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Business Etiquette In France

Eiffel tower with blue sky in fall

The French people are very proud of their heritage, and pride themselves on their long history and their role in world affairs. In order to develop a business relationship with a French company, you must be aware of the cultural differences between France and America. To be a part of their long standing history requires politeness, formality and willingness to learn.

Dress Well And Conservatively

France is a hub for culture and style, and the French are very conscientious of their appearance. When conducting business, wear a well-tailored suit or dress. Patterned fabrics and dark colors are typical, so be sure to avoid bright colors. Men should not loosen their tie or take off their suit jacket in the office. Women should not wear glitzy or gaudy jewelry.

After the initial meeting, how you dress will depend on the personality of the company. Take note of how others dress and follow suit.

Conducting Business

When conducting business with the French, respect and trust are required. These will take time to build, but in order to have a successful partnership, they are necessary.

Formality Of Communication

Approach all business events in a courteous and formal manner, and be prepared for conversation. Most French people appreciate the art of conversing and some may feel that North Americans lecture rather than converse. Asking questions and responding with intelligent answers will gain you favor among your potential French partners.

French is the official language of France, but most people in business speak English. If you do not speak French, apologize for your lack of knowledge. To show your commitment to a long-standing relationship, learn a few phrases and use them with your business partners.

Be aware of the volume of your voice. In restaurants and meetings, it is easy to offend by speaking in a loud tone or laughing obnoxiously.

Business Meetings

When scheduling a meeting, make appointments at least two weeks in advance. Scheduling meetings in July and August may be difficult as those months are common vacation periods. When calling, avoid 12pm to 2pm because this is the lunch period.

The French appreciate privacy. Do not “drop in” on your potential business partners. If they are expecting you, knock on the door and wait for them to let you in.

Greet business partners with a handshake before and after each meeting. You should exchange business cards before the first meeting during the handshake. Although not necessary, translating one side of your card into French shows your attention to detail, and your French business partners will appreciate.


Business meetings are for discussion, not decision making in France. Be patient, courteous and formal when going over contracts or proposals. Americans are used to a quick pace, but business in France is conducted slowly. If you appear irritated at the pace, your French partners will take note.

Most French businessmen and women will analyze every detail and ask prodding questions. Be prepared to answer with logical reasoning backed up by good debating skills. Arguing is viewed more as entertainment than rudeness, so be prepared for discussions to be heated.

When making your points, maintain eye contact. Eye contact is very important in France, and while it may make you feel uncomfortable, it is vital in establishing a relationship with your budding business colleagues.

High-pressure strategies will get you nowhere. In general, the French are more receptive to low-key, logical presentations that explain advantages of a business deal.

Finally, when a decision is finally reached, the French may ask for an extremely formal and comprehensive contract. Every detail, no matter how minute, will be important to include.

Dining With The French

France is famous for its amazing cuisine, and meals are conducted slightly different than in America. For one, they are often proceed more leisurely than typical meals in the United States. Avoid drinking alcohol before meals or smoking between courses as they French believes those interfere with the taste buds. Because food is a great passion in France, do all that you can to show respect for the craft.

How To Behave

If you are joining a business partner in his home, arrive for dinner on time. In the south of France, time is more flexible, but it is still a good idea to be punctual. If you think you will be later than ten minutes, phone ahead and explain why you have been detained.

Much like at a meeting, dress well. Even if a dinner feels casual, it is better to be over-dressed than under-dressed. The French’s version of casual is more formal than casual in the USA.

Eating Etiquette

Start eating only after the host has said “bon appétit.” It will be rude to begin before others, and rudeness in France is not forgotten and often not forgiven.

When dining, hold your fork in your left hand and your knife in your right. Your plate should be clean when you finish with no remaining food.

French Taboos

When making small talk with business partners, do not discuss money. It is in poor taste to ask how much someone makes or to discuss your own wealth. If possible, avoid opening a conversation with, "What do you do?”

Chewing gum in public, snapping your fingers or slapping an open palm over a closed fist are all offensive.

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