terms of per capita wealth, behind Japan yet ahead of other countries like the UK, USA, France, Germany and Spain.

But Ireland has been harder hit by the recession than any other country in the Eurozone. The economy shrank by 2.5% in 2008 and is expected to shrink by a further 6.5% this year. Unemployment rose from 5% to over  10%. The atmosphere in the pubs and in offices is glum. It’s good to bear this in mind if you find yourself making small talk with your boss’s visitors.

Now let’s look at some typical questions you might ask when your company is doing business with an Irish firm, and in particular when you are required to entertain guests from the Emerald Isle.

Do I shake hands?

Don’t offer your hand first. Wait until the visitor offers his or hers. Handshaking is not as widespread as it is in Germany. Don’t think of it as an insult if the visitor does not offer you his or her hand.

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Do I introduce myself with my first name, and do I use the visitor’s first name?
You can introduce yourself with either your given name or your given name and family name. What you should not do is introduce yourself by your family name only. Don’t use the visitor’s first name unless you are invited to. The Irish move on to first name terms very quickly. For instance, the visitor may simply say, "It’s Patrick." This means you are expected to call him that. "Sir" and "Madam" are not used a lot.

What if the visitor has a title?

Professional and academic titles do not usually command much respect in Ireland. People who use them are often thought of as pretentious. If you are introducing the visitor to someone with a Ph.D., (for example Dr Bernd Schilling), it’s better not to use it. Just say, "Patrick, this is Bernd Schilling."

How much eye contact should I make?

Be sure to make direct eye contact with your Irish visitor. You may otherwise be thought of as dishonest.

What kind of small talk should I make?

The Irish love to talk and to debate. Don’t hesitate to express your views as long as you know what you are talking about. But don’t express them if they’re not informed or you might come across as pretentious – and pretention does not go down at all well with the Irish. As for topics of conversation, avoid religion and sex, and be careful when talking about politics as the Irish are more sensitive to these subjects than many other people. Your Irish visitor will be quick to tell you if you have crossed the line somewhere in conversation.

Can I mention the recession?

Most executives and other managers are very approachable and friendly. The Irish have a very strong sense of humour, even in the face of recession. They like to criticise themselves, their country and their government and you can expect to hear jokes and banter. But be careful not to join in the criticism, even playfully. This will not be appreciated.

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