France has a great economy. Foreign companies and investors can find plenty of opportunities in France. But, if you’re planning on starting a business relationship with French people, it’s important for you to know the proper business etiquette in France. After all, you wouldn’t want to offend a possible business partner. Follow these basic rules to avoid cultural misunderstandings, and develop a good relationship with French partners.
Good manners and politeness show respect. Therefore it’s crucial to be polite with your business partners. The French value their rules of etiquette, and you should follow it as best as you can if you don’t want to offend them. Always start with a greeting, preferably in French. Say “thank you!” and “please” often. Following the basic rules of French etiquette is the first step to mastering business relationships in France.
You need to use proper titles when you address your French business partners. Use “monsieur” for men, and “madame” for women. “Mademoiselle” is reserved for unmarried women, but in a professional environment, “madame” would be more appropriate.
Only call your French business partners by their first names if they invite you to do so.
Showing up for meetings unannounced is unacceptable in France. Give plenty of notice about your intentions for a meeting, and respect the time you have been given.
Unlike in the United States, business partners in France don’t prefer phone calls to do business. The French consider that too cold or impersonal. If possible, conduct business meetings in France with your French business partners. They appreciate face-to-face contact, especially if your business relationship is new.
If you can’t visit, send an email or a physical letter. The more personal touch you can give in your communication, the better.
The French appreciate a follow-up call, visit, or letter. Whether you’re pitching for a new contract or applying for a grant, you should always make an effort to contact them afterward. This shows your dedication and enthusiasm.
Although the French have a reputation for being late, always be punctual. Especially for a business meeting. It’s considered one of the most basic principles of business etiquette in France. Your French partners expect you to be punctual, and being late may cause offense.
Using the right strength of handshake is crucial for good first impressions. The French usually use a light handshake for business. A strong American handshake may make you seem aggressive.
The typical French double kiss greeting called bise is reserved for long time business partners and friends. Only use this when your French business partner initiates it.
Hand gestures are an important part of communication. And specific hand gestures don’t necessarily mean the same thing in France. For example, the “OK” sign in France means “zero” or “worthless”. So don’t wave your hand around approving a proposal, because you may cause unnecessary confusion.
Fashion in France is unique. And dressing for business is crucial to make a good first impression. When you’re dealing with French business partners, always dress smartly. A little bit of chic can set you apart in France. Although this is not necessarily a part of French business etiquette, know how to dress for business in France can give you an advantage. There’s also no “casual Friday” in France, so always dress well.
If you want to go the extra mile to impress your French business partners, print your business card in dual French and English. This shows that you value your partnership, and respect their culture.
The French love their food. And it’s not uncommon to tie business meetings together with lunch in France. When you’re dining out with your French business partners always follow the proper etiquette.
This means keeping your hands above the table, chewing with your mouth closed, and using a knife and fork properly. Make express interest in French cuisine.
In the United States, you need to deliver. The deadlines are immovable, and everyone should get the job done in the given time. However, French people value good quality work the most. Even if it takes longer. Deliver in time is less important than delivering it well.
This is why you should always pay attention to the type of deadline in France. A target deadline is a suggestion, and a final deadline is a goal.
No matter how badly you want to make the sale, you should never resort to aggressive sales techniques with French people. When you pressure a French business partner, they won’t necessarily react in the way you’d like. They’ll be less inclined to work with you if your attitude and demeanor aren’t professional enough.
While interrupting someone may be rude in America, in France it’s not against the business etiquette. Their questions and interruptions show enthusiasm, so don’t take it as a sign of disrespect. The French often talk over each other in everyday speech. They probably don’t even notice they’re doing it.
The best way to impress a French business partner is to learn their language. Even if it’s just a few phrases, they will be impressed by your dedication, and appreciate your effort. But, the truth is, reaching French fluency is not that difficult. And if you’re planning on conducting business in France for a long time, you should definitely give it a try.
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