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French Business Etiquette

Puja Lalwani
In any setting, following a proper business etiquette is imperative as it can make or break a viable business relationship. Conducting business with the French is a different ball game altogether, and you should learn about their business etiquette before you head of to conduct business with them.
Conducting business deals with the French requires you to follow some very important protocol. Business communication and relationships are not as casual in nature as they may be in the United States. Specific methods of communication along with behavior are expected from any visitor.
It is important that you learn a little about French business etiquette before you go there to do your business with them, no matter how big or small it may be. Here is a small guide that is likely to help you in your effort to learn more about the way the French conduct their business, and how you can fit into this culture.

French Business Culture

All business relationships in the French culture are highly formal. Business people are conservative and do not wish to discuss personal issues, history, or politics openly. As a visitor, it is your job to respect these opinions and refrain from raising such issues throughout your interaction with them.
Be diplomatic. Do not point fingers at political or historical figures. Another important thing to note is that a very strict hierarchy is followed in the business setup. As such, greet and interact with every individual you meet appropriately, and with due respect.

Business Communication

The French are individuals who pay strict attention to formality. It is important that you adhere to this level of formality in order to make an impact.
  • Always greet professionals with a handshake and maintain eye contact while shaking hands.
  • It is a good idea to learn some basic French before you meet French professionals.
  • Always use 'vous' to communicate with professionals. Also, you will call someone only by Monsieur and Madame/Madamoiselle followed by their last name. Do not call anyone by their first name unless asked to.
  • You may choose to have your business card printed in French on one side and in English on the other. Include your name, title, academic qualifications, and the name of the university you attended on the card.
  • Though most French professionals speak English, knowing their language shows that you are interested in developing a healthy and long-term relationship with them. The manner of your communication will dictate how far your alliance with them goes.
  • Do not make unnecessary phone calls to such professionals. Also, never call them at home unless extremely urgent.
  • Do not make hand gestures unnecessarily. For instance, the ready or 'perfect' sign in the U.S. is considered rude in France. Avoid hand gestures altogether.
  • These are individuals who develop business relationships on the foundation of trust and respect. For them to place this in you, you have to ensure that your behavior is as good as it can get.

Business Meetings and Discussions

Business meetings in the French business culture follow a slightly different course as against the American culture. Enlisted here are some dos and don'ts you should follow when conducting business meetings with the French.
  • It is important that meetings be scheduled at least two weeks in advance.
  • The French are not particular about punctuality (you may be up to ten to fifteen minutes late), but if you are going to be late, it is necessary that you call and inform them.
  • Debates are likely to ensue in meetings, which you should participate in, as the French are known to appreciate logical & intellectual inputs in the business world. These debates are, however, controlled and should not turn into arguments.They may pose questions and probe you further to get answers related to the business. Go well-prepared for the meetings.
  • While talking, do not exaggerate your claims. They are likely to go unappreciated. Be direct, honest, and clear.
  • Make thorough presentations and do not try to openly sell your idea or pressurize them to buy it. Be subtle.
  • Keep a soft tone while talking and maintain moderate eye contact throughout.
  • Most meetings usually end in discussions and not finalized decisions. They may take time to take decisions, and you will have to be patient throughout the process.
  • You are free to voice your opinion and defend your position, but keep in mind that the final decision will be taken by the top brass of the company.
  • Lunch meetings may be conducted, though dinner meetings are not uncommon in some cases.

Dressing for Business Meetings

A meeting with French business professionals is not the best time to show off your fashion-consciousness or your ability to be creative with clothing. As mentioned earlier, these are conservative individuals and a particular dress code should be followed when meeting with them
  • Men should wear dark, traditional suits with ties. Even if you are invited to an informal occasion, make sure you are wearing a jacket. Their concept of informal is a little different.
  • Women too should preferably dress conservatively in business suits, though dresses in pastel shades can be worn.

  • It is a good idea to accessorize appropriately with your outfit. Just remember not to go overboard.
One final point to remember is that you may carry gifts for French professionals you are going to meet, but it is not mandatory. If you don't know what to get, refrain from bringing anything. Just like business, there are specific types of gifts that are exchanged professionally.
Books and music may make good gifts, but again, this depends on the kind of professionals you are going to be interacting with.
Respect the French business etiquette and you will be able to develop healthy and long-lasting business relationships with them. You will be greatly appreciated and respected for taking so much care in functioning according to their standards and protocol.