Not to be gauche, but compared to the U.S., conducting business in France might seem a bit quirky to you. For instance, the French can show concern if profits are considered excessive.
Once when based in Los Angeles as a former executive for a French-owned company long before my consulting practice, I speak from experience. My French boss was initially alarmed when my west coast division doubled profit margins of my predecessor.
Nevertheless, business with the French can be very profitable if you approach it with dignity.
Geographically, France is large. It’s also diverse with an immigrant population and has regional differences. Nonetheless, Muslim women are banned from wearing a full veil. That’s for reasons of security.
The key to achieving success is to be aware of acceptable business etiquette in France.
You might keep in mind these tips:
1. Business dress
The French are concerned about appearances. Conservative dress works best.
For men, this means well-tailored solid, dark suits. The jacket and tie stay on and in-place in at work and in all meetings.
For women, avoid ostentatious colors and flashy jewelry, and wear quality shoes.
2. Business behavior
Punctuality is often not observed. For the French, a little tardiness is OK. Apropos is a favorite expression of mine: “The longer they keep you waiting, the more they want you.”
Knock and wait before entering an office. Cold calls are not considered cool. Always arrange for a meeting in advance.
Shake hands when greeting and leaving a French person. Unlike the U.S. practice, don’t give a firm handshake. Keep the handshake brief. Although eye contact is important, keep it brief.
Lunch is considered best for conducting business. If you’re a smoker, between courses don’t light up nor should you drink hard liquor. For the French, such habits are naturally considered to adversely affect taste buds.
As with handshaking, make sure to make eye contact during a toast or when clinking glasses with your associate.
3. Business gifts
It isn’t common practice to give business gifts. But gifts are normally expected by the host in social events such as a private dinner party.
In turn, in lieu of a business gift, it’s a good idea to host associates at a special dinner or event. If you really think a gift is appropriate, keep in mind that a high-brow book or music selection is acceptable.
Don’t ever give a gift that has your company logo on it. The French consider it distasteful. Don’t include your business card with a gift.
Never send a gift to a French associate’s home. Instead of a gift, it’s preferred that you send a New Year’s card in which you thank the person for the business and offer best wishes for prosperity in the New Year.
4. Business communication
If you don’t speak or write in French, apologize. Your apology will be appreciated.
Don’t be surprised if your French associate interrupts you. It’s considered rude in America but not in France where it’s considered OK. Why? The French don’t like to feel as though they’re being lectured.
As in business dress, don’t be gauche when you speak or laugh. Loudness is considered gauche. The French speak at a lower volume and tone than most Americans.
From the Coach’s Corner, for good etiquette, here are additional relevant tips:
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For Profits, 10 German Business Etiquette Tips Apply in the U.S. — Hats were once considered the business norm for me. Formality required that men remove their hats when entering a building or when they were introduced to a lady. Baby boomers can recall it was a cultural, social-changing event – and quite a shock in 1961 – when President John F. Kennedy appeared hatless at his frigid outdoor inauguration. […]
Business Etiquette Dos and Don’ts – Sending Holiday Cards — One of the best investments for your business relationships is to send holiday cards. It’s an excellent way to stay in touch and to show gratitude in your business relationships. But you must do it right.
Make More Friends at the Office with 6 Etiquette Tips — In many companies, good etiquette is nonexistent and office co-workers fail to make friends of one another. Lack of trust and turmoil is seemingly evident everywhere. You don’t have to like everyone, but it’s best to be respectful, and assertive versus aggressive. That makes for good office relationships.
Tips for Dining Etiquette with Your Boss or Anchor Client — Whatever the important business occasion, it’s helpful to hold your meeting away from the tense hustle and bustle of a corporate setting. The right ambience for deal making is often an opulent restaurant with sumptuous food. That’s been my preference.
If Your Boss Invites You to Dinner, Make a Great Impression — Whether you’re invited to the home of your boss, a prospective employer or a business associate, manners are important. Things aren’t always as they seem. Be aware you’ll have to impress everyone who is attending. Here’s a checklist of 13 etiquette tips.
“Etiquette means behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential.”