About business culture in France

Nelly Favis-Villafuerte Nelly Favis-Villafuerte

In export, it is not enough to know about one’s particular export product/s. It is equally important to have knowledge of foreign business practices, negotiation techniques, and social customs of the foreign buyers we are doing business with.

Let me share with the readers of this column about business culture in France.

•The French are patriotic and very proud of their culture, heritage, country and yes… they take a special pride in their language;

•When it comes to business attire, the French are conservative, yet elegant. In short, don’t be trendy in dressing but fashionably business-like. Dark suits and ties for men and suits, or classic coordinates of subdued colors for women. Business suits are the acceptable business attire;

•Always shake hands when introduced. French handshakes are not as firm as Americans shake hands but only quick and with a light grip; with a slight nod if the person is very much older;

•Simple titles during introduction and conversation (in French or English) like Madame or Monsieur should be used;

•Always use last names. Do not even attempt to be familiar;
•The French love to talk about wine. Do not upstage the French when talking about wine;

•Still on wine – unless you are certain of the quality of the wine, don’t give wine as a gift to your host or hostess. Most French are wine connoisseurs and are proud of their French vintages;

•Rather than use body movements and gestures liberally, use instead your face to express meaning;

•Do not bore the French in a conversation talking about yourself. Talk about France instead;

•The French are very title conscious including credentials in the academic field;

•The month of August is usually a bad time to conduct business with the French. Many French usually go for summer vacation lasting from 4 to 5 weeks and this happens in July and August;

•Business lunch usually last for two hours or more at a leisurely pace. In Paris, lunch starts at 1:00 p.m. in the provinces, at noon or 12:30 p.m. The French are known for their good table manners. Conversation during lunch should not be about business;

•Like in other places in Europe, the term for napkin is serviette;

•French are punctual. Reconfirm the meeting when in Paris or elsewhere in France;

•Refrain from giving a business gift at the first meeting. If a gift is to be given, avoid the too lavish and too skimpy gifts and do not include your business card with a gift. Gifts that show interest in the intellect like books or music are in good taste;

•If you are bringing flowers or fine chocolate to the host for a social occasion, these should be presented before and not after the party. For flowers, avoid giving roses or chrysanthemums;

•The French love engaging in intelligent conversations. Topics of conversation should exclude politics, money, and about personal matters. Suggested topics of discussion are culture, food and sports;

•Do not chew gum in public. This is considered bad manners in the same way that one sneezes without using a handkerchief or tissue;

•Wine is customary with meals. Your glass should be turned upside down before the meals, if you do not wish to take wine;

•Avoid being casual during business transactions. The French are formal and reserved in their business dealings;

•Both hands should be on the table at all times while eating;

•Normally, the men should stand up when a visitor or a superior enters the room;

•The French appreciate having your business card printed in French like the Japanese. So, one side of the business card can be in English, with the translation in French on the other side. On the French side, inclusion of information on any academic credentials and your school, if it is a prestigious one creates a good impression.

These are just some of the peculiarities of the French social style.

Hopefully, the above information will be of use to our exporters.

Have a joyful day!

(For comments/reactions please send to Ms. Villafuerte’s email: villafuerte_nelly@yahoo.com).