Does your job or business require you to deal with French people? Or are you travelling to France for business anytime soon? Want to know French business etiquette to avoid any mistakes?
Whether you are an employee or an entrepreneur who is
...read up because this article has all you need to make the most of your situation.
You will learn how to navigate your way through the French business environment, avoid dreadful faux pas, create a great first impression, and---who knows---maybe even nab that deal you’ve been eyeing for so long.
In general, the French business culture is quite formal and has plenty of rules. Please note, however, that the information shared here are generalizations and may not exactly hold true to every business organization in France. Each company has its own culture after all, especially new companies and startup environments.
So without much ado (because I know you’re one busy person), here are ten things you need to take into consideration when you’re doing business in France.
Business protocols in France are hinged on its cultural norms, so as a background, you might also want to check out this article about taboos in France.
The no-no’s discussed there should provide you with the basics on how not to make a wrong first impression when you’re in France.
The social customs are mostly the same for the corporate setting–except it’s more formal and has a lot of things riding on it; and one wrong move could reduce your chances of getting that contract or promotion.
To cover the basics, here are some general things to think about.
Suggested reading on this topic:
The French put high value on good grooming and style, and this extends all the way to the workplace. I mean, what else would you expect from the country that created the idea of the haute couture and espoused the culture of effortless, everyday glam, right?
Business wear for the French tends to be on the formal and conservative side. For women, that means no overly sexy office wear, and for men, it means traditional business suit. Here are some more tips:
Contrary to myths, French people do not actually slack off at work. In fact, they are considered to be among the most productive people! So scratch that one off the myths you’ve probably heard about the French.
Most French office workers’ days begin with people congregating around the coffee machine. The French do love their coffee after all. If, however, you want to get your morning caffeine kick from one of those quaint cafes that France is widely known for, let this article help you how to order coffee in Paris.
A caffeine-powered morning is then followed by an entire day of productive work, punctuated with some coffee or cigarette breaks every now and then, and a long lunch in the middle. The more senior employees tend to extend their hours and work well past into the evening.
When planning a business trip in France, always take into consideration holidays such as August, Easter, and the second half of December. Around these times, several businesses are closed and a lot of people are taking their vacation somewhere.
Compared to other countries, the French enjoy a lot of holidays…. which apparently boosts overall productivity and improve workplace efficiency. So go on, take it from the French and take that holiday!
In general, there are 11 national holidays each year in France, plus other regional festivals that mean more holidays in different parts of the country. If you want a complete list, you can check out this holiday guide.
Aside from this, each French citizen is also entitled by law to five weeks of vacation each year, which most French natives avail during the peak of summer in July or August. When planning to do business in France, take note of these holidays and avoid it, otherwise you won’t get much done when your counterpart in Paris is away and enjoying wine and cheese in a charming French town somewhere.
Pleasantries are a big deal in France and this includes the workplace. So remember to always greet your colleagues with a “bonjour!” in the morning when you arrive. But there’s a way to overdo this, so don’t keep repeating bonjour each time you meet people in the hallway. One bonjour per day is fine. When you pass colleagues in the halls, you can say “salut” (hi or hey) or you can simply nod in acknowledgment.
When your co-workers are having a morning or afternoon pause café (coffee break), you could be considered impolite if you don’t take part on it as well. So take time to mingle when you can. This extends to cigarette breaks, too—if you smoke, that is.
French business etiquette dictates that you should always respect the personal space of your colleagues. The same rule applies in any workplace anywhere. What’s odd though is that despite the formality of the French business culture, touches like a pat on the arm or shoulder is considered acceptable. So is kissing on the cheeks which is generally a form of greeting between co-workers regardless of the gender. Just make sure not to let your lips touch the cheeks; it’s an “air kiss” after all. Cheeks may touch–definitely not the lips though.
For men, it is best to wait for the woman to initiate the “faire la bise” . This greeting, however, should not be interpreted as anything more than just a simple customary greeting.
The French put high value on personal privacy and put a clear and distinct line between personal life and work. It would be good to consider this often in your interactions. No personal questions that intrude on business associates’ privacy, please.
Flirting is generally a part of French culture as pure harmless fun and a way to lighten up the day. But never ever confuse it with sexual harassment which is a totally different ballgame. Some cultures have a different approach when it comes to flirting, but in France, it’s perfectly acceptable as long as it’s done harmlessly.
For example, when an opposite sex colleague compliments your outfit or the perfume you’re wearing, take it as a genuine compliment. The French just really appreciate these things.
Here's another thing to remember when it comes to French business etiquette. In interacting with colleagues, always keep the hierarchy in mind, and put priority on politeness and respectfulness. An example of this is when a person of higher rank enters a room, the French tend to stand up or make a gesture of doing so, as a sign of respect.
Business meetings are a mainstay regardless of where in the world you are. In France, regular rules in effective business meetings such as thorough preparation, planning, and circulating agendas in advance are appreciated.
In other countries, giving gifts between business associates is quite customary. Not so much in France. It is still acceptable though, but there are plenty of things to consider when you do. For example, gifts are generally not exchanged during the first meeting, so don’t make an effort to go all-out, and spend that time and effort instead on preparing yourself.
Here are some other things you should know about French business etiquette on gift-giving:
The first thing to consider in communication--in both French business etiquette as well as personal dealings--is the use of titles. Unless you are quite familiar with the person, always address a person from work with a “Monsieur” or “Madame”, regardless of position or rank. And oh, Mademoiselle is not to be used in any business setting as it could be considered disrespectful.
Brush up on your French conversations with these articles:
Written correspondence can be quite tricky but more so in France where written business letters are expected to be very formal. In fact, French secretaries often need to undergo trainings just to avoid blunders in addressing individuals properly. So a word of advice, if you have to lay something down in writing, review, review, and review your work some more!
Here’s a small tip! Letters either begin with Monsieur or Madame or followed by a title (i.e., Monsieur le Ministre)
Before we wrap up this guide, here are a few more things you should take note of. Take to heart these no-no’s and you won’t end up making a mess of things!
I hope I covered everything you wanted to know about French business etiquette in this guide. In case I missed anything, and if you have any other tips you might wish to add, feel free to leave a comment below.
You can also check out the next part of this series: French vocabulary related to business and employment.
Whether for business or for pleasure, never travel to France without your copy of French Phrasebook. Learn more about it below!
Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Twitter and Google +