When traveling in France, it’s important to understand how different customs and etiquette can affect your business interactions with the locals. Here are some points of business etiquette in France that might help when planning a trip to this country.
This is part of our article in the business etiquette series. We have also discussed the business etiquette in Australia and the Business Etiquette in Canada.
- Our tips for business etiquette in France
- 1. Dress for Success – What Will You Stand Out In?
- 2. Know and Understand the Culture – Always be respectful
- 3. Know What’s Proper – Follow their lead when it comes to protocol
- 4. If You Have a Meeting, Getting There on Time (and Leave on Time)
- 5. Learn a Few Key French Words – “Bonjour” and “Au revoir” are really helpful!
- 6. You’re Not a Tourist, You’re a Guest – Give the French Your Money
- 7. Respect Their Privacy
- 8. Be Careful if You’re Expecting Cash in Your Wallet
- 9. Use Your Common Sense – Be honest and genuine
- 10. Don’t Be Opinionated
- 11. Be Respectful of All Things, Even if They Don’t Appear Cultural
- 12. Know the Law
- 13. Don’t Assume Anything
- 14. Just Because – It Didn’t Happen Here Before Doesn’t Mean That It Will Now!
- 15. Make Sure Your ‘Host’ Speaks English – You Might Not Be Able to Speak French Well
- 16. Be Patient and Practice the “Art of Waiting”
- 17. Make Yourself Known by Your Name – even if You Can’t Speak French, It’s a Good Idea to Tell People What to Call You
- 18. Remember, You’re Not the Center of the Universe
- 19. Always Introduce All Parties Present at a Meeting or Social Event – Even If You Don’t Know Them Very Well – Or Have No Idea Who They Are!
- 20. Make Sure You’re Using the Right Cell Phone Etiquette – If You Don’t, It Could Get More Than Just Your Cell Phone Taken Away from You!
- 21. Never Drink While Working – The French Are Very Sensitive About This!
- Bonus tip – Don’t Get Lost and Enjoy the Food
- Final thoughts on Business Etiquette in France
Our tips for business etiquette in France
1. Dress for Success – What Will You Stand Out In?
One of the most important things to understand about French business etiquette is that you’ll likely stand out – in a good or bad way. To avoid standing out for the wrong reasons, it’s important to understand what makes you stand out.
Similar to when visiting Japan, your dress should be conservative when in France. Women have a harder time here because wearing professional-looking suits is not common among French women. Instead, you’ll find the French to be more casual and comfortable in tank tops and t-shirts. Jeans and sneakers are acceptable for women. Men usually wear casual clothing, which can range from a polo shirt to jeans.
2. Know and Understand the Culture – Always be respectful
The French have a particular way of doing business, and you should follow their lead. Normally, they will introduce themselves via cheek kissing or handshaking at the beginning of meetings or conversations. Kissing or shaking hands is an essential part of introducing yourself in France.
Before attending business meetings, it’s always good to read up on the culture by browsing the French Culture & Business Dictionary. This will help you understand how to act and more importantly, how to act in etiquette.
While in France, there can still be some cultural and political attitudes that might be hard for some people to understand. However, it’s important not to take it personally or let it affect your business relationships.
3. Know What’s Proper – Follow their lead when it comes to protocol
In business in France, you must follow the proper etiquette when communicating with other people. This is especially true when you enter the workplace of the French. Since the French take matters of protocol very seriously, you must know what to do before meeting them.
In France, the protocol is very important. After a successful meeting with clients or co-workers, the presentation of business cards is required.
Once you’re in France, business cards are a must-have! You’ll need to bring some with you because the French will want to exchange them. Ensure they are printed in both French and English since that’s what the receiver expects to receive.
To make a good impression, have your business card ready before your meeting. You’ll want to have it available right away, so when it comes time for the presentation, you’ll be prepared.
Business cards are usually exchanged after introductions and then again upon leaving the room. If your French host offers you any refreshments, it would be considered polite to accept their offer even if you aren’t thirsty or hungry.
4. If You Have a Meeting, Getting There on Time (and Leave on Time)
For business meetings, it’s important to understand that the French like everything to be on time. Waking up early and arriving a few minutes early is key. Of course, this may not always be possible, especially during peak traffic hours but try your best to do so whenever possible.
On the way there, it’s also essential to pay attention since you’ll likely have several turns to make before reaching your destination.
When you leave a meeting, bring up the subject of how much more time you have available before leaving. This way, you’ll be sure there’s enough time for your departure.
5. Learn a Few Key French Words – “Bonjour” and “Au revoir” are really helpful!
When you arrive at a business meeting, it’s important to greet the person who is hosting with “Bonjour” (good morning) and “Au revoir (goodbye).”
To make sure everything is in order, you’ll want to make sure you attach the correct greeting to each situation.
If you’re leaving a business meeting, you’ll want to use the French phrase “Merci” (thank you).
6. You’re Not a Tourist, You’re a Guest – Give the French Your Money
While in France, you’re not a tourist but rather a guest. Therefore, you’ll want to treat yourself and the French as such. Whenever traveling in France, it’s always nice to bring along a few small gifts for your hosts. This also includes government officials or other business associates that may be of importance to your trip.
You may want to consider bringing things like fruits and wine, which are common favorites of the French. Even something as simple as some candy can show that you appreciate your host and their hospitality.
7. Respect Their Privacy
When you’re visiting the French, it’s important to respect their privacy. While they are very friendly and will accept your gestures of kindness with open arms, they still want to keep some of their life private.
One way to respect the French while visiting is not to go into their homes unannounced. Instead, try to always leave a phone message before showing up at their house. This way, you’ll avoid any awkwardness or unexpected situations from happening during your visit.
8. Be Careful if You’re Expecting Cash in Your Wallet
While in France, you must have cash on you at all times. Since the French enjoy paying with cash more than credit cards, it’s best to keep a stash of bills with you at all times.
Most credit cards issued from outside the E.U. or the E.U. will work in France, but they will likely add a surcharge on your transactions. For international travelers, MasterCard and Visa work without any hassle except for an added 3% charge. Additionally, you can avoid any problems by bringing some EURO cash from home.
If you don’t have cash on hand, your best bet is to visit an ATM. Be sure to check with your bank beforehand and find out if there are any foreign transaction fees for using an international ATM. Many banks charge these types of fees, which can be up to $5 per transaction. Make sure you have enough money not only for your trip but also for the many ATM visits.
9. Use Your Common Sense – Be honest and genuine
Once you’ve learned some French customs and proper etiquette, you’ll be headed down the right path for success. Remember to use your common sense while visiting France since it will help you avoid making costly mistakes. The French may seem reserved and a bit cold toward foreigners, but they are really warm-hearted people once you get to know them.
While in France, it’s important that you stay true to yourself and not try to be someone you’re not. If the French sense that you aren’t genuine, they’ll most likely close themselves off. Being friendly, open and direct will help you get the most out of your trip.
Additionally, you must stay on the right track with your day-to-day life at home. Since the French enjoy their mealtimes and spend much of their time eating, try to stick with a healthy diet while visiting.
10. Don’t Be Opinionated
While the French enjoy hearing other people’s opinions, you won’t want to push your stance on anything. Your friends and family will want to hear all about your trip to France but remember that it’s best not to offend anyone while visiting.
Even though the French speak an English-based language, you shouldn’t assume you’ll be able to communicate as quickly as you think. Be prepared for long pauses and broken sentences when speaking with someone that doesn’t have the same ability in English and knows few people outside of their country. Even if your French isn’t perfect, it still shows a great deal of respect to the French if you try to communicate in their language.
While visiting the French, it’s imperative not to offend anyone with an opposing opinion. Try not to be highly opinionated on anything and instead be respectful for all sides of the argument. It’s better to keep silent than speak up and have the entire table turn against you.
11. Be Respectful of All Things, Even if They Don’t Appear Cultural
When visiting friends and family in France, it’s important to respect their culture. You’ll want to do this by dressing appropriately for the occasion, as well as eating the food that’s served. When you arrive at a house, don’t come in with muddy shoes since you never know if there’s an area inside where they take off their shoes.
If it’s normal to wear a certain type of clothing while visiting, then do so. Don’t show up wearing shorts and sandals if it’s not appropriate. If you bring gifts along, make sure it’s something they’ll use and enjoy receiving. You may want to avoid giving the French food from your home country since they may not like spicy foods or certain types of fruits or vegetables.
12. Know the Law
Before you head off on your incredible trip to France, it’s important to know the rules and laws of the country. While there aren’t many extreme immigration laws in place for visiting foreigners, there are a few pointers that you’ll want to keep in mind.
When traveling outside of the Schengen Zone in France, you’ll need a passport and may require a visa even though France is part of the European Union and is part of the Schengen Agreement. You will need a valid Schengen visa to enter France if you visit from outside the Schengen Zone.
If you have a French credit card, but it is not issued from France or the E.U., you’ll need a passport to travel and purchase services in France. So, even if your home country issues credit cards, make sure you bring your passport with you when traveling within France.
When purchasing services in France, be sure to find out what taxes and fees the company may offer before making their purchases.
13. Don’t Assume Anything
Don’t assume anything while visiting the French.
Many factors could affect your trip, so it’s important not to think you know the way of life in France.
Even though France is part of Europe and its citizens speak a European language, it’s still very different from other countries outside France. Even Paris is a large city with its own culture. So, be sure to keep this in mind when visiting any part of France.
14. Just Because – It Didn’t Happen Here Before Doesn’t Mean That It Will Now!
If you’re thinking of visiting France, make sure to check out their Visa information first. The French have many visa types that’s more than ‘one-time’ deals. So, make sure you know what type of visa you’ll need and how long you’ll be allowed to stay in France before making reservations.
If you’re planning on taking a trip to France, you’ll want to make sure you know all the basics about that beautiful country. This guide should help you get started and have everything you need for a great French business trip.
15. Make Sure Your ‘Host’ Speaks English – You Might Not Be Able to Speak French Well
Enough to Ask for Help in Case of an Emergency
Remember that the French are not going to appreciate it if you take their kindness for granted. If something goes wrong and you don’t know how to prepare, don’t assume anyone will help you.
Before heading off on your trip, make sure your host speaks English and can speak the same language as you. You’ll want to ask about any types of cultural differences that may occur so that you’re prepared for anything that happens when you arrive at your destination.
16. Be Patient and Practice the “Art of Waiting”
When visiting France, you’ll want to try to relax and enjoy yourself. Even though the French take their time doing things, please don’t assume it’s a signal of rudeness.
If you’re not used to this culture, it won’t be easy for you, but it’s best to accept things as they are for you to have the most enjoyable business trip while visiting France.
17. Make Yourself Known by Your Name – even if You Can’t Speak French, It’s a Good Idea to Tell People What to Call You
The French people are very respectful of others and don’t want to offend anyone. If you’re not good at their language, make sure you give them a way to show respect to you.
It would help if you made yourself known by your name to all of your French friends and family. Being indoors with a group of people, it’s best to be respectful and call the French by their first name.
18. Remember, You’re Not the Center of the Universe
While traveling in France, take note of the following:
People do not like to be interrupted while they’re having conversations. If you’re caught in the middle of a conversation, people may get annoyed if you create a disturbance. It’s best to wait until the other person finishes their sentences. If your French is limited, it’s best to practice the art of waiting since it will come in handy while visiting France.
If you have an important call in France, make sure to have your cellular phone with you. It’s better to be prepared for anything no matter how minor it is, even if you feel like you need a ‘no-strings attached’ call.
19. Always Introduce All Parties Present at a Meeting or Social Event – Even If You Don’t Know Them Very Well – Or Have No Idea Who They Are!
When meeting someone new in France, it’s best to introduce them to the other people in your group. The French are very respectful of others and want to respect those around them. Even if you don’t know someone well enough, it’s a good idea to introduce them, so you all feel more comfortable.
20. Make Sure You’re Using the Right Cell Phone Etiquette – If You Don’t, It Could Get More Than Just Your Cell Phone Taken Away from You!
The French are very protective of their personal space and are even more protective of those around them. That’s why it’s best to use your cell phone with discretion while visiting France.
Even if your French is limited, it’s a good idea to keep it on you at all times just in case of an emergency. If you receive a call in France, make sure that your cell phone is used with discretion and respect. It’s important that you act as professional as possible, even if your French is limited or non-existent.
21. Never Drink While Working – The French Are Very Sensitive About This!
The French are very sensitive about working while drinking alcohol. If it was ever discovered that you were over drinking and that led to an embarrassing situation, this could be used against you.
It’s best to avoid drinking alcohol at all costs because the French are very sensitive about it. Even if you’re not intoxicated when making a business deal, don’t let your friends know, or they might take it the wrong way.
There are other ways they will also notice if you’re drunk – Just don’t drink and keep a good attitude! The French are always looking out for one another so make sure to be respectful towards your hosts and your fellow countrymen.
Bonus tip – Don’t Get Lost and Enjoy the Food
When you visit a country, it’s important not to get lost while traveling around. You never know what difficulties you may encounter when traveling abroad so it’s best to stay safe.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t explore, though. You can still visit all of the popular sites and tourist attractions without having any problems. In fact, once you get to know your surroundings better, you’ll find out that traveling is much easier than it seems.
French food is fantastic. Take time to enjoy the cuisine. There’s a saying in France that you should take your time eating and make sure to savor all the foods you eat. Even though it may be hard to find restaurants that serve French food outside of France, most restaurant owners are glad to make some adjustments if you let them know ahead of time.
Enjoying some great wine with your meal will help you enjoy your time in France even more. Set aside a reasonable amount of money for transportation and food but remember that these are only expenses.
Final thoughts on Business Etiquette in France
France is a country with business etiquette that differs in many ways from what the United States does. It’s essential to adjust to the new behaviors of France to avoid having your French business meetings be more challenging.
The most important thing is to keep your non-verbal communication down as others can misinterpret it. When you enter a French business meeting, make sure to introduce yourself and speak in French.
The French are very sensitive about their language and don’t want to offend others by speaking inappropriately. If you’re not good with your knowledge of French, practice the art of waiting to get the hang of this critical practice before visiting France.
If you’re visiting France during the summer or Christmas time, make sure that you follow all of the customs when visiting France. It’s best to dress in more casual attire to avoid making a big deal out of business meetings. Enjoy the time you have there and make France your home for as long as you can.
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