10 tips for doing business in France

Introduction to French business culture

In order to make a good impression, you should demonstrate an understanding of French business culture. Appearing too flashy and boastful, or too loud, will be frowned upon. Professional qualifications and experience are respected. Knowing the right people is essential, so establishing common ground with somebody new is a good idea. Personal contact will bring results. Dress is conservative but fashionable; both French men and women are extremely stylish and well-groomed. Honour the tradition of meeting for lunch.

Infographic: Top 10 business etiquette insights – France

If you can speak good enough French, use it, and if you can’t, it is advisable to learn. Even basic conversational French is better than expecting the French to speak English, although being inherently polite, they will, of course, try.

Respect people’s personal space and time; workaholism does not impress the French. Do not impose false deadlines on either teams or suppliers; people must buy into an idea personally if they are to put in extra effort.

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Top 10 tips on French business culture

Here are 10 essential tips for making a good impression when doing business in France:

  1. Be aware of the class system. France has a strong class system where lineage and education are valued higher than wealth. Indeed, to talk openly about wealth or earnings is seen as gauche; after all, it was the French who coined the phrase ‘nouveau riche’.
  2. Speak French. The French are very proud of their language. Even if you speak little French, use it as much as possible. Your efforts will be respected.
  3. Blend in. Dress conservatively but with style. Act with dignity at all times. Show patience; the French do not like to be hurried.
  4. Respect individuality. Do not try to categorise or make generalisations about the French. They are fiercely individual, something that needs to be accounted for when managing a team.
  5. Embrace the debate. Debate and good conversation are highly valued. Do not be afraid to join in a heated discussion; if you can back up your position, you will win respect.
  6. Build relationships. Business is personal in France and you should make an effort to build relationships before trying to sell or negotiate.
  7. Respect the hierarchy. Understand the hierarchical nature of businesses in France; information might not flow, decisions will be made at the top and the leadership style is autocratic. Protocols are followed.
  8. Be polite. This is a polite, formal society where greetings, small talk, polite conversation and etiquette are held in high esteem.
  9. Present with style. The French appreciate a logical, thoughtful presentation explaining all the key points thoroughly; they will not be persuaded by bombastic and boastful sales pitches.
  10. Embrace multiculturalism. France is a very multicultural society and many different cultural influences may be at play in the workplace.

Do you regularly work across cultures? Would you like to improve your ability to communicate and influence with colleagues and clients from other cultures?

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french business culture

About the Author

Terence Brake

Terence Brake is an author in the global learning & development field and has over 20 years experience helping executives to work better across cultures.

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