I can still picture a colleague of mine in the Paris office coming out of a meeting with a prospective German client in a wild panic :
“I have no idea whether it went well”
“Why is that?”
“The strangest thing just happened at the end of my presentation: they banged repeatedly on the table, every single one of them!”
“Don’t worry then, it went well!”
Still, he was shaken and went back into the meeting not as confident as when the day started.
When in a formal presentation, Germans traditionally knock on the table with one hand as if to applaud. It’s their way of appreciating what has been said to them. If one does not know that, it can be quite a strange experience, a surprising one to say the least.
This short episode highlights 2 things: on one hand, the presenter not knowing what to expect from his audience, and on the other hand the audience acting the way they would back home, not considering how this may affect the presenter.
A simple case of not understanding cultural differences. With a little bit of awareness, an uncomfortable situation can be avoided on both sides.