Top Tips for Doing Business in France
by Teva Serna
Hoping to conclude a deal with a French client? Preparing for a business meeting in France? Whilst careful preparation of negotiations can take you a long way, if you are not familiar with certain French business etiquette you may be placing yourself at a disadvantage.
Business culture and etiquette in France is quite different to that of Anglo-Saxon countries, and adapting to the local business culture is essential for avoiding an inevitable faux pas. We have put together a few tips to help you navigate the business etiquette in France and to optimise your chances of success.
1. Be Formal
If you are doing business in France for the first time, don’t let the high level of formality surprise you. Always address any partner you are meeting for the first time using ‘monsieur’ or ‘madame’. When introducing yourself, use both your first and last name. You should always use your partner’s last name when speaking to him for the first time. And if speaking in French, never say ‘tu’ and stick to the ‘vous’ form of the second person (formal ‘you’).
2. Leave Your Private Life at Home
Keeping your personal life separate from your professional one helps maintain the level of formality expected when doing business in France. This doesn’t mean there won’t be any small talk. It is common to talk about a non-business related topics before entering business negotiations, however keep conversation away from your private life.
3. Enjoy the Food
French business lunches tend to be long, usually consisting of a starter, a main course, cheese and dessert, often accompanied with wine and coffee. As a rule, always keep your hands on the table. French lunches are an opportunity to put your small talk skills into practice. Conversations can be on a variety of topics ranging from current affairs to cultural events, and can be a good opportunity for cultural exchange.
4. Avoid Being Too ‘Salesy’
Adopting an aggressive selling approach will only deter your French partners. Instead, be patient as your clients are likely to ask for more information and decisions are usually not made immediately. Meetings can be seen as a preliminary step and the French will prefer a conversation rather than a lecture. Your partners will be more receptive to an eloquent and logic argumentation than to a sales pitch with mere facts and figures. Keep in mind that French companies tend to be very hierarchical and decisions will be made at the top level.
5. Try to Speak French
This might be the most important point. The French are proud of their language and regard their culture and values as universal. Although nearly everyone in the business world will be able to speak English, speaking only English from the start may be looked upon as either disrespectful or domineering. Even if you don’t speak French, learning basic words will be highly appreciated by your partners and they will be happy to switch to English.
How to be Ready: Cross-Cultural Training
Having French language skills will strongly benefit your business in French-speaking markets, but being culturally aware will optimise your chances of closing a deal and establishing strong business relationship. Cross-cultural training will help you develop key cultural awareness skills for doing business in France. At Cactus Language Training, we offer several options that you can combine together to be fully trained and ready:
Cactus language offers the following types of language courses:
Evening language courses: 19 different languages in 15 UK locations
Language holidays: worldwide immersion courses in the country of the language
Private tuition: tailor-made and corporate language training solutions throughout the world
TEFL: teacher training courses for both English and other languages all over the world
Online courses: for teacher training, English and French