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Business Communication in France: the Do's and the Don'ts

| | Read : 6 min

If you want to do business in France, you need to understand the French business culture, legal system, social security system, as well as the communication system.

Since a business is not a stand-alone venture, you need inputs and outputs to perform your work. These two parameters however depend on human beings.

Thus, it is important that you interact with people in formal manners which are country dependent, in order to achieve your business goals.

The Do's of business communication in France

Improve your business communication by following our advices.

By the term do's we mean what is allowable to improve on business communication.

Some of them are:

  • Addressing others using 'Monsieur' or 'Madame'. French like the titles.

Formality and high level of politeness are highly critical in France. "Monsieur" (courtesy title for men) or "Madame" (courtesy title for women married or single aged over 18 years old) are used to address superiors or people you meet for the first time.

Note that surname is not used when addressing counterparts with titles.

  • Introducing yourself using your first and last name.

The basic introduction in French is "Je me présente" meaning "let me introduce myself". French tend to order last names first and first name second.

The common way to introducing itself in French is "je m'appelle" meaning "my name is ".

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  • Using a brisk, light handshake.

French-style handshakes are known to be brisk and light. Handshakes are loose with only one to two movements.

A strong handshake with a firm grip and two to three pumps, like the American one, would let your French business associate feel overpowered and inferior.

  • Wearing quality business attire, even if it's Friday!

Appearance will help you to make a good first impression in France.

In France, first impressions highly depend on appearance. A neat appearance, well-groomed hair, clean shoes, quality business attire, jewellery and quality accessories will help you make a good impression at the office.

The concept of 'Casual Friday' is not widely known in the French workplace. So wearing sneakers and sweater is not well perceived in French workplace.

  • Learning French gestures.

French are famous with their gestures. You have to spend a lot of time in France, to interpret the meaning of certain gestures that often come up in day-to-day business life.

In fact they kiss on the cheeks to greet, tap their index finger on the end of their nose to indicate that somebody is clever.

The gesture 'OK' (forming a circle with your thumb and index finger) commonly used in Anglo-Saxon countries, actually means in France 'nothing', 'worthless' or 'zero', which is not the best response when somebody asks, "Did you enjoy my proposal?"

  • Having one side of your business card in French.

French always show respect and courtesy to people that have one side of their business card printed in French and the other in their native language.

In case you are interviewing in France, it is in your best interest to present to the interviewer your personal business card. Moreover in France, people commonly write their family name in capital letters so that it stands out.

  • Keeping your hands on the table at lunch.

The French business lunch is formal and long style. According to the French dining etiquette it is important to keep your hands resting on the table, never in your lap.

It is advised to leave some resting of wine in your glass, if you've drunk enough. Because the more you empty your glass, the more it will be topped up. Business conversation generally starts after dessert is served and it is up to the host to initiate it.

  • Separating your professional and personal life.

In case you would like to work in France, you need to separate professional and personal life in order to have some privacy.

Family or marital issues should not be linked to business and have no impact on it. They should be perfectly independent.

  • Avoiding high-pressure sales tactics.

Due to their French business culture, it is advisable to adopt a progressive sales tactics. For them you are in a hurry because your product is of low quality.

If you would like to develop a positive sales prospect, you need to use a progressive strategy on the long term and be very patient, and take into account the customers' feedbacks as time moves on.

  • Expecting to be asked probing questions and interruptions.

Be always ready to answer questions about your country.

You need to always be ready to answer questions related to your country on its diet system, politics, history, and much more.

But when replying, emphasize on topics that you master, otherwise convincing your French counterparts might be difficult.

You can also learn about the French culture (politics, history, etc) in order to have discussion and comparison topics.

  • They like logical reasoning.

In terms of relationships, French people prefer getting in touch with their colleagues before talking about business. At this stage, the first impression that you give is very important.

  • Punctuality is key.

Arriving ten minutes late can be however allowed if it is not done regularly. If you think you cannot be on time, you may call to inform your counterparts that you will be late.

  • Presents should be treated with discretion –At first meetings, hand over your business cards to counterparts. You have to wait for subsequent meetings before thinking of giving out presents.
  • Lunch is one of the best places to forge business relationships in France, but business lunches are not as common as they used to be. If invited to one, it is always polite to accept. It may last for more than two hours.

The don'ts of business communication in France

Inappropriated behaviors that you should avoid in France.

When you travel to France for business, there are some behaviors that are considered inappropriate and that you should know in order for you to avoid insulting your French counterpart and being disrespectful of their traditions and values.

Written below is a list of "the don'ts" that are behaviors that you must not have in France when you are in business travelling.

  • French are proud of their language

The real best way for foreigners to show respect for that is to do their best to speak French even if their pronunciation is not really what it should be.

Therefore to avoid being disrespectful, you should not start a conversation in English, always try to speak French. It will increase your chances of having a business meeting.

  • Questions about wealth should never be done.

When you are having a conversation, you should not ask the question "how much do you earn?"

Asking a question like that one can be seen like an attempt to the privacy of your French counterpart. Since money is not part of the typical discussion subjects.

  • In France, people exchange "la bise".

Which consist on giving a first kiss on one cheek and after that first kiss, another kiss is given at least once on the opposite cheek.

While you are exchanging "la bise". You should not shake the other person hands.

  • French conjugation.

When you are conjugating in French, the two types of pronoun "you" are written and pronounced differently.

We have "tu" (which represents the second person of singular) which being the familiar term for "you" and "vous" (which represents the second person of plural) which being the formal term for "you".

During a business meeting, you should not address your counterpart using "Tu" since it shows a certain closeness and informality, whilst « vous » is more formal and shows respect to someone.

  • In France, the lunch break is sacred.

Lunch break is sacred in France.

That break period goes from noon (12 o'clock) to 2 o'clock pm.

Therefore, unless you have been invited for a lunch business meeting, you should avoid calling or trying to meet someone during their lunch break.

  • Try not to impress your counterpart with your wealth.

During a business meeting, you should not try to impress your counterpart with your wealth.

In France, showing off your weal this considered bad taste.

Typical discussion involves subjects like culture, gossip, vacation, food, family, politics etc. But your wealth is not part of that list of subjects.

  • France, a really huge hierarchical organization tradition country.

Trying to communicate through those hierarchic lines can be a really long and tough process.

Therefore, you should not choose to communicate through those hierarchic lines.

Instead, if you want to talk to the boss or manager, talk to them directly and avoid wasting time talking to someone who is not in charge.

  • Chewing-gum in public is considered vulgar

In France there are some bad habits which are not tolerated in their culture, like eating chewing-gum.

Especially when you are among people, you might disturb them with the noise of chewing and it will look like disrespectful from French people.

  • Keep your hands out of your pockets when in public

It is not appropriate to have your hands in your pockets especially when you are having a serious business discussion with French people, it doesn't reflect a good impression from you.

Always control your temper in front of french people.

  • Slapping an open palm over a closed fist is offensive to French

Facing a situation in front of a French man you need to control your temper.

Don't dare slapping someone with an open palm over a closed fist it is abusive in France always find a way out to solve it.

  • Snapping fingers is also considered offensive

When you are dealing with a Frenchman or Frenchwoman you need to be really careful about some disgracing behavior like snapping your fingers.

It is considered as an insult and even if you were about to have a contract signed, he or she can just call off.

  • It is extremely bad manners to ask a French individual about his political leanings or how he voted.

You can enquire however about the political system or public opinion about political leaders.

If you go to France for an individual survey it is best suitable to have their public opinion by gathering a bunch of people like for instance how President MACRON is running the power, is he going to be elected for a second term instead of asking individually who did you vote for?

Don't ask about political leanings to french people.

  • Do not criticize Napoleon, since he represents a part of the French spirit.

As times goes by, French are very proud of their culture so be sure that before coming to France for a business tour you have a look on their history.

Napoleon until today represents an emblematic figure in French's story. French individual is still honoring him.

  • Refrain from using any standard conversation openers such as, 'How do you do?'

French style is strict when it comes to conversation you can never start a conversation in France by saying straightforward 'how do you do'.

Be soft and for instance say 'Monsieur, Madame' how do you do, what is your name? And surname?

  • Politeness is of the utmost importance to the French. Any rudeness will not be easily forgotten or forgiven.

To avoid giving wrong impression in France there are some crucial points you need to be aware of: politeness is paramount.

What does being polite mean? Greet people at first sight always ask if you want to use or take something away, if you are invited for a dinner always be thankful at the end.

Never insult anyone even if you feel hurted.

Conclusion

In order to succeed in your business in France, you need to improve your business communication skills.

This is possible by understanding the do's and don'ts of the business communication in France.

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