6 Unwritten Rules for Doing Business in France

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It’s no wonder that France, located at the heart of Western Europe and currently one of the EU’s strongest economies, is an active and important player in the realm of international business.  And while the French are hospitable and friendly towards foreigners, their culture is governed by strict etiquette and codes for correct behavior.  As a native English speaker, it would be in your best interests to be aware of these codes and adhere to them so as to avoid causing offence.  Here are a few of the most important ones:

1. Be punctual.  In contrast with media portrayal of French people as leisurely and whimsical, they are in fact very rigorous when it comes to sticking to the schedule and getting the job done.  So when there is a business meeting or other appointment set at 10 am, be sure you get there at 10 am.  To arrive late will be deemed disrespectful.

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2. Bring business cards.  It’s always shrewd to have your business cards on hand no matter what the situation.  When meeting with French colleagues, the best time to exchange them is right after you introduce yourselves.  Be sure that you have a French translation of your contact information on the opposite side of your card.

3. Keep your voice down.  Foreigners may be accustomed to a far louder, more boisterous style of speaking, which could reinforce negative stereotypes.  Speak at a polite, conversational volume and never raise your voice.  On the other hand, in France it is common to size up your associates with long, intense stares, so don’t be surprised if you find someone doing this to you.

4. Be aware of the chain in command.  Despite France’s strong culture of individualism, in the business world there is an engrained hierarchy that you will have to function within.  Decisions are made by the CEO and higher managers, and orders then delegated to other employees.  Wherever you find yourself placed, be polite and respectful to whoever you interact with—address colleagues using their surname and the formal vous form of you—and your superiors will be impressed.

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5. Be straightforward and logical.  When conducting negotiations, French people appreciate a rational conversation that appeals to their intellect and good sense rather than mind-games or other bargaining tactics.  Be straightforward and honest, but don’t give out any personal details or get carried away with your emotions.  Shouting, hand or body gestures, and exaggerating for effect will be considered childish and irresponsible.

6. Show up with a basic understanding of the French language.  French people are extremely proud of their language and heritage, and the role they have played in the course of western culture.  And while chances are you will be able to conduct business dealings in English, everyone will be highly appreciative to see you’ve taken the trouble to learn some phrases and vocabulary words in their language.  Get started now by taking our free online French language level test, or send us an inquiry for more information.

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