France Country Profile - Business Etiquette

     
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Organisational structure

France has the fifth largest economy in the world, with Paris being the Eurozone’s leading financial centre. The French economy is built on world class industrial sectors and France is home to major corporations such as Airbus Group, Danone, Total, EDF, Orange, Renault and Peugeot.

French businesses are strictly hierarchical. Positions are clearly defined – showing respect for superiors and adhering to strict etiquette rules are entrenched in French professional life.

Management style

Most senior managers take an authoritarian role in France. Decisions are taken at the top of the company and passed down for implementation. Teamwork is valued but French workers have assigned responsibilities and look to managers for guidance. Motivating staff through incentives and team-building is not as apparent in French companies as in the UK and across Scandinavia.

Formality

French people are rather formal so being aware of the correct etiquette from the outset is vital in making the right impression. You should always address your superiors and those you meet for the first time using ‘Monsieur’ or ‘Madame/Mademoiselle,’ until you are invited to do otherwise (which may be never). If your French is good enough, always remember to use the polite ‘vous’ form when meeting new colleagues and superiors.

Relationships

The French have a strong sense of privacy and business and personal lives rarely overlap. It’s therefore important not to encroach too much on your colleagues’ personal time. That said, although the French can be reserved, don’t be surprised if you are asked some probing questions about your intellectual credentials at initial meetings. French people place great importance on qualifications, so being able to show your experience in a good light will help you to earn your colleagues’ trust.  

Dress code

Appearance is everything in France and casual dress would be highly unusual in a business setting. Elegance is key to French outfits – men wear conservative and expensively cut suits with white or striped shirts and ties. Women opt for smart skirt or trouser suits and heels. Suit jackets generally stay on in the office and in restaurants, for both men and women.

Greetings

French greetings can be complex. A handshake is the accepted greeting between colleagues who have just met. However, if you happen to see the same colleagues in a restaurant later, exchanging ‘la bise’ (the kiss) would be acceptable. La bise is an air kiss on both cheeks and should not be undertaken with an accompanying hug. Hugging is reserved for couples or parents and their children.  Lastly, even if your French is terrible, always say ‘bonjour’ not ‘hello’ on first meeting.

Punctuality

Although famous for being ‘fashionably late,’ the French take punctuality very seriously. However, being ten minutes late is not considered late in France, but being an hour late would be considered extremely rude. Making an appointment is crucial if you wish to do business in France. Dropping in on someone unannounced, no matter how well you know them, would make your French counterpart feel uneasy and ill prepared.

Meetings

Meetings follow a clearly set out structure and agenda in France. Always ensure you arrange a meeting a few weeks prior to the proposed date - French people are meticulous forward planners and ad hoc meetings are unheard of. French business people appreciate spirited debate and attention to detail so meetings can be lengthy. In most circumstances, meetings will be carried out in French so being proficient in the language will help when doing business.  

Cultural sensitivity

French people have a strong sense of pride about their country and insulting France or all things French, even in humour, would not be taken kindly. You should also avoid talking politics with people you don’t know, although French people love a lengthy political discussion, it would be rude to ask a stranger about their political leanings. Language can also be a sticking point - always try to start a conversation in French rather than English.

Business language

French is the main language used in business settings. Although many French people speak a good level of English, you should never assume that meetings will be conducted in the language. If you don’t speak French, it would be difficult to do business in France so it’s advisable to brush up on your language skills before re-locating there.

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