In a continued effort to inform and educate our readers about cultural guidelines for doing business in other countries, we move on to the next country in the series: France.
Doing business in France is a challenging and exhilarating affair. However, this is only the case if those doing business there are prepared for cross-cultural differences and are ready to approach situations with an open-mind. It is important to be aware of differences in business etiquette, approach and style in order to close deals and remain professional.
Meetings and Communication:
- The French occasionally give their surnames first when being formally introduced, and it can be considered impolite to call a colleague by their first names. To avoid confusion, find out their names beforehand. Use “vous” rather than “tu,” unless invited otherwise, and never use “mademoiselle” to address a grown woman.
- The handshake is a common form of greeting. Friends may greet each other by lightly kissing on the cheeks, once on the left cheek and once on the right cheek.
- Punctuality is a relaxed affair. Being fifteen minutes late is perfectly acceptable, and the further south you travel, the more flexible this becomes.
- Negotiations can become passionate. Arguments are not meant to be confrontational, but rather a means to examine issues logically. You will be judged on your behaviour combined with your ability to present your arguments coherently. Avoid exaggerations as the French do not appreciate hyperbole.
- The French are extremely proud of their language. This pride makes the use of French a sensitive issue. Above all, the inability to speak even some French may be counted against you. It is important to at least learn some basic civilities in French prior to doing business in France.
- Business dress is understated and stylish.
- Men should wear dark-coloured, conservative business suits for the initial meeting. How you dress later is largely dependent upon the personality of the company with which you are conducting business.
- Women should wear either business suits or elegant dresses in soft colours.
- Lunches are the standard when doing business in France. These usually consist of an appetizer, main meal course (with wine), cheese, dessert, and coffee and normally take up to two hours. This is a time for relationship building.
- Do not begin eating until the host says, “‘bon appetit’.” Pass dishes to the left, keep wrists above the table and try to eat everything on the plate. Be careful with adding salt, pepper or sauces to your food as this may imply you find the food bland. If eating in a restaurant, the person extending the invitation always pays. Be sure to reciprocate this gesture.