Jaroslav Plotnikov

Etiquette of correspondence with German officials – 1 – Request at Finanzamt

How to write a short official email request in German or English

This article in Russian ПО-РУССКИ

During my 18-year residency in Germany, including 10 years of migration counselling, I wrote and answered countless official letters. They were civil servants, managers, businessmen, professors and their secretaries, freelancers, consultants and coaches. In this article I try to summarize my experiences in a maximum of compressed form. Therefore, some statements may look categorical. Please do not take this as a “final truth”, rather as an invitation to dialogue. If anything in your opinion is not right, looks strange or unclear, please share your thoughts in comments below.

 

“Algorithm” of an email request

Let’s assume you need insider knowledge that is outside the scope of generally known information. The research and tips of friends and colleagues wasn’t really helpful. You’re still looking for an expert to ask him for advice. You need someone who can provide trusty, actual first-hand information.

You may have found such a person or his email address. The recipient may be a well-known personality, a senior manager or a secretary or an official. The rules of good behaviour in business communication are universal.

The main components of your official request: Comprehension – Clarity – Courtesy
 

Comprehension

“In der Kürze liegt die Würze” (Brevity is the soul of wit) as Germans say. Imagine – your recipient receives 20+ requests daily. This amount could also vary. We assume that the recipient of your email reads, processes and replies to a large number of mails every day. Many of these mails also have higher priority than your email.

What happens if your message is long? If your message is long, very likely it will be put aside. It has to wait until they read and answer it carefully. So, write requests which you can read and answered within a few minutes.

Clarity

In many world cultures it is considered inappropriate to get straight directly from the beginning. In Germany in the official correspondence you can come directly to a point. Nevertheless, you should first introduce yourself briefly (see next paragraph).

Write your whole email-reuest until the end. Read it and shorten it. Repeat the reading 2-3 times. Each time take some things away until the email is up to 100-150 words long.

Courtesy

Other extreme – a short request which is too short. That happens when the request is reduced to kind a “call to action”. The sender expects the recipient immediately provides him with information or does the desired action.

The sender may mean well. He does not wish to “overload the recipient with unnecessary details”. Maybe the sender doesn’t even notice that his email could be interpreted as faulty or impolite. People often respond to such “short requests” with unconscious resistance. Even if the recipient answers the request, he will hardly add any helpful additional information or forward the request to a colleague.

 

Write in German or English?

The basic rule is: Business letters to German companies or recruiters can be written in English. Don’t worry if your English is not perfect. You are not applying as a journalist or teacher, but as an IT professional.

Completely different situation when you write to an official authority. Don’t be surprised if the response to your English language request takes a long time or doesn’t come at all.

I recommend writing to authorities in German. German language will increase the probability and speed of the answer in many ways. Translating your text into German is neither difficult nor expensive. Ask your German teacher or some people from your country who are studying in Germany. You can easily find them on Facebook, Fiverr or Upwork.

By the way, if you have one or several email templates this will greatly reduce the translator’s workload. Only a few lines remain to be translated in the main body. Email templates in German reduces translation costs greatly.

At this point I suggest to look at a concrete example. It’s a request to the tax office* about the self-employment of a IT professional from Russia. See the screenshot of original email above.


Betreff: Bluecard IT-Fachkraft – erste Schritte in Selbständigkeit ?
Subject: Bluecard IT specialist – first steps to self-employment?

Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,
Ladies and gentlemen,

mein Name ist Ivan Petrov, [1] meine Staatsangehörigkeit ist russich. [2]
my name is ,[1] my nationality is Russian. [2]

Seit dem 01.01.16 [3] arbeite ich in Deutschland als QA Engineer Bluecard IT-Fachkraft / Angestellter. [4]
Since 01.01.16 [3] I have been working in Germany as QA Engineer Bluecard IT specialist / employee. [4

Ich möchte gerne nebenberufliche Selbständigkeit ausüben. Laut meinem Aufenthaltstitel ist mir “selbständige Tätigkeit gestattet”.  [5]
I would like to work as a part-time self-employed person. According to my residence title “self-employed activity allowed”. [5]

Meine Fragen:
My questions:

1) Welche Schritte muss ich auf diesem Wege zuerst tun?
    Which steps do I have to take first?

2) Wie entscheidet sich ob ich Freiberufler* oder Gewerbetreibende* bin?
    How to decide whether I am a freelancer or a trader? 

3) Kann ich gemäß der Kleinunternehmerregelung in beiden Fällen (Freiberufler / Gewerbetreibende) meine Selbständigkeit anfangen?
Can I set up the “small business regulation” in both cases (freelancer/trader)?

Attachment [5]

Für alle Hinweise sowie für die klärende Informationen danke ich Ihnen im Voraus!
I would like to thank you in advance for all hints and clarifying information!

Für alle evtl. Rückfragen stehe ich Ihnen gerne zur Verfügung.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Mit freundlichen Grüßen
Yours sincerely
Ivan Petrov


Notes:

[1] – In Germany they write the first name and then the last name (e.g. Angela Merkell). If in some cases, if the last name is written first, you have to put a comma between the names (Merkel, Angela).

[2] – Your citizenship is important, because in many cases EU nationals are subject to very different regulations than citizens of countries such as Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, India, etc. 

[3] – Date of your first employment in Germany. Your length of stay is also important. Some features, such as unlimited employer selection are only allowed after a certain period of time (24 months). It is never wrong to specify your length of stay. In this way you avoid unnecessary clarifying questions.

[4] – If you are a citizen of an EU country, simply write Angestellter* (employee) instead of Bluecard IT-Fachkraft. Bluecard regulation is intended for non EU countries only.

[5] – Attach the screenshot of your residence permit to your email. The page with “Selbständige Tätigkeit gestattet” is enough.

 

Send your request and wait. If it was clear, short, polite and written in German, you will get the response within two weeks.

* – Explanations of German terms you’ll find in GLOSSARY.

 © 2018 Jaroslav Plotnikov ( all articles )

 

Your thoughts? Please leave a reply:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *