“Buy before too late!“

When Americans sell too energetically Germans find it a bit crass, loud, unpolished. I see in my mind’s eye a certain kind of television advertising in the U.S. Evenings. Six p.m. A local station. A local car dealership. The owner him-/herself, with his face up close to the camera, in a loud voice: “This is the greatest deal of the century. Buy fast, folks, before it’s too late!”

Or I think of the famous, and often infamous, television evangelical preachers of the 1980s and 90s, with tears in their eyes asking their audience in the church and in their living rooms to “speak directly to God” – via an 1-800 telephone number – and make a donation.

What Germans do not understand, and reject (often vehemently), is the caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) approach in the American business context. The difference between the German Auskunftspflicht and caveat emptor is dramatic and leads to significant misunderstanding and irritation.

What surprises, throws off balance, and can anger Germans is when Americans while selling their product, service, concept or idea only mention its strengths, even though the Germans sense, or even know, of its weaknesses.

They often notice immediately when Americans exaggerate the positive and either play down or leave unmentioned the negative. And if the negatives are mentioned, then as if by some magic they can actually be converted into strengths, if understood and managed properly.

Depending on how much experience Germans have working with Americans, the caveat emptor approach can lead to indignation. At a minimum Americans can be viewed as being tricky, clever, in some cases even as lying.