Doing Better Business With France
Even if change is the rule, there are still domains where etiquette stays the same and business is a place where etiquette is essential and mistakes, or ignorance, can jeopardize a negotiation.
Each country has a history, a different culture based on history, and what was true before WWI can be different today. Because culture carries over into business etiquette, some ways of doing business are perennial and may surprise you.
We can’t judge: we can like it or not, but if we do business with other people of another country we need to respect their culture without giving up our own culture. Of course, you will always find exceptions regarding what is said here but knowing the general rule will be an advantage.
So, here are some guidelines to help you to do better business with French people:
Good business is honest business, and honesty is still a sure value. Showing your values of integrity will bring you good long-term business, especially if you can demonstrate that your honesty should not be mistaken with naivety.
To Keep One’s Word
If you want people to trust you, it is important that you keep your word. All the time. Remember this: “I do all what I say even if I don’t say all what I do.” France is a civilization of written words, so don’t hesitate to confirm what you say by writing.
Be a Lady, a Gentleman
Even if the trend is to be a little trashy today, and falsely “relaxed,” if you want to be taken seriously and manage your image, I invite you to behave and dress as a lady or as a gentleman. It is a way to respect people and to be respected. There is no good business without mutual respect.
French people put emphasis on the separation of their professional lives and their private lives. Respect their private time. Avoid calling them just five minutes before the end of their work day, or during the weekend. Also, there are topics that you should not consider during a conversation: their family, religion (remember France went through decades of religious wars throughout history), politics, sex and gossip.
Golden Rules to Communicate
Avoid using someone’s first name unless you have been invited to do so. Be aware of the way people behave in their environment.
Respect the hierarchy (and don’t take any short cuts)!
Respect employees whatever is their function in the company.
Keep your voice down, even be a “low talker.”
Keep the habit not to gossip and instead praise elegantly or stay silent.
If you speak a little French don’t use “tu” unless invited to do so. Use the more formal “vous.” Don’t be familiar or obsequious.
French people are very formal in business relationships, and not respecting this would expose you to disagreeable rejection. That means that you must address people by Monsieur or Madame followed by their family name (Mademoiselle is no more accepted). You need to close your letter or email by the adequate letter ending. Being formal is also wearing the proper attire regarding the circumstances: for men, a tie is recommended, and for women, a pantsuit is preferred. If you want to be regarded as the boss dress like the boss.