The French: A cultural overview
- Always respect the individuality of the French. Never try to put them into categories or generalize.
- Remember that France tends to be a polite, formal society. Greetings, small talk, and etiquette are essential.
- Do not be afraid to debate a point in what may seem like a heated, intense discussion. Provided you can back up your argument, you will be respected for your intellectual grasp.
- Respect the hierarchy in French businesses. Be aware that information may not flow easily between hierarchical levels.
The French Context
The French tend to be very well informed about the world, and if you are doing business with them it would help you to have an understanding of their current context.
France is experiencing the impact of fierce cultural, economic, and political winds after the highly contested Presidential elections of 2017 saw Emmanuel Macron take power with 66.1% of the vote in the second round, winning against Marine Le Pen leader of right-wing party the National Rally.
At age 39, Macron became the youngest president of France in history with his social, liberal and social-liberal party La République En Marche! According to the IFOP poll for Le Journal du Dimanche, Macron started his five-year term with a 62 per cent approval rating, however Macron’s popularity fell sharply in 2018, reaching about 25% by the end of November. The main contributors of which were his recent confrontations with former Chief of Defence Staff Pierre De Villiers, the nationalization of the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard owned by the bankrupt STX Offshore & Shipbuilding, and the reduction in housing benefits.
Demonstrations by political movement “les gilets jaunes” have caused significant unrest due to disruptive protests calling for lower fuel taxes, a reintroduction of the solidarity tax on wealth, a minimum-wage increase, the implementation of Citizens’ initiative referendums, as well as the resignations of President Emmanuel Macron and the Second Philippe government.
French Political, Cultural, and Economic Anxieties
- ‘Stagnation’ is a word often used to describe the French economy. France experienced stagnant growth between 2012 and 2014, with the economy failing to expand by more than 0.8% in these years, though growth picked up in following years reaching 2.1% for 2018.
- French unemployment overall has been around 10 percent for some years – it is at 20.2 percent for the under 25-year old’s.
- France is a country of relatively high taxes and heavy regulation. The French state absorbs 57 percent of GDP.
- The cosmopolitan cities are more at ease with globalization having experienced job growth of 5 percent between 2006 – 2011.
The struggle in France – as in many other Western democracies – is between nationalism and globalization or what some refer to as between a closed or open society.
France is a country with deep insecurities. A State of Emergency was declared following the November 2015 Paris attacks, which expired, after five extensions, in November 2017.
The largest Muslim community in Europe is in France, and for a growing number of people a cultural rift is widening. Traditional French values like secularism are perceived to be under threat, hence the enforcement of Laïcité a concept promoting this. It discourages religious involvement in government affairs, especially religious influence in the determination of state policies.
In the same way, there has been resistance to the wearing of the hijab and the burkini evident in Sarkozy’s controversial attempt to enforce a ban that took effect in April 2011 and made it illegal for women to leave their homes with their faces covered. In July 2014 the European Court of Human Rights upheld the ban, although several French seaside towns have now also banned the burkini.
If you are currently working with the French or going to do business with them in the near future, demonstrate your own worldly knowledge, especially about France. Expect arguments, but enjoy them! Cross cultural training enables people to understand how contrasting cultural backgrounds can influence perspectives and provides opportunity to adapt their working style to improve relationships. As a result of our training our clients have reported greater productivity, increased innovation and more efficient and effective collaboration. Click here to get in touch to discuss your team training needs.
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