Doing Business in FranceBy Terri Morrison
© Copyright 2004, All Rights Reserved
Even the smallest of US businesses competes in a
shrinking global village, where understanding subtle cultural contexts can make
or break sales and marketing efforts. This excerpt from the book Kiss, Bow,
or Shake Hands: How to Do Business in Sixty Countries, offers insight into
doing business in France.
- French is the official language. If you do not speak French, the
international language of diplomacy for centuries, it is advisable to
apologize. Most in business speak English.
- Be as punctual as you would be in the United States, although in the south,
the French are more relaxed about time.
- Most French get four or five weeks of summer vacation, and take it in July
and August. Indeed, except for the tourist industry, France virtually shuts
down in August.
- France has a civil-law system, rather than the common-law system of the
United States. Commercial agreements are short because they refer to the legal
code. Many business people have studied law and can draw up their own
contracts. Parties to an international contract may choose which country's laws
will govern it.
- Eye contact among the French is frequent and intense, so much so that North
Americans may be intimidated. Hierarchies are strict. Try to cultivate
high-level personal contacts. The top executive is known as the PDG (pronounced
pay-day-ahjay), or president-directeur-general.
- Business can be conducted during any meal, but lunch is best. Whoever
initiates the meal or drink is expected to pay. When eating, keep both hands on
the table at all times. When finished, place your fork and knife parallel
across your plate. Cheese is served at the end of the meal; do not put it
directly on your bread, and do not serve yourself twice. Don't drink hard
liquor before meals or smoke between courses. The French believe this deadens
the taste buds. Wine is customary with meals. If you do not want any, turn your
glass upside down before the meal.
- Always shake hands when being introduced or when meeting someone, as well
as when leaving. In general, the woman offers her hand first. French handshakes
are not as firm as in the United States.
- The "thumbs up" sign means "O.K."; the US
"O.K." sign (forming a circle with thumb and forefinger) means
"zero" in France. Slapping the open palm over a closed fist is
- Good gifts include books or music, as they show interest in the intellect.
Bring American bestsellers, especially biographies. The thicker and more
complex the book, the better; simplicity is not a virtue in France. Bring
flowers (not roses or chrysanthemums) or fine chocolates or liqueur to the
host, and present them before, not after, the party. Do not bring wine, as it
has probably already been carefully selected for the occasion by the host.
- The French are very aware of dress. Be conservative and invest in well-made
clothes. In the north and in the winter, men should wear dark suits.