When doing business with other countries, what is the first thing you should do? Educate yourself! Learn as much as you can about the country’s culture, history, communities, customs, attitudes and values. Even though these factors differ within and across countries, they form the basis of every culture, and therefore are essential to know more about.

You might think that France – being a western country and part of the EU- wouldn’t differ so much from the Britain, but nothing couldn’t be any truer. Sure, it’s not that far away (only a 3 hour train ride from London to Paris), but remember that distance doesn’t mean a thing when it comes to culture. Especially, when it concerns business. Here are some tips you should know more about when doing business with the French.

 

Language

Even though French is the only official language in France, there are also a number of local languages spoken, mostly by senior citizens. English is taught because of its importance in the international trade. Therefore, most of your French counterparts will be able to understand you if you speak English, especially if they are of the younger generation.

While most of the French people understand and speak English, they still consider using French as sign of respect to their culture. For that reason, when dealing with French colleagues you should try to speak French to make your business negotiations easier. Another helpful tip is to apologise if you can’t speak French fluently at your first meeting with a French-speaking individual. This reduces any stigma about potential lack of knowledge and creates respect for the French culture.

By the wide use of international English a lot of French speakers consider their language as being under attack. Therefore it is more important if you show that you are willing to speak French, rather than being a fluent speaker.

 

Punctuality

In France it is important for both social and business occasions to ensure that you make appointments. Whatever the occasion, dropping in on someone unannounced and such behaviour is considered to be rude, and is not acceptable in France. Although you should try to be prompt, should you arrive ten minutes after the planned time, you will not be considered to be late.

Granting there are some regional differences, punctuality is treated quite casually in France.  The further South you go the more casual the approach to time is. So do not be surprised to find your French colleague arriving fairly late as the French themselves have a very relaxed attitude when attending appointments themselves. Do not expect any apologies, the French consider this a prerogative, but it depends on who you are dealing with. On the other hand, staying late at the office is common, especially for individuals in more senior positions.

Being on time is more important during social occasions, especially if your hosts have cooked a meal.

 

Business dress code

As expected, the homeland of ‘haute couture’, the people dress to impress. In France fashion and appearance are much more important than in most other countries. Even low-paid, entry-level executives buy the best clothes they can afford. In general, whether in business or social situations, the dress code is on the formal side for both men and women. Do your best to make clothing choices that are tasteful and stylish, as the French will perceive the way you dress as being a reflection of your social status and relative success.

Recommended are conservative suits and accessories of high quality. Men should wear dark suits, especially during the winter and when visiting the north. In France, executives usually don’t take off their jackets or loosen their ties when at the office, or in restaurants. You should never be the first to take off your jacket.

Frenchwomen are very fashion conscious in both their social and business wear, and are famous for their restrained, feminine chic. Guests are recommended to dress simply and with elegance. Appropriate is a well-tailored business suit or dress and good shoes are a must. Careful accessorising (even of simple outfits), is also widely seen in France.

Jeans and sneakers can be acceptable leisurewear for activities such as going to the gym or the beach. On the other hand, casual Fridays are becoming common in offices where you can wear jeans and even sneakers sometimes, but these exceptions to formal attire are not appropriate for business meetings.

 

Business Relationship

There exists a strong, vertical hierarchy in French business culture. French superiors generally tend to go for a dictatorial and authoritative leadership style. Despite the clear hierarchical structure, it is crucial that you are able to work with all levels of the business organisation successfully. This said, the final decisions in business can only be made by the most senior individuals.

The French find privacy very important and personal life and business life are kept separately. Respecting this privacy is particularly important when doing business with the French. In harmony with French business culture, relationships must be formed first, before business can begin.

The French respect a cautious approach to business relationships and this goes for all areas of their business culture, from correspondence to dress. It is recommended to be well organised, with all documents translated and presented with the necessary supporting materials. If one is prepared to answer all questions in an articulate and logical manner, the French will be impressed by the worth and quality of the company’s product or service – therefore guaranteeing the development of a positive relationship.

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