One of the most challenging aspects of doing business abroad is the tremendous effort required to overcome all the cross-cultural aspects of a country when adapting to the culture of the new country. This is why it is considered of utmost importance to ponder all possible scenarios and consider every aspect of the country to visit in order to ensure that all business negotiations run smoothly.
France is a country that can be very complex due to its many subtleties. So, when doing business in France, visitors are highly advised to learn about the main differences when it comes to French business practices, protocol and any special negotiation techniques. Also, the French people are immensely proud of the quality of their cuisine, so it is also advisable to learn about table etiquette in order to be ready in case there is a business lunch or dinner.
Here are some guidelines for facing a few cultural differences in France and overcoming any potential obstacles that might show up while conducting business with the French people:
- Language: Speaking the French language should be a consideration for anyone planning to do business in France because the French take enormous pride in their language, so anyone who does not speak some French runs the risk of being disregarded by his/her French colleagues or business associates. By speaking French, visitors demonstrate respect to their country’s culture and language.
- Shopping: Do as the French and wish someone ‘bonjour’ or ‘bonsoir’ (good morning and good evening) and use the title Monsieur or Madame when you enter into a store or shop and ‘au revoir’ (good-bye) when leaving.
- Formal Business Behavior: In France, business communications can be considered very formal. It’s important to learn the subtleties of French business from someone who has conducted business there to hear their impressions on proper conducts. Do your homework and network to speak with others who have traveled to France to learn what you can prior to departure.
- Meetings and Introductions: Upon introduction, shake his or her hand firmly and maintain eye contact. French women in business do shake hands but women who are not in business may not shake hands, so wait for them to extend their hand first before you extend your hand. When introduced to some possible business partner or associate, French will usually introduce themselves by their last names, so you should use their last name until they ask you to use their first names. The titles Monsieur or Madame are commonly used in business and social situations.
For more personal/informal situations introduction rules in France vary greatly, and the French usually offer kissing on the cheeks after they already become acquainted with someone who is now part of their social circle. Do not kiss someone you do not know or who does not know you. This is considered rude.
- Professional attire:Dress well. The French are fashionable people and draw many conclusions from a person according to his/her appearance, and a careless or untidy look will instantly project the wrong image.
- Culinary Culture: The French are true epicureans. This attachment and pride for their food can be also experienced in almost every business situation. A regular business meal will usually consist of an appetizer, a main meal (with French cheese and wine included), a dessert and a cup of coffee, and it can take up to more than two hours for a normal dining experience. This serves a purpose of course, which is relationship building in a warm and more informal environment.
- Dining and Table Tips to Remember:
Avoid talking about business if possible.
The French enjoy dining and small talk so keep expectations low about business negotiations during meals.
Arrive on time for any business meal and remember to dress well.
Keep your hands above the table (and visible) and not in your lap during meals but do not put your elbows on the table.
Eat everything on your plate.