An easy culture guide to French business etiquette & vocabulary
Knowing the right vocabulary in a foreign language is always important, but even more so in a business setting. So, if you’re working — or planning to work — with French people, you’re going to need some strong Business French skills.
But speaking impeccable French is not enough for business. While French business culture is not as rigid and complex, as in, for example, countries like Japan or China, there are still a few key things to know.
Fortunately, we’re here to help with an article on French business etiquette AND French business vocabulary! What else could you ask for? Sorry, we can’t directly get you a job, but this article will help you to:
- Avoid faux-pas and misunderstandings in a French business setting
- Provide better service to your French clients
- Improve your relationship with French colleagues — and finally understand their jokes
- Develop business opportunities
- Help you negotiate better with French clients, providers or partners
- And who knows, maybe land your dream job in Paris — even if Joey disagrees!
Alors, poursuivez votre lecture pour tout savoir sur la French business culture!
French business etiquette tips and culture
At first sight, French business etiquette might seem a little more formal than in America. However, it doesn’t necessarily imply professionalism.
As a French person who lived and travelled dozens of times to the US, I know the apparent laid-back, friendly attitude of Americans has nothing to do with their exemplary professional spirit, especially in the service industry.
French business etiquette
Below are a few basic pieces of advice that apply to many French companies. Of course, each organization as its own business culture — especially international companies — so take these with a grain of salt!
1. Be polite and professional
In France, politeness and good manners are appreciated. Things like a proper greeting, asking “How are you” and saying “Thank you” can make all the difference.
Remember to use proper titles to address people, mainly Madame and Monsieur.
And last but not least, never use “tu” or people’s first name unless invited to do so. Some people get really bothered by this, although I never really understood why!
We actually have a funny expression when someone is too familiar, too soon: “On a pas gardé les vaches ensemble.” (We haven’t kept the cows together).
2. Prefer face-to-face contact
Even if you haven’t looked after the cows together, try to favor face-to-face contacts whenever possible. This is especially valid for new business relationships and anything important you need to discuss.
If a face-to-face meeting is not possible, try a phone call or video call over an e-mail or letter, often considered too impersonal.
3. Book meetings well in advance
Last-minute is not a thing in France. Make sure to announce meetings with plenty of time, ideally a couple of weeks. Needless to say, avoid rescheduling or canceling.
The same goes for deadlines. French people are not fans of tight deadlines, and tend to prioritize quality.
As a result, it’s not uncommon for deadlines to be pushed back.
4. Follow up
Without harassing them or being too aggressive, try to follow up on new leads or partners.
This will show your dedication, motivation and efforts, something which is highly valued.
5. Be punctual
In their daily life, French people are probably not the most punctual — relatively speaking, as some European countries are worse!
However, in a serious business setting, being late is considered a lack of respect.
6. Accept being interrupted
While in the US, interrupting someone without apologizing can be considered rude, it’s usually not in France, even during meetings.
If you have a question or something to say, it’s perceived as a sign of interest and involvement. At least you’re not falling asleep or thinking about something else! Not like our politicians…
French business culture
1. Learn the dining etiquette
In general, French people don’t really like to mix professional and personal life. It’s not that common for colleagues to hang out together, to go for happy hour after work, or to make weekend plans.
However, business lunches are part of the French business culture. Therefore, make sure to behave as expected:
- Don’t lay your elbows on the table
- Chew with a closed mouth
- Use silverware — yes, even for finger food like fries or pizza
- Chose local dishes, if available, to show your interest in the merveilleuse gastronomie française
- Learn the proper restaurant vocabulary
Miam, les escargots !
2. Work-life balance is important
As mentioned above, French people like to separate their work life from their private life.
Although it’s harder to completely disconnect in the digital age, many French are really OFF when they turn off their computer.
In fact, a law was passed in 2017, called the “right to disconnect”. Companies with more than 50 employees are not allowed to read or even send emails off-hours.
Pretty drastic, but not that surprising when you know that the first paid holidays in France go back to 1936!
And of course, you might have heard about the “35 heures”! If not, here is an explanation.
3. The boss is the boss
While young and international companies have a different business model, traditional French organizations tend to be hierarchical and centralized.
Just like France, actually! Yes, consider your French boss as Paris, and the staff like Province (basically the rest of France)! More on Paris and Province in this hilarious video.
In other words, most decisions are made at the top of the company. Some companies might — and should — ask for employee’s input and feedback, but ultimately, the boss usually has the last word. No, not this one, unfortunately.
4. Tune it down
I love American enthusiasm. But unfortunately, you might need to tune it down a notch!
I have two American friends who moved to Brussels for work and learned this lesson the hard way, so be warned! We actually wrote an entire section about that in our article on French compliments.
French people tend to be a little colder and neutral than Americans, even more so in a business setting. If you want to practice, that’s easy: try to act “blasé”. I think Damon here nails it!
HOW TO SOUND FRENCH WHEN YOU SPEAK FRENCH | DamonAndJo
Also, avoid the strong, affirmative American handshake. You should appear confident, but not overly confident.
And finally, we don’t kiss in a business setting, unless you work in the art/culture/show business industry. You can learn to do “la bise” the proper way in this article.
French business attire
As we say in French, “L’habit ne fait pas le moine” (The attire doesn’t make the monk). Well, it’s funny French people would say that, because for many, it does.
Dressing properly for business is a key part of business culture in France. You don’t have to go over the top or dress in a formal suit if you work in an office with no clients or business partners, but you should always try to be “correct”, as I heard from my mom from a young age.
By “correct”, she meant “respectful”: no shorts, super mini skirts, worn-out or wrinkled t-shirts or jeans with holes — even if it’s trendy!
In doubt, always go for “chic and classique”. And of course, if you deal directly with partners or clients, you’ll need to dress formally.
Business French vocabulary
Now that you’ve mastered French business etiquette and found the perfect attire, let’s learn some French business vocabulary!
Basic business vocabulary
|French||English translation||French example sentence||Meaning|
|Entreprise/société||Company/corporation||L’entreprise a fait faillite.||The company went bankrupt.|
|Boîte (slang)||Company||Je travaille dans une boîte d’informatique.||I work in an IT company.|
|Siège||Headquarters||Le siège de la société est en France.||The company's headquarters are in France.|
|Boulot (slang)||Job||Mon boulot est intéressant.||My job is interesting.|
|Travail||Work/job||C’est lundi, il faut retourner au travail.||It's Monday, we have to go back to work.|
|Emploi||Job||Il est en recherche d’emploi.||He is looking for a job.|
|Bureaux||Offices||Nos bureaux sont à Montréal.||Our offices are in Montreal.|
|Bureau||Office/desk||Il va au bureau deux fois par semaine.||He goes to the office twice a week.|
|PME (petites et moyennes entreprises)||SMB (small and medium-sized business)||Il travaille dans une PME.||He works in a SMB.|
|PDG (président-directeur général)||CEO (Chief Executive Officer)||Le PDG de l’entreprise est sympa.||The CEO of the company is nice.|
|Patron||Boss||Mon patron est strict.||My boss is strict.|
|Cadre||Executive||Elle espère être cadre bientôt.||She hopes to be an executive soon.|
|Employé(e)/salarié(e)||Employee||Les employés/salariés de cette entreprise ont beaucoup d’avantage.||The employees/workers of this company have a lot of benefits.|
|Personnel||Staff||Cette société est très respectueuse de son personnel.||This company is very respectful of its staff.|
|Équipe||Team||J’ai une super équipe.||I have a great team.|
|Salaire||Salary/wage||Mon salaire n’est pas terrible.||My salary is not great.|
|Fiche de paie/Bulletin de salaire||Payslip/salary slip/wage slip||À chaque fin de mois, on me donne une fiche de paie.||At the end of each month, I am given a payslip.|
|Stagiaire||Intern||Nous avons un nouveau stagiaire.||We have a new intern.|
|Direction||Management||C’est la direction qui décide.||It's up to management.|
|Succursale||Branch||L’entreprise vient d’ouvrir une succursale en Suisse.||The company has just opened a branch in Switzerland.|
|Filiale||Subsidiary||La banque a des filiales dans les principales villes de France.||The bank has subsidiaries in the main French cities.|
|RH (Ressources Humaines)||HR (Human Resources)||Il faut t’adresser au responsable des Ressources Humaines.||You have to contact the head of Human Resources.|
|Service||Department||Mon service compte 10 personnes.||My department has 10 people.|
|Comptabilité||Accounting||Je souhaite parler au service comptabilité, s’il vous plaît.||I would like to speak to the accounting department, please.|
|Ventes||Sales||Elle est responsable des ventes.||She is the sales manager.|
|Informatique||IT||Si ton ordinateur ne s’allume pas, il faut contacter le service informatique.||If your computer won't turn on, you should contact the IT department.|
|Chiffre d’affaire||Revenue||L’entreprise est satisfaite de son chiffre d’affaire.||The company is satisfied with its revenue.|
|Collègue||Colleague||Mon collègue est très professionnel.||My colleague is very professional.|
|Promotion||Promotion||J’espère obtenir une promotion cette année.||I hope to get a promotion this year.|
|Associé||Associate||Je vous présente mon associé.||Let me introduce my partner.|
Business meetings vocabulary
|Bonjour, voici l’ordre du jour.||Good morning, here is the agenda.|
|Voici une présentation des résultats du premier semestre.||This is a presentation of the first quarter results.|
|J’ai une question.||I have a question.|
|Je pense que c’est une bonne idée.||I think this is a good idea.|
|Le délai est trop court.||The time frame is too short.|
|Pouvons-nous reporter cette réunion ?||Can we reschedule this meeting?|
|Je crois qu’il y a une erreur dans les chiffres.||I think there is an error in the numbers.|
|La prochaine réunion sera mardi prochain à la même heure.||The next meeting will be next Tuesday at the same time.|
|Merci, bon travail tout le monde.||Thank you, good work, everyone.|
|Vous pouvez répéter, s’il vous plaît ?||Can you repeat, please?|
|Pouvons-nous nous en tenir à l’ordre du jour ?||Can we stick to the agenda?|
Business writing vocabulary
|French||English translation||French example sentence||Meaning|
|À qui de droit||To whom it may concern||À qui de droit,|
Je vous écris pour vous présenter nos services.
|To whom it may concern,|
I am writing to you to present our services.
|Veuillez agréer, Madame, Monsieur, mes meilleures salutations.||Please accept, Madam, Sir, my best regards.||Dans l’attente de votre réponse, veuillez agréer, Madame, Monsieur, mes meilleures salutations.||I am looking forward to your reply. Please accept, Madam, Sir, my best regards.|
|Je me permets de vous contacter…||I would like to contact you...||Je me permets de vous contacter au sujet de vos imprimantes.|
Nous vendons des cartouches d’encre pour imprimante de qualité, à un prix vraiment avantageux.
|I would like to contact you about your printers.|
We sell quality printer toner at a very good price. (wink to Phoebe).
|Je vous contacte en référence à…||I am contacting you in reference to...||Je vous contacte en référence à votre appel.||I am contacting you in reference to your call.|
|Comme convenu…||As agreed...||Comme convenu, voici les différents produits que nous proposons.||As agreed, here are the different products we offer.|
|Ce rapport traite de…||This report deals with...||Ce rapport traite de l’augmentation des ventes depuis l’implémentation d’un plan de marketing.||This report is about the increase in sales since the implementation of a marketing plan.|
|Veuillez trouver ci-joint un bon de commande.||Please find enclosed an order form.||Veuillez trouver ci-joint un bon de commande pour 10 unités.||Please find enclosed an order form for 10 units.|
|Vous trouverez ci-joint la facture pour nos services.||Please find enclosed the invoice for our services.||Vous trouverez ci-joint la facture de nos services, avec une réduction de 10 % pour la première commande.||Enclosed is the invoice for our services, with a 10% discount for the first order.|
|Je souhaiterais convenir d’un rendez-vous…||I would like to make an appointment...||Je souhaiterais convenir d’un rendez-vous pour discuter des options possibles.||I would like to set up a meeting to discuss the options available.|
|Je tenais à vous remercier…||I would like to thank you...||Je tenais à vous remercier pour votre disponibilité la semaine dernières.||I would like to thank you for your availability last week.|
We hope our tips on French business culture and French business vocabulary lists were helpful. If they were, mission accomplie — take some time to celebrate!
However, if you’re serious about working in a French company or with French people, you’ll need a specialized course and training. Check out our Business services and Culture training, specially designed for companies and professionals.
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