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 strongBusiness French skills.
But speaking impeccable French is not enough for business. WhileFrench business cultureis 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 onFrench business etiquetteandFrench 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
Alors, poursuivez votre lecture pour tout savoir sur laFrench 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 propergreeting, asking “How are you” and saying “Thank you” can make all the difference.
Remember to use proper titles to address people, mainlyMadameandMonsieur.
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!
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 theFrench 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 themerveilleuse gastronomie française
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 anexplanation.
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 hilariousvideo.
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.
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!
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 thinkDamon herenails 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.
French business attire
As we say in French,“L’habit ne fait pas le moine”(Theattiredoesn’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.
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 del’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 commandepour 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-vouspour discuter des options possibles.
I would like to set up a meeting to discuss the options available.
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I would like to thank you...
Je tenais à vous remercierpour votre disponibilité la semaine dernières.
I would like to thank you for your availability last week.
We hope our tips onFrench business cultureandFrench business vocabularylists were helpful.
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 ourBusiness servicesandCulture training, specially designed for companies and professionals.