For business people, France can be a good country to have a deal with. It is the second-highest GDP country in Europe, with a total of 3.414 trillion USD in 2020. Moreover, the country belongs to the European Union and shares borders with six other European countries. Added by high purchasing power and good French business culture, the country has a huge and favorable market.

The characteristics

Before setting up a store, becoming an expatriate, or exporting the commodities, knowing French business culture and business regulations is essential. They could enhance the business and avoid culture shock. Excellent connections might come along the way also. Hence, these are some of the characteristics of business culture in France.

  1. Everything is arranged by-laws and rules.

Based on Hofstede’s dimension statistics, France has a high number in avoiding uncertainty and ambiguity. It is shown by the abundance of regulations that are obligatory like Code du Travail or The French Labor Code and negotiable such as Collective bargaining agreements. Apart from them, each government period produces new regulations such as Rebsamen law, Macron law, and others.

The various laws and rules are meant to define positions, rights, responsibilities, and other aspects of the business to reduce uncertainty. Even in companies with dozens of employees, rules, job descriptions, and hierarchies are set up to balance the business. The bigger company is, a more complicated system can be.

  1. There are a vertical hierarchy and power distance.

The rules and hierarchies in business leave small room for personal relations and individual negotiation. It is no wonder that there is always a disposition line in French business culture. Medium to big companies has délégués du personnel (employee delegates) or comité d’ enterprise (works council), which will be the bridge between employees and the employer. The delegates will join meetings of the Board of Directors and provide consultations for important issues like dismissals.

Employees hardly meet the CEO or the PDG (Président Directeur Général) directly. There must be some procedures to do. Other positions respect the PDG by addressing as Monsieur Le President even after his/her retirement. Those imply that France has a strong power distance.

  1. Gender equality and welfare are well respected.

France is one of the best countries for a working woman to be. 40% of President Macron’s parliament are women. There are more women in the Board of Directors of big companies such as L’Oreal, Kering, Orange, and others. Some laws even regulate sexual harassment and domestic violence.

Regarding welfare, the country is famous for its 35 hours working week. The workers have five weeks paid. Some of the other leaves, such as sick leave, paternity leave, maternity leave, are also paid under certain regulations. French business culture for upper-class workers tends to focus on the quality of life other than competition and achievement.

Etiquette business in France

After knowing the general characteristics of French business culture, it is time to see the practical business culture in France. It covers about taboos, do’s and do not that often happened in daily business. Some points may be considered normal for other cultures but offensive in France or vice versa.

Greet in French even if it is basic greetings such as Bonjour. French love their language and appreciate people who use and learn it. Then address someone using Monsieur (Mister) or Madame (Ma’am). When you need to use the pronoun ‘you’ in french, use ‘Vous’ over ‘Tu.’ ‘Tu’ is only used for someone who is younger or someone who is already close.

Tell the first and the last name only. Some people might tell their last name first than their first name. End the introduction by giving a light handshake and do not give cheek kiss to a female counterpart unless she is the one who initiates first.

France is a stylish country, and style is included in French business culture. Men mostly wear fitting suits with dark colors, and women wear shirts and work pants or skirts with minimum jewelry and natural make-up. Dress up formally every workday, including Friday.

While attending a meeting, arrive on time, even though some companies tolerate up to 15 minutes late. Find the right seat. Seating during a meeting is often organized hierarchically based on the job position. At the end of the meeting, it is common to give one-sided business cards.

Make eye contact and never O.K. gesture during the conversation. It is considered taboo in France since the sign means useless. Do not snapping, hiding hands in pockets, and slapping on a closed palm. Those gestures are considered rude.

After long discussions about business, topics from the business might appear, such as music, cuisine, or art. Do not ask about personal matters such as religion and political views. Never criticize Napoleon. If French feel engaged during the conversation, they might probe and interrupt your talk. Do not take it personally because it signifies that they are interested in the conversation.

Food is considered as an Art in France. Therefore, dining is a part of French business culture. Whether in a restaurant’s house, one needs to wait until the host says ‘Bon appetit’ to eat. If it takes in a restaurant, the one who arranges the dining is the one who picks up the bill.

Dining at home is common in the provinces of France. People are expected to be late for 15 minutes. Bringing chocolate, wine, or flowers is a considerate act unless the flowers are yellow, red roses, and chrysanthemums. Those flowers bring bad meaning for dining. French always fill in the empty wine glass, so always leave some wine in the glass if one wants to stop drinking. When the host offers more food, it is considered polite to say no.

Business cultures in France derive from its history, geography, and ways of thinking. Understanding French business culture will establish effective communication, provide a suitable approach, and compose respect also loyalty. Those will bring one step closer to conquer the large French market.


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