Peak Translations

Business à la française

If history still dictated relations between France and Britain it would probably be futile to attempt entering into business negotiations, with both the countries’ chequered past.  Today however, all weapons are down and investing in one of the world’s largest economies, renowned for its tourism, cuisine and fashion, fine credentials indeed, is well worth the time.

When you think of the French, wine is high up on the list of words you’d associate with them. Ergo, think business relations with the French like a wine coming to life; if you don’t want the relationship to sour before it’s even begun and would rather it develop into something with character and maturity, take a look at a few of the business cultural examples below before embarking on that French entrepreneurial ‘voyage’!  What could be considered ‘à la mode’ in UK business terms could be completely ‘au contraire’ in France. The French are seriously professional; therefore it is advisable to get to grips with their protocol.

Make a date
Rules of conduct demand two-week advance arrangements of business appointments as unannounced visits will go down like a lead balloon. However, punctuality is much more relaxed, varying from region to region.

To gift or not to gift, that is the question?
In some cultures the act of gift giving is a customary part of business practice, but in France it is considered better business etiquette to host a dinner for example, to give kudos to your ‘collègues  françaises’. Nevertheless, just to confuse matters, if the French invite you to a private dinner, offering a gift to your guest is advisable e.g.

  1. Wine would generally be considered a ‘faux pas’ (unless it were Champagne for instance), as the person entertaining is likely to have taken time out to match the wine with each course. On the other hand, a liqueur would be acceptable.
  2. Avoid a gift branded with your company’s logo, it is seen as vulgar in France.

Be chic, impress with ‘haute couture’
Clothes reflect social status in France, therefore dress elegantly. Men should avoid blue shirts as this colour makes up part of the French military recruit apparel, which could lend you a nickname of ‘Un bleu’. Grooming also plays an important part of the French business look, so men, get those razors out, stubble is not à la mode! Likewise, painting an elegant face and spraying a dab of eau de toilette will earn women brownie points!

The ‘savoir-faire’ of business meeting etiquette
As with any culture, it pays to understand what is ‘de rigueur’ in a business meeting. If you wish to make a good impression and establish a long-lasting relationship, it is advisable to

  1. Play your cards right by taking dual language business cards to your appointment that highlights your position within the company (in French) and your academic achievement.
  2. Refrain from taking offence at their candid way of business; they are known for their direct and interrogative form of questioning. This ‘examination under the spotlight’ is just their penchant for detail. They are also sticklers for long-term objectives, therefore don’t come empty-handed; outline your company’s future intentions. This ‘coup de grâce’ alongside wooing them with your killer French, will go a long way to strengthening your relationship. Remember, though, to use the polite form of you ‘vous’. Fait accompli!
  3. Polite forms of address are key during initial meetings, as well as to your superiors. Monsieur or Madame is the norm.
  4. Despite their love of detail when it comes to information about your company, their handshakes are light, quick and to the point, which might come across as rude, as if they are in a rush to get away. Mirror this greeting, as a strong and sturdy handshake could make them feel inferior (unlike in German business culture, firm handshakes are essential).

‘Et voilà!’ These are just a ‘soupçon’ of cultural samples to whet your appetite, when attempting to break onto the French market.

By Madeline Prusmann (Project Manager) November 2016

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