Eleonore Breukel is the author of over 100 articles for various business magazines, newspapers and the virtual media.

She co-authored a book on how to do business in 19 countries across the world.

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Communicating Across Borders within Europe IV

Series: Nobody speaks European
Part IV: Not Eastern Region but Central Europe
Author:  Eleonore Breukel adapted 2012  -
Published: CBI* News 

The roots of Europe

José Sanchez arrives in Athens, Greece, a part of the European Union since 1981. From his taxi window José looks respectfully at the temples in the middle of the city and thinks of the myth he learned in school about a beautiful woman named Europe, the daughter of a local king in ancient times. The myth goes that Europe was abducted by the God Zeus and out of their union three children were born. José wonders to himself if those children were the first Europeans.

When José arrives at the office of his colleague, Yorgos Daskalakis, he asks the receptionist if Yorgos is in the office. She answers him with, “Nai.” nodding her head downwards. José is confused and disappointed to understand that Yorgos is not in the office for this appointment and starts to leave the building. At the door Yorgos meets up with him and embraces him heartily as a welcome to his country and his office. Yorgos explains that in Greek nai, which means yes, is often confused with the English no. The Greek oggi means no. Greek is also spoken in Cyprus, an island which joined the European Union in 2004. Greeks and Greek Cypriots share the same cultural roots.

The Geographical Centre of Europe
Slovenia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, are the most eastern countries of the European Union and are among the newest members, having joined in 2004. They are located in the centre of Europe and that is why they like to be referred to as Central European rather than Eastern European countries. Each of these countries has a different language, some of which have the same roots as Baltic, Slavic and Uralic languages.

In the nineties these countries changed back to democratic systems after being under communist rule for decades during which marketing was not used in business. Today the younger generation, often educated at business schools abroad, manages the international business, When doing business with one of these countries you will probably deal with a bright, young, marketing-oriented person. Behind the scenes the older generation at the top is making the final decisions so to really get your foot in the door, make sure that you give the young manager enough information that he can convince his boss to purchase your product.

Old-style procedures
Many of the above mentioned countries are still restructuring and privatizing their large agriculture and heavy industry sectors and are therefore open for innovation. Some characteristics of the old system still remain resulting in more regulating procedures in comparison to the other regions in the European Union. Therefore, it is important to understand how the purchasing process takes place. Know who is involved in this process, what the position of your contact is, who the final decision maker is and at what level in the organization he operates. Calculate ample time to proceed in small steps to obtain your goal.

When you write emails ask your business partner at the other end of the line if it may be good to copy someone else on the email. If a superior is being copied make sure that your superior is also copied in if possible so that communication takes place at the same levels. Additionally, you and your product will be known by more people in the organization, often at different levels, and you can build trust with several people. This may also allow your counterpart to feel more comfortable in his interactions with you because both superiors are informed of the progress of the project.

In the Southern EU countries companies tend to draw attention to their products with advertising that uses images of attractive young women presenting the product e.g. organic fruits, furniture or toothpaste. More to the north-east the consumer will be attracted when the function of the product is emphasized. In an advertisement you may see a doctor in a white coat, explaining the health benefits of organic fruits or furniture. The image of the doctor implies credibility and it implicitly suggests that research has been done on the product and therefore is deemed healthy and safe for the consumer to use. Trust and credibility may also be illustrated by mentioning that your organization has been in business for many years. Another form of building trust is mentioning the names of your clients on your website, with their consent of course. When building your website or making your brochure you may want to incorporate these culturally different approaches to attract the attention of your clients in the various countries.

The level of sensitivity to status, compared to the other regions in Europe, is high. Avoid jumping levels in the organization if you are not invited to do so. Address people with their academic titles or with their job title until you are asked to call them by their first name. Usually people are rather formal in the presence of others and informal when you meet them individually. This means that the jolly good fellow you met at the expo somewhere in Europe may appear to be a completely different person once he is in an office setting with his boss, employees or colleagues. For all countries, lunches and dinners away from the office are perfect occasions to get to know each other. Often people feel freer to talk when they are out of the office.


In the southern countries like Hungry, Greece, Cyprus and Slovenia people usually speak in a loud voice, and enjoy lengthy discussions about any subject, gesturing heavily and showing involvement by emotion. Be sure to make your own points. Interrupting is perfectly allowed. People are usually indirect in telling you what they exactly want and frequently tap you on the shoulder or arm.

In countries like the Czech Republic, Slovac Republic and Poland, the communication is somewhat more direct and people touch less frequently. Also here you may get involved in deep, thought-provoking discussions, but avoid subjects like politics. Getting involved in discussions which are not related to work is a sign of trust and the desire to build a relationship. In the Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania communication is direct. People are more distant, touch less and are less explicit in their non verbal communication which does not at all mean that they are less involved. Conversations will be more business related than in other regions of Europe.

A few tips
  • Use the term Central European to describe the region and avoid the term Eastern European
  • Calculate enough time to get through the many laws and regulations
  • Copy a superior on important emails
  • Analyze what type of advertising attracts the consumer
  • Be sure to make your point in emotional discussions
  • Address people with their academic titles

© Eleonore Breukel -

* CBI’s mission is to contribute to the economic development of developing countries by strengthening the competitiveness of companies from these countries on the EU market.