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Doing business in France? Essential French culture tips

By Josian Phillips, 

Despite its recent setbacks, the French economy is growing at a faster rate than it has done for the last four years. 2015 say an overall growth of 1.1% and the Finance Minister Michel Sapin has predicted intensified growth during 2016.

Despite this France is currently suffering from record levels of unemployment with 3.59 citizens currently out of work. Despite this, as the worlds fifth and the EUs second largest economies, France offers big opportunities for UK exporters.

There is, however, a significant cultural divide between France and the UK which makes them wary of buying anything outside of France, and putting it bluntly they are not overly fond of we British; so don’t reinforce this prejudice by causing offence. The best advice is to adhere closely to French business etiquette.

Meeting and Greeting

While the French tend to make meeting and greeting a major event with lots of air kisses, brushing cheeks and kissing the air, you are advised to stick to a formal handshake, though the French tend to shake hands with a gently touch just a brief gesture.

Refer to people formally using Monsieur or Madam unless you are invited to do otherwise.

Note that if the meeting continues till the next day, it is still customary to greet your hosts with another handshake as you wish them good morning.

Business meetings

Relationships are important and it is customary for the French to engage with a considerable amount of small talk prior to getting down to business. Establishing trust is vital; they won’t do business with you unless they feel they can trust you.

You may find that you have suddenly got into talking business without prior formalities; the French tend to have little respect for the formal agenda. They also frequently interrupt to ask questions, so expect a hard time if you are hoping to make a formal presentation.

Meals

The main meal of the day is lunch, and French business lunches can feel as if they will go on forever with course upon course. It also tends to be formal, so always employ impeccable table manners and keep your hands resting gently on the table rather than your lap; you will soon notice if you do make any mistakes; the French are adept at the subtle gesture that will let you know.

If business is discussed at all, it will be during the desert course, otherwise leave it until the afternoon meeting, never initiate it.

Clothes

As you might expect from the country that invented haute couture, what you wear is important, and possibly more so than anywhere else in Europe. Take care to dress well. Choose formal tailor made business suits in conservative colours with a white cotton shirt and quality silk tie. Don’t remove your jacket in meetings unless your host does so first; it is considered rude. Women should dress elegantly; a good quality business suit and quality designer accessories will work.

Top Tip – brush up on your French

The French really do appreciate it if you are willing to speak in French. It really can make a huge difference regarding your success in doing business. If your French is less than perfect don’t worry, your efforts will be noted, even if you finally end up doing business in English.

For more global cultural tips visit our blog. If you’d like to chat to Brightlines Translation about how you can reach your global customers do call 01225 580770 or contact us here we are happy to help and advice is always free.

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