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10 tips on French business etiquette

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

The professional protocol is of the utmost importance regarding the proper conduct of business in France. This holds regardless of the situation, whether it is a simple handshake, an interruption, or an important business lunch.

Various traditions and conventions heavily influence French business culture. Being aware of French business conventions, whether a fast handshake or a protracted business lunch, might be the difference between obtaining an essential job or being a vital customer and insulting your host. The following ten tips, provided by French business expert Kara Ronin, who also happens to be the owner of her firm, Executive Impressions in Lyon, are intended to assist newcomers to the French business environment create deals rather than breaking them.

1. Address others using Monsieur or Madame

In French culture, there is a strong emphasis on formality. When addressing your superiors or someone you are meeting for the first time, you should always refer to them as Monsieur or Madame. This degree of formality might be challenging for many people who are not native French speakers. On the other hand, a high degree of politeness is necessary to establish an excellent first impression in France.

2. Introduce yourself using your first and last name

When you introduce yourself to someone in a business setting in French, you always use your first and last names. When people introduce themselves to you, you may hear them say their surname first, then their given name, but this is not always the case. This is also acceptable within the culture of doing business in France. If you have difficulties remembering people's names (do not worry about it; everyone does), when you get someone's business card, say their name to help you remember it. Another piece of advice is to make as much use of their name as possible in conversation. Of course, you should avoid sounding like a parrot in training while doing this.

3. Use a brisk, light handshake

Handshakes performed in the French manner are often quick and light. You should anticipate having a slack grasp if you merely make one or two motions. If you are not accustomed to this light form of a handshake, you risk walking away with the expensive misinterpretation that the other person is trying to get away from you as quickly as possible. Similarly, suppose you shake hands with a French business associate using the more forceful American method, complete with a firm grip and two to three pumps. In that case, you risk making them feel intimidated and subordinate.

4. Learn French gestures

The French are renowned for their gestures in the same way they are known for les bises (greeting kisses on the cheeks). If you have not lived in France for an extended time, it may be difficult for you to understand the significance of certain hand gestures that are often used in everyday business interactions. You could come across the expression "j'ai du nez," which means "I have the nose," performed by tapping the tip of your index finger on the end of your nose. You should also exercise caution while making the 'OK' signal, which involves creating a circle with your index and thumb to indicate agreement and is widespread in Anglo-Saxon nations. This is not the ideal way to respond to someone who asks, "Did you like my proposal?" since in France, this gesture implies "nothing," "worthless," or "zero," which is not the best answer.

5. Wear quality business attire, even if it's Friday

Appearance plays a significant role in determining one's first impression of French culture. Investing in high-caliber work clothes, jewelry, and accessories will surely garner significant professional kudos. It is not common knowledge that "Casual Friday" exists in the workplace in France; thus, you should not immediately show up to work wearing your cozy weekend sweater, and most definitely not in shoes. You have to give off the impression that you mean business.

The art of personal grooming is another topic that is much discussed in France. It is often frowned upon for males to have facial hair, especially in positions of authority. It is highly recommended that any stubble be removed before attending a significant business meeting.

6. Have one side of your business card in French

When you have one side of your business card written in French and the other in your native tongue, you are constantly showing respect and civility for the other individual. To draw more attention to their family name, locals in France often write it in all capital letters. You ought to follow their example. If you are going to an interview in France, you should have your business card to give the interviewer so that you will be remembered. If you utilize a professional business card case when you attend networking events, people will always think you are well organized and prepared. Double-check that there is sufficient space for both your cards and the cards you will get in the mail.

7. Keep your hands on the table at lunch

The French business lunch is an experience; you should prepare for an eating style that is more formal and lasts longer. One of the most significant guidelines in French dining etiquette is to always keep your hands on the table rather than in your lap while eating. If wine is being offered, keep in mind that the more you drink from your glass, the more it will be refilled. If you have had enough wine, just let part of it remain in the glass. It is customary for the host to make the first move in business talk, which occurs after dessert has been presented to the guests.

8. Make business meetings two weeks in advance

Regarding business, the French often do not organize meetings with little notice. If you are invited to a meeting, you should anticipate it will take place in around two weeks. Likewise, if you want to invite someone to a meeting, you should try to plan it at least two weeks in advance. This will increase the likelihood that they will be able to attend. Inadequate notice will result in the other person experiencing feelings of pressure.

9. Avoid high-pressure sales tactics

Businesspeople in France do not appreciate it when pressured to make choices quickly. Techniques of aggressive sales will not be successful. Be patient and prepared for a substantial amount of conversation and information sharing if you participate in a business meeting. In most cases, important decisions are not taken at the first meeting. The decisions are decided by someone at the top following a lengthy and in-depth debate process. Be patient.

10. Expect probing questions and interruptions

In French culture, it is not considered rude to ask many questions or interrupt someone while speaking before they have finished. It is a typical manner of speech used in French conversations. It is possible that interrupting someone is considered rude in some other countries, but in France, it is only a method to show that you are interested in the other person and what they have to say. If you are being stopped while speaking, you should see this as a good indicator that the other person appreciates what you are saying. If you want to show other people that you are interested in what they are saying, do not be afraid to interrupt them and complete their sentences. This goes both ways.



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